Live Review: Monolith Festival Brisbane 13.08.22 - Karnivool, Cog, Ocean Grove, Plini, sleepmakeswaves, Reliqa, Yomi Ship

15 August 2022 | 12:42 pm | Sam Wolstenholme
Originally Appeared In

It’s a rainy Saturday afternoon for the first show of the Monolith Festival tour. But after being rescheduled multiple times, not even the dreary weather can stop Brisbane’s metal contingent from gathering at Eatons Hill Outdoors for what can only be described as the lineup of Australian progheads’ wildest dreams, with a few fun surprises thrown in for good measure.



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Karnivool and Cog, the two titans of Australian prog rock over the past two decades, are co-headlining this mammoth tour, which marks the first time they’ve shared the stage in 17 long years. 

Supported by a slew of Australia’s best up-and-coming heavy acts, this lineup is set to tear the roof off the Eatons Hill Outdoors stage – figuratively speaking.

Instrumental psychedelic art rock trio Yomi Ship open the proceedings amidst more than a smattering of rain, and what a lovely way to start the day. Their unique brand of dreamy, jazzy instrumental prog takes us on a blissful sonic journey. The live mix is gorgeously balanced, and the band deliver a tight set of highly intricate music with an effortless ebb and flow of pace – not to mention those glorious guitar effects pedals they’re using. King Crimson fans would adore this, especially the unexpected but excellent heavy shoegaze section in highlight number Sea Monkey. By the end of the set, I’m jigging around happily in my poncho.

Experimental alt-prog dynamos Reliqa are up next, and it’s a pleasure to have them back on Brisbane soil. Initially, their live mix isn’t as clear as it could be, but this improves significantly by the second song, allowing the band to shine as brightly as they always do. A huge crowd has suddenly appeared out of nowhere, and frontwoman Monique Pym reveals that half the set will be completely new tracks from their upcoming EP, never before played live. What a treat! EP single Safety that’s just dropped absolutely slaps live, with another newie Second Nature providing a nice breather with its ethereal, George-esque intro. Monique and guitarist Brandon Lloyd in particular maintain such a high level of energy through the set, and overall Reliqa pull off a solid set that kicks things up a notch and gets the poncho-clad crowd moving and grooving.

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Now it’s time for another instrumental outfit to storm the stage, and storm they do – sleepmakeswaves are without a doubt the most energetic instrumental band I’ve ever seen play live, and they don’t let the momentum drop for one moment throughout their mesmerising 40-minute set. The crowd rejoices as the rain stops, and the band remarks that the prog metal gods have smiled upon us. And they have indeed – the masterful display of technical skill and songwriting chops demonstrated by this singularly talented band is a sight (and sound) to behold. The complex polyrhythmic drum lines land with increased impact as they are beset by sharp, punctuating strobe lights, and the shoegazey wall of sound the band creates is powerful and immersive. Guitarist Otto Wicks-Green exudes rock god energy as he effortlessly engages the crowd, grabbing their attention and keeping it there. Apparently, it’s been a while since sleepmakeswaves have played live, and their joy to be back where they belong truly shines through.

If anyone was poised to follow this display of musicianship, it would definitely be the inimitable Plini, who is in impeccably fine form today as usual as he showcases his trademark next-level guitar precision. What I always love about watching Plini live is that he and his whole band shred through these incredibly complex musical motifs and passages with all the casual ease of someone jamming Jack Johnson tunes around a bonfire on the beach. They’re one of the tightest bands I’ve ever seen, with crisp kicks on the drums and a guitar tone that absolutely sparkles. It’s mesmerising to watch Plini play, and the crowd is going wild for the shreds. The perfectly coordinated light show really emphasises the polish and prestige of the performance, which is humorously juxtaposed with Plini’s famously self-deprecating wit as he addresses the crowd – “we’re going to annoy you for another 20 minutes, enjoy”. A particularly heavy extended breakdown provides a great send-off towards the end of the set and gets the crowd mosh-ready in time for Ocean Grove.

Ocean Grove are something of a wildcard on this lineup, but in my opinion, it was a stroke of genius on the festival organisers’ part to add them on, because they deliver the party at just the right time after all those pretty prog sounds. They barrel onto the stage with explosive energy right from the get-go, creating an electrifying atmosphere that gets the blood pumping, and instantly a huge mosh breaks out. I defy anyone who claims they can stand still to these bangers, because you can’t help but jump around to catchy hits like Superstar, Sex Dope Gold and Junkie$ - it’s like Blink-182 with nu metal attitude and metalcore grit. There’s a swagger and cheeky charisma in the way all band members play, but frontman Dale Tanner commands the stage with the confidence he exudes. His fluid, rock-god movements have a slight edge of charming madness, like The Prodigy’s Keith Flint meets Grinspoon’s Phil Jamieson. The mosh absolutely goes off during closing numbers Bored and Sunny, and what a wild ride it’s been – a fun, fast and furious set from start to finish.

Fog settles over the field and the moon beams brightly, setting the scene for the luxurious spacey prog rock of the legendary Cog. The trio seem to be in a world of their own as they launch into their earthy yet mystical rock hits from the past two decades; they are immersed in the zone of their art. It’s the veterans showing us how it’s done as Flynn Gower showcases his extraordinary skill in playing guitar lines that are completely at odds with his vocal melodies. He asks us all to stop and simply be present with the music, to be in the moment, and we disappear with the band as they intensify the atmosphere with heart-wrenching bangers like What If, The Middle, and Bird of Feather. The whole crowd is belting out the lyrics to these beloved tunes, and it’s clear there are a lot of lifetime fans here. I’m in awe of the musicianship shown here, with the effortless yet epic uneven time signature drumming from Lucius Borich, the huge bass grooves from Luke Gower, and Flynn’s skill and presence as a frontman. The overall experience creates a beautiful energy that radiates through the crowd, and it feels like a very special moment in time.

Finally, it’s Karnivool time, and the dramatic fall of a great curtain on the stage reveals the band in all their glory, as well as a gorgeous light show. They kick off with the powerful Fear of the Sky, and Ian Kenny’s voice is as resonant and flawless as ever. Somehow, Karnivool sound even better live than they do on record – their live mix is perfection, and they’re impeccably tight. In Goliath, Kenny’s honey-sweet high vocal range contrasts with the crushing breakdowns delivered by a monstrous rhythm section. The guitars riffing in tandem during A Simple Boy is dark and hypnotising, giving us all chills, and when the main lights dim during the quiet part of the track, the ghostly bright neon lights cocooning the drum kit creates an appropriately eerie effect. A new track Animation offers a beautiful harp intro that then gives way to the trademark Karnivool bass grooves, catchy chorus and uneven time signatures. Bangers like Set Fire To The Hive and Roquefort send the crowd into a frenzy, and the atmosphere is charged and intense as strobe lights rage during the breakdowns like lightning and thunder. We Are and New Day inject a poignant note into the set, with the crowd singing along to the unforgettable melodies. But it’s Themata that’s a particular highlight – this track always has such an ecstatic vibe, and it warms us up on this cold night. I swear that the temperature has risen by a couple of degrees over the course of the track. Closing with recent single All it Takes and a final hurricane of energy with Fade, tonight Karnivool have shown us, in no uncertain terms, why they are one of the best bands Australia has ever produced.

Melbourne is on final release tickets and tickets still remain for the Sydney and Perth dates of the Monolith Festival tour - get your tickets here.