"The fact that [Chaos Divine are] not one of the bigger heavy acts on the planet remains a conundrum."
The resilience of the Australian rock scene, and especially the alt/heavy/progressive rock scene, is nothing short of astounding. In the face of massive indifference, even resistance, from radio programmers, mainstream media, the general public, property developers and our god-awful government, the scene continues to survive, and survive well, and provide immense enjoyment for the small-but-ridiculously committed group of fans who follow this scene. The people just keep showing up and this occasion provides further proof.
Picture this: it's 3.30pm on a Saturday afternoon. Melbourne's weather is, by some strange miracle, absolutely glorious. You would think people would be at the beach, at the park, hiking in the mountains, playing cricket or kicking a footy in the backyard or some other such outside pursuit. But Corner Hotel's bandroom, with a capacity of 900, is two thirds full already for a very young, up-and-coming band called Enlight, whose soulful, female-fronted take on progressive rock warms the building crowd very nicely indeed.
Progfest is back, baby - after a year off - and this is a wonderful thing.
Qlaye Face (pronounced Clay Face) are quite melancholic in approach. There's not a great deal in the way of rise and fall dynamics in their sound, they take what several other bands in this scene are doing and switch it back a cog or two (pun intended), and they do it rather effectively. Their music swoons, caresses and seduces rather than bludgeons the listener, and obviously the intention here is to soothe people back into the swing of Progfest with the first couple of bands, and this works an absolute treat.
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Things step up, subtly, in the form of Bear The Mammoth on the side stage, and the first 'turn on a dime', neck-snapping musical contrast is upon us. This band's version of instrumental post-rock is relentless, but ambient and cerebral all at once, and it is all driven forward with great momentum by Jim Martin (former Faith No More guitarist) lookalike James Carman on the drums. They get a little doomy on a regular basis, but this is always interspersed with dynamic atmospheric moments that provide relief amid the dredge. These guys create post-rock alchemy.
It's back to the main stage and all semblance of subtlety is smashed aside by one of the more 'in your face' alt-rock bands you will ever see, Melbourne act Figures. Their sound is absolutely enormous, slamming the listener with one dark, razor-sharp riff and pounding groove after another. However, at the same time their sound, songs and stage show are classy as all hell, and in Mark Tronson they have a striking voice and presence up front. One thing that might lift their soaring songs even higher is offering more in the way of some big vocal harmonies. But, overall, these guys (and gal) are the business.
Dyssidia turn the night on its head again, with their blistering, nasty tech metal, and it feels good to have some brutality thrown into the mix. Frontman Mitch Brackman is a real asset with his schizophrenic-but-skilful vocal delivery and he pops up on stage with other bands at regular intervals across the course of the evening as well. The orchestral and electronic elements provided by keysman Ashley Miller are highly enjoyable. It's clear these guys are virtuoso players, they just need to hone their songcraft to a very fine point now so as to step up to the next level.
This show serves as Orsome Welles' launch for their single Maestro and they pull out all stops to put on a great show, combining some imaginative theatrics within their big rock show. Frontman Michael Vincent Stowers comes on in a tux with tails and wielding a baton, maestro-style, and the rest of the band have donned corpse paint. A narrator comes out between songs, telling tales and cracking funnies, and the band is in devastating form. This band's live set just gets bigger, badder and bolder with every show they play.
Transience are a quintessential, modern heavy prog-rock outfit, with all the trappings extracted from their obvious influences of Dream Theater, Karnivool, Porcupine Tree et al. That said, they have an intensity that is all their own and, after somewhat of an uncertain start, they triumphantly win the crowd over with their epic songs, elite-level musicianship and the sheer fervour of their delivery. Their single Ocean is titanic.
Perth legends Chaos Divine exist in that strange dichotomy between being larger than life in their sound, songs and collective personality while also being outrageously underrated at a national and international level. This band should be touring internationally on a constant basis and their set this night shows why. Their tunes have that truly anthemic, majestic quality while at the same time being monstrously powerful. The fact that they're not one of the bigger heavy acts on the planet remains a conundrum.
Speaking of conundrums, up next on the side stage is Alithia. How to describe this band and their live show? Their sound is an enigmatic juxtaposition of prog-rock, electronica and world music, driven by heavy percussion and the band members' over-the-top personalities, and their stage show is chaotic, unpredictable and gleefully rough around the edges. In fact, the smaller stage cannot contain their animal instincts and their set gets a little out of control.
Maintaining that motif, although the term 'precision chaos' also springs to mind, Melbourne prog-metal exports Circles explode onto the stage with the warped powerhouse that is their latest single Sand And Wind. The intention here is obviously this: 'we have just 30 minutes here, let's throw aside all pretence at dynamics, and light and shade, and just go in all guns blazing'. Their set is a maelstrom of energy, a rush of pure adrenaline, with the towering vocals of Perry Kakridas soaring and screaming over the top. You can mount an excellent case for this being set of the night.
Yet further contrast to the mayhem that surrounds Circles comes in the form of We Lost The Sea, who mesmerise the crowd with their swirling post-rock instrumental ambience. These guys just instinctively know how to pick a musical theme and hammer it for minutes on end, but it never gets boring for they work the dynamics, ebb and flow around that one theme.
Headliners Caligula's Horse have taken on an otherworldly, transcendent status in their career now and they kind of encapsulate all that has gone before them this night from sweet, delicate ambience to controlled fury and chaos. They thrill the packed-out crowd with a brand new, 16-minute monstrosity of a tune called Graves, from their next album, and the other 45 minutes is wall to wall C-Horse favourites, culminating in an encore of the beautiful Water's Edge. The band's new drummer Josh Griffin is an even more accomplished player than previous skinsman Geoff Irish and his slightly more open, free-flowing style suits the band to perfection. This is a live set for the ages.
A final word must go to the organisers who put on a truly ship-shape show. In fact, the night goes so smoothly and is so well-oiled, it is almost un-rock'n'roll. A fabulous vibe full of love, positivity and world class rock music.