Surely, my sweet departed Roman Catholic Nana would be judging me from on high tonight. Easter Sunday and here we are, nestled into a comfy, lounge-like corner of The Central Club Hotel in Richmond, celebrating horror, spookiness and other pagan revelry right one of the most Christian weekends of the year.
I’m not talking about bloodletting rituals, the occult or anything of the sort, however. Instead I refer to a great night of progressive acts and short films at Night of the Living Prog.
The dimly-lit venue, complete with seating and a stage equally at home for bands and theatre alike, set a subdued if not classy scene. Openers Hedron were a more than fitting introductory welcome to the evening, then, with their brand of prog that saddles both singer-songwriter chilled sensibilities and hard rock intensity.
Having deliberately waited until the gig to check these guys out, admittedly I had no idea what to expect, perhaps horror-punk or gothic rock. As the vocalist walked onstage barefoot dressed in black and corpsepaint, alongside a very Misfits-looking electric guitarist, reasonably normally-dressed (if there is such a thing) acoustic guitarist and a drummer in a suit, I realised I had no idea what to expect.
I was therefore pleasantly surprised as the effects-heavy acoustics sidled in alongside forlorn but powerful female vocals, the atmosphere slowly creeping upwards as bluesy clean guitar and thudding but subdued drums came into the mix. As the singer and backup vocalist/acoustic guitarist broke into powerful dual harmonies, ethereal theatrics soon moved into more powerful and urgent riffing. Kind of like a Sunday afternoon acoustic act punctuated with sleepmakeswaves-esque post-prog.
Acknowledging their bass players’ unfortunate absence, it was clear that the lack of low-end oomph was felt in the soundscape, as even the baritone of both guitars and the chest-beating thump of the kick drum didn’t quite fill the lower depths of the sonic spectrum. Far from detracting from things, however, the band were quick to adapt, utilising a keytar, effects-washed guitars, the tok-tok jazzy attack of the sticks and snare, things turned into a more danceable feel. Moving sultry and slyly around the stage, the singer belted her notes with the same reflective but energetic performance.
Tracks such as In the Dead of Night, Snakes and Ladders, and others I didn’t quite catch the names of morphed fluidly through the set. Being a crowd of prog nerds, the audience was appreciative but movement was somewhat reserved. The applause, especially towards the end, definitely showed that this awkwardness was not due to a lack of interest. Kicking out their jam with flat-stick double bass and power chords, they breathed one last hurrah, to much fanfare. I’ll be keen to see these guys again with a full band!
Then it was off to the bar around the corner for a very brief, indie and straightforward short flick, DER GEIST. Now I’m no film critic, so don’t expect an overarching thematic analysis of each shot and scene. I’m no David and Margaret. Unsure as to whether the film was story-based or documentary style, I followed as best I could, the narrators (who looked like dudes I’d be headbanging alongside at a gig) explained paranormal events occurring at a former insane asylum in Sunbury. An exorcistic ritual complete with chanting, meditative practice and spells was interspersed with interviews of others who had claimed to see something similar in the asylum or their daily lives.
A vision of a young girl, seemingly trapped and confronted by a nurse appeared to be what was channelled or communicated by the soft-spoken but directive exorcist. Whilst the cinematography wasn’t Hollywood production, there was some clever dispersal of low-light scenes from around the asylum between the recollections and supernatural exploration. Very short and sweet, I feel like there could be some cool potential here for a greater documentary or supernatural narrative in a unique and familiar setting.
Straight back towards the stage once more, moving on quickly. Death of Art opening up now with a smoke machine, an eerily lit stage and horror movie sampling. Once again, I was expecting something quite gothic, which we got – sort of. A straight-outta-the-90s black-clad guitarist and drummer took the stage, followed promptly by the ripped jeans, fishnets and Manson-style white eye contact, the frontwoman and band immediately belt into detuned rock and operatic vocals.
To be perfectly honest, I felt like the vocals were at odds with the punchier music at times – there was a tension between the soaring range and almost nu-metal downtuned stomp. However, fortunately this frontwoman wasn’t stuck in Nightwish territory, moving just as easily into gritty alt-rock vocals as the tempo picked up. Additionally, the band’s onstage performance was high-octane. Swirling and moving around the stage, the animated and expressive vocalist flitted between the headbanging stringer whilst the drummer smacked away in the background.
The horror chic weaved in and out of the rock-steady feel, with almost Depeche Mode-like synths, quotes from The Shining and swirling in and out of smoke machines like ghosts. A slower tune towards the end, the bands’ rock vixen now turned white-dressed enchantress, who had only previously been brandishing a stake and veil. Also inclusive of stage drops to the floor at random and puppet-like moves with rope in their marionette-themed track, Death of Art were definitely a good choice for bridging the two horror flicks. A crescendo of incredibly high falsetto over a thrashy, strobe-heavy end blasted the end of their set with a bang. The audience were starting to stir by this point, and this climactic ending had everyone cheering.
After the second bands’ sullen and dark theatrics, lyrical themes of emotional pangs, the supernatural and even suicide, it was good timing to lighten things up. Drink Up! did exactly that. Almost reminiscent of a Saturday Night Live or The Lonely Island skit, the brief comedy followed the antics of two more experienced vampires goading a lesser protégé (Vladimir, of course) into some drinking. Blood, from people’s necks obviously, in between smarmy wisecracks. A plot concerning the man’s pledge to a famed vampire queen very briefly touched on the gothic nobility almost required for the genre. Getting drunk off alcohol-soaked victims and a gruesome demise of two jeery bogans brought things to a head, ending snappily with a young girl copping a second bite before hitting the credits abruptly.
Visually there was a clever use of foregrounding brighter characters in the otherwise dim gloom, giving the whole thing an essence of black comedy not unlike Shaun of the Dead. A funny little romp indeed, well played being aired at the bar!
After another brief repose, we headed back into the main room for headliners Terrestrials. What a treat. Being a bassist, I was more than relieved and excited to see a low-note slinger hop onstage. Totally unbiased, right? Looking more the part of a friendly local hard rock act, I was once again blown away and thankful for not judging a book by its’ cover.
Vocals that happily sit between powerful, lilting highs of prog darlings Tesseract and Karnivool, it’s clear those two luminaries and Dead Letter Circus were major influences. The thumping of the subsonic fretted bass, the busywork of crashing and rolling drums and the guitarists’ effects-drenched leads and two-hand tapping complementing instead of detracting from the soaring singer, who was almost pained in his expression. Each band tonight had frontmen (and frontwomen) demonstrating a deep-dive into their art; eyes closed, reaching skyward.
The crowd came alive for the Judas Priest and Iron Maiden vibes of Bones rocking flat out and getting what is one of the nicest and kookiest moshpits I’ve seen in a while. Getting silly and doing silly moves in the pit is one of my favourite past-times at stupidly serious metal gigs, but the Irish folk dancing of several drunk revellers, and Old Mate air guitaring frantically both just felt easy and at home here. The singer acknowledged the fun vibe and the band were grinning during the set.
Sitting at the front near the stage on a crate, I couldn’t help myself – head bobbing and legs squirming during the absolutely fun rock riffs and solos, sitting back in splendour at the epic upwards forays into almost post-rock lands, and being visibly shaken by the pounding rhythm section. Interplay between off-time signatures, chords that wouldn’t be out of place on early Grinspoon, and, like both support acts before them rounding their set out with a drop into frantic heaviness, the end of the night was subject to acknowledgements and cheering for all involved.