Being a high-profile progressive metal gig, one could spill forth any number of pithy metaphors about the ambience, feel and aura of tonight. But you know what? That would detract from the stunning and powerful aura created by each of the highly skilled acts that tonight’s incredible line-up offered.

Sporting a vibe that was equal parts progressive soul and hardcore fire, openers Transience proved a more than worthy warm-up for this prog-tacular. Sporting super melodic tone and production with clarity and harmonies reminiscent of trademark Australian prog acts such as Karnivool and Dead Letter Circus,  the members revelled in the large sonic space created by heavy reverb, hearty clean vocals and hardcore-inflected heavy contrast.

Transience immediately impressed, turning effortlessly from the easy free-fall ooze of their prog-rock sections, into the fiercer riffs and breakdowns. Open expansive passages and electronic interludes ran into chordal walls and staccato drumming. The warbling distorted bass and low tunings a solid footing onstage, both physically and sonically. This expansion and retraction of space held audience members captive throughout, the juxtaposition on the final track earning them a hollering applause at the end. Definitely a solid start.

Wasting no time on intermission, fellow prog-rockers Alithia headed the stage next with six members, including the usual guitar-bass-drum repertoire but also a keyboardist and a percussionist/keyboardist who acted as dual vocalist. ‘Good evening!’ proclaims the vocalist, launching into a beautiful speech of solidarity about how the crowd ‘are creating a scene, building and strengthening a community just by being here’ to well-earnt fanfare. Punters were more than ready for their frenetic high-energy antics, band members, bouncing around one another, swaying and lilting like a kelp forest.  Musically it was an altogether different affair. Flitting between almost dancey electronica, hints of funk and even world music alongside the requisite heavy prog, there was a miasma of sharp leads, echo and delay effects turned up to eleven, thumping and slapping bass, hard-kicking drums and majestic vocals. The drum and bass were tuned lock-step with one another, thumping in tandem whilst the rest of the band swirled and flailed in all directions. Some of the ‘harsher’ vocal parts didn’t seem to gel too much with the more ethereal nature of the set, few and far between as these were. Otherwise both singers and other members provided powerful harmonies on multiple levels, reaching bone-chilling octaves on both ends of the register.  The whole affair was backed with this wonderful closing statement – ‘You guys are what give life to music, so have a great night, introduce yourself to someone!’  Well. Two solid Australian supports for two progressive metal heavyweights. In that case, the scene was more than set for the United Kingdom ‘djent’ godfathers SikTH to take the stage, immediately crazed and blood-drunk for a fun set after 18 years’ wait to play down under.  Both vocalists prowled the stage like rabid dogs, weaving and ducking and standing aside one another like two lions on the Serengeti Plains. The masterclass riff-wizard to their right, the incredible bass maestro to their left, and an inhuman clock of a drummer behind them. Sure, the others weren’t as jumpy or frantic onstage – they didn’t need to be.  Ripping into ‘Hold My Finger’ with exactly as much tenacity, ferocity and frenzied insanity as you’d expect from the studio side, the live incarnation the room pulsating, jerking and bouncing along to the open breakdowns, the crowd slowing down to give enough pause to watch in bewilderment at the technical sorcery and scatting, catcalls and shrieks. 

Screaming out ‘Pussyfoot!’ with the warbled of a wounded gull in freefall, the band effortlessly launched into passages of densely calculated and scathing riffage. Caught keeping their full attention given the technical issues, the guitarist, bassist and drummer all held monolithically against the backdrop of the two squirming demons amongst them, who delivered everything from soaring clean highs, to death growls, yelps, barks and thick British accent laden slurs and compliments alike. The full audiological smorgasbord, running the gamut between lofty numbers such as ‘Skies of Millenium Night’ and ‘Summer Rain’ and those two aforementioned crowd favourites. We waited a long time for something wild, and there was nothing dead and dried out about these crazed geniuses.

Unfortunately, audio engineering was not on the bands’ side this evening; the otherwise razor-sharp and knifepoint basslines were quite subdued in the mix, and issues with the drum trigger meant band members were left playing much of their performance on rote feel alone. Sure, this resulted in a couple of slight missteps, but who can fault them when they played with 99% accuracy on bewilderingly, dazzlingly mathematical tunes? The constant circle pits, head banging and captivated back-of-house punters demonstrated they still held full sway.

The dynamic between beautiful albeit brief ambience and bone-scraping tightness was apparent throughout the set. Culminating in absolutely crushing, head-bopping zeniths of technicality, groove and fun, SikTH rounded out their set with a rendition of ‘Bland Street Bloom’ that saw the house almost implode under the weight of sheer kinetic energy. The absolute rabidity with which the band rolled this last one out was an infectiously delightful closer, a treat for fans who’d waited many years to be this spoilt.

But that’s not to detract from the sheerly luminescent, beautiful display of thoughtfulness, emotion and power that characterised headliners The Contortionist. Breaking immediately into the sludgy opening to ‘Clairvoyant’, dropping back from heaviness to pensive melancholy to cheers of joy. The dulcet tones of the vocalist as he held the mic aloft, crooning and gesturing , showed obvious adoration for his music and his fans. Around him, various band members held their instruments like loved ones, gliding effortlessly across complex scales, progressions, arpeggios and patterns as though paddling through a lake.

This at-ease mentality and splendour made the throaty roars and deafening, booming of heavier sections, like that of oldie-but-goodie ‘Oscillator’ hit like a sucker-punch to the chest. These moments showcased a meatier barbed edge of the bands’ repertoire, one they seamlessly shifted to and from alongside powerful melodies and segues.

The whole set was so expertly crafted, the band so relaxed within complex polyrhythms and genre shifts that it felt almost like having a spiritual guide, a shamanic protector through their cosmic catalogue. The mystic and more grounded beauty of ‘Reimagined’ and ‘Return to Earth’ served as launchpads into the stratosphere with the beautifully woven double-encore of ‘Language I: Intuition’ and ‘Language II: Conspire’.

Tonight was a night of sheer mayhemic destruction and uplifting emotion indeed, a cavalcade of intensity and melody alike. We eagerly and desperately await the return of these prog giants again, for sure.

PHOTOS BY CHRIS POOTS