Words by Brady Irwin, Photography by Paul Tadday. You can see more of his photography work here.
As sheets of stinging cold whipped around the venue, it was clear from heading inside to the toastier, more resplendent clime of The Corner Hotel in Richmond that tonight was to be an intimate affair. Those who braved the cold outside for openers Naberus were treated to perhaps quite different fare than what they’d anticipated. Sporting Every Time I Die meets prog metal aesthetics, these local openers ran more in the djent and hardcore than tech-death sphere, but this was paid no mind by the audiences’ earnest hoots and hollers of appreciation. Amongst their massive clash of tight riffs, solos and effects, one of the guitarists broke free of the stage to riff in the circle pit, headbanging with the audience. Naturally, this was met with eager applause and was just one of the few examples of the bands’ crackling kinetic energy and enthusiasm, which the audience met in kind.
More subdued now, post-black metal fiends Somnium Nox were next to adorn the stage. Sporting a modern corpsepaint-goes-camo black metal aesthetic, the muddied band members launched into drawling, introspective arpeggios and effects next to a silent, head-bowed hooded figure. Looking more like an evil incarnation of Gandalf the Grey and remaining concealed, the vocalist unfortunately had his visceral shrieks lost in the mix with technical mic issues, but never took pause. Coming back in amongst didgeridoo and synth effects, the truly impressive range of rasps, shrieks, pained cries and shouts and tinnitus-inducing howls really did amplify the already atmospheric and brutal black metal aesthetic offered instrumentally. Warping cleverly between almost sickly-slow, doomy passages to brief but intense fury, the crowd were slow to warm to such an esoteric offering; nevertheless, the praise and reception towards the end of the set was clear from the mesmerised audience. Speaking of mesmerised – after a short reprieve it was time for local legends and progressive death metal institution Alarum. Taking a much more self-deprecating stance to their show than the prior act (jokes about the vocalist/bassists’ hair or lack thereof, and a healthy dose of self-referential, silly jazz-scat vocals), this light-heartedness in no way detracted from what was almost an impenetrably complex death-thrash assault. Threatening almost to dethrone the headliners in terms of technical capacity, the band demonstrated their status as one of the top players in the Australian progressive scene by meandering through a tight, punchy collection of off-kilter riffs, reverb and phaser-driven jazz-influenced interludes and absolutely blistering guitar solos. The fret-smoking guitar histrionics were cranked up to eleven, as though to emphasise the fact that yes, people, they are supporting a technical death metal band. Coming across as Australia’s answer to Atheist by way of Meshuggah, the impressively-talented troupe drew in huge applauses from an audience whom were either ardently praising their long-term devotion, or fresher and very gobsmacked young tech-death fans.
An air of awe lingered after their set and a few wide-eyed punters exchanged bewildered grins afterward. The stage had certainly been set.
Of course, none would receive a greater reception than Germany’s finest progressive tech-death outfit, as they strode to the stage among the synth refrains of Emergent Evolution, a no-nonsense punchy number where vocalist and guitarist Steffen Kummerer unleashed his strained and high-register shrieks and growls, rooted in the tech-death-frontman planted stance but perpetually grinning, smiling and expressive. Around him, fellow guitar maestro Rafael Trujilio weaved a two-hand tapping and sweeping tapestry with little to no hesitation, perpetually-happy Linus Klausenitzer explored lofty but solid arpeggios on his fretless bass, and the inhuman technicality of Sebastian Lanser pinned it all to the ground in a relentless swinging of arms and double-kicks.
Rounding out the track to thunderous applause and verbally returning his gratitude and frontman, the eagerly ecstatic frontman guided his fellow bandmates through his peaks and troughs of deep bellows, growls and shrieks throughout the set, forever shrieking under the vocoder-layered clean vocals. The chug-and-growl heavy Ten Sepiroth got heads windmilling, whilst the power-chord slides of Diluvium offset the endless warbling and noodling of the guitarists quite nicely. Weaving deftly through more introspective prog sections and back into the note-precise technical death territory, there was no sense of transition between the complex palette of sounds – it all revolved around a singularly melodic and brutal labyrinth of riffs, solos, blasts and effects. Obvious crowd-favourite album title track Akróasis was delivered as a banquet of effortless shifts and changes, and was met with raucous applause. The crowd collectively lost their proverbial when the opening acoustic strains of tech-death classic Septuagint morphed quickly into its’ true form as a wildly thrashing and exploratory beast, hyper-speed section punctuated with deft, careful fretless bass solos and neck-snapping breakdowns alike. Underpinning it all was the absolutely ridiculous and incomprehensible framework of textured drumming, never settling in dynamics but keeping it watertight.
The more laidback strains of Mortification of The Vulgar Sun, Perpetual Infinity and An Epilogue To Ininityi saw the band in a more pensive (but still extremely precise and calculated) mood, showcasing their love for progressive meanderings whilst keeping things headbang-able. Nothing but gratitude and sincere thanks for ‘keeping death metal alive!’ from the frontman, who used every break and opportunity to express his love and respect for our country. The forever tacked-on grins, nods, moving toward the front of the crowd, throwing horns at punters and laughter of the band members showed this was an act who brought a genuine love for the audience and the craft. Closing out with an absolutely blistering rendition of crowd favourite The Anticosmic Overload, it was clear that one of tech-deaths’ elite mainstays are as passionate as they are cerebral, and the awestruck audience responded in kind at the end of a set that was as fun and collaborative as it was sincere and technical.