Usually the ambience reserved for the dingiest of back-alley pubs, the regal architecture of the Espy’s innards was a warm welcome from the frostbitten chill outside, inviting many a bearded and dreadlocked punter in for a night of hearty, fuzzy riffs.
Cranking up the thermostat were local openers Droid. No need to hand-wave these guys away it seemed; this four-piece was the machine you’re looking for after all. Belting out a slow and methodical psych-washed riff, the band lurched into a super-heavy distortion filled wall of thick riff soup, fuzzed out yet punchy and focused. Received immediately well by a head-bobbing and beer-sloshing early crowd, the perpetual head nods of the bassist playing almost-upright swung in time to the bands’ meditative composure. With a melodic stoner doom sound musically reminiscent of a heavier Witchcraft, the soulful vocals contrasted nicely with the thick, down-tuned chords and warbling leads. It was announced that the tight yet flexible drummer backing the band was actually a guitarist replacing their current skinsman (who was currently overseas) and this was his first ever live show as a drummer – not bad at all – maybe it’s time to pick up sticks more often!
Nearly filling out the room soon after was one of Melbourne’s most lauded doom darlings, the Simpsons-worship spectacle that is Dr. Colossus. Taking time to adorn their Stonecutters-esque robes prior to the set (and self-deprecating about it later), the newcomers may have been dissuaded by the getup as another Okilly Dokilly meme of an act. Thankfully, the clever interweaving of pop-culture references with down and dirty, bluesy, dynamic doom brought – as always – a level of chops, musicianship and genuineness to the music that garners their popularity beyond a mere punchline. We couldn’t avoid the obvious nods to our favourite 90s dinner-time TV show, with lyrics ranging to washing yourself with a rag on a stick, an ode to Dio by way of Otto loving to get blotto (Holy Driver, of course!) and a refusal to go to church on Saturday from Rod and Todd Flanders with new number 66 and 6. Interspersing healthy self-deprecation such as, ‘Judging by the laughs, some of you haven’t seen us yet – don’t worry, you’ll get over it soon enough’, the mirthful guitarist/vocalist also took showmanship, writhing and headbanging around his equally energetic bandmates between croons not unlike those of classic Kyuss. Paying respect to the other bands (‘we’ve got talent out the wazoo here tonight!’) and their beloved fallen brother, the touching tribute was responded in kind with a monolithic wall of riffs that ended to booming, raucous applause.
Taking a turn from the more traditional doom-focused aesthetic of the first two acts, Canberrans Witchskull brought a pretty unique and upbeat spanner into the works. Wailing and screeching with vibrato-heavy power, the vocalist-guitarist immediately brought to mind the proto-metal singers of the NWOBHM era – Judas Priest, Venom, early Iron Maiden etc. Layering this over a punchier tempo, the band were comfortable sitting at a faster pace with their doom template, reaching out into shredding licks and classic gallops to huge fanfare from the now-rowdy crowd. Unsurprisingly, by this stage a couple of punters had been pulled aside for their liberal lighting up of the jazz-cabbage in an indoor environment. Given the musical environment, it was honestly surprising the whole hall wasn’t hot-boxed from the outset. Not that there was a need to where Witchskull were concerned; although upbeat and drenched in fuzz and distortion, the plodding and thumping was meditative enough for even those of us sober suckers up the back to feel the aural warmth of their musical tokes. Some harsher hardcore-style grunts, bellows and shrieks jostled the more herb-affected from their stupor with tight, concise musical slaps, assisted by a relentless drum barrage. Exclaiming that, ‘It is such a fucking dream to play with such fucking amazing bands’, the band wasted little time between riffs, alternating from arena rock to proto-thrash to sludge before closing out in epic fashion.
Witch (sorry, which – terrible pun intended) brings us then to our unquestionably unique and enigmatic headliners, Beastwars, who took to the stage amid booming applause following a very cyberpunk electronica intro. Providing all the right ingredients for an absolute menagerie of sounds, their set was a riff smorgasbord which paid homage to everything from Khanate and Unsane to Crowbar, straight-up blues. This is testament to the infinitely-malleable membrane of the bands’ sound, but particularly the encyclopedia of chords, leads and wailing feedback that was riff factory guitarist Clayton Anderson. Backing him up in equal measure and providing a dynamic thunder beyond mere root note thumping was the clever and dirty fretboard antics of heavily-bearded, potential Wookie James Woods. Pushing and pulling the cart and providing ample sonic space for equally ingenious trills and fills was the tribal feel of Nathan Hickey‘s drum work. Even as a purely instrumental unit these guys were intimidatingly flexible, moving from early Mastodon tight crunch, to Black Sabbath power chord walls. Initial dramas didn’t slow the band one bit – with a blown bass head, the vocalist merely proclaimed (in that undeniably unique accent of the native Kiwi), ‘We’re getting it sorted! Sometimes life is shit, but we’ll get it sorted’, and off they went again.
Speaking of the vocalist (not tech blow-ups), the bands’ ace in the hole, for the live setting at least, was indeed their deliciously expressive, adaptable and show-ready frontman Matthew Hyde. Running the full gamut from hands clasped in prayer, arms outstretched in crucifix pose, prancing around the stage, hugging stage-jumpers and slithering around with hypnotic abandon, here was a vocalist who appeared just absolutely enamoured with being onstage. With a performance like an early 80s hardcore frontman, this energy was reinforced by his erratic range of powerful and unique tones. In almost Mike Patton style, there was all manner of shrieks, cat-like wails and yelps amongst the gruff sludge/stoner growls and croons, with some very soulful sustains held for impressive lengths. Bowing, throwing fists and clapping to his bandmates, the infectiousness of the singer was mirrored in both his bandmates and the audience, both of whom alternated between neck-swivel headbang and pogo stick jumps. Biggest mosh yours truly has seen for a doom metal band for sure and the new material from recent stunner ‘IV’ was received with just as much aplomb by the audience as their older material.
Closing out the night with a cacophony of cheers, hoots and hollers, the vocalists’ insinuation of a return to our shores next year was followed up with one simple maxim: ‘Life’s too short, live for the day and enjoy every moment!’. Seems the man has made one hell of a recovery from his recent health challenges, and is in finer form than ever, as is his equally grateful and fun loving crew.