Nine thousand miles away from the metal hubs of Europe and the USA, Australia has grown its own ecosystem of heavy music. Although it initially kept pace with the death and nu metal crazes that ensnared the west, the last 15 years have transformed it into an echo chamber of increasingly experimental influences. Today, the likes of Twelve Foot Ninja and Plini rule, each one as complex and unique as the next. Here are the involuted geniuses making the Land Down Under the best country for progressive metal.
Native mavens from Caligula’s Horse to Ne Obliviscaris agree that Alchemist were the first progressive metal band in Australia. Their debut album, Jar Of Kingdom, dropped in 1993, when the local underground was obsessed with death metal extremists like Abramelin and Sadistik Exekution. Admittedly, Jar Of Kingdom was a sloppy Human-era Death rip-off, but follow-up Lunasphere refined their tech death just in time for 1997 masterpiece, Spiritech. Its grunting sludge incorporated aboriginal melodies to create some audibly Aussie metal. Alchemist remained underground until their 2010 dissolution – despite inking a Relapse Records deal – but their home country’s metal scene owes them innumerable thanks.
Alchemist may have commenced the prog-metal fascination Down Under, but it was Karnivool that pushed it into the world’s gaze. Their debut album, 2005’s Themata, clicked with a subculture that was barely post-nu metal, resurrecting the genre for one last gasp with a Tool-inspired twist. Four years later, on Sound Awake, they evolved into a more sophisticated prog-metal animal, timeless and beautiful while still boasting a confrontational swagger. To date, the last we’ve heard from them is Asymmetry: a breathy, evolutionary and contemplative triumph. That was eight years ago though, lads; give us album number four already!
The Butterfly Effect
Listening to The Butterfly Effect is like reading a choose-your-own-adventure book; each of their three albums is a distinct masterpiece promising a totally idiosyncratic experience. Debut album Begins Here sourced from the then-plentiful nu metal mine, appropriating its brazen attitude, albeit with some musical exposure of a tender soul beneath. Imago married art rock and post-grunge, devising more emotive melodies and technical basslines, before Final Conversation Of Kings went full prog. Whether you’re after tender lullabies or just want to decimate shit, there’s always some Butterfly Effect to suit your mood.
You could easily argue that Sam Vallen is the best guitarist in metal right now. On one level, his leads and solos are more complicated than trigonometry. However, unlike countless tech-metal peers, his playing doesn’t start and end with soulless mathematics, as his lines smoothly mirror the angelic vocal melodies of frontman Jim Grey. Even better, though, is the breadth of these Brisbanites’ songwriting; while anthems like Marigold explode, flaunting their prog-metal base, Graves is an epic with jazz and a capella textures and Into The White is a folk ballad. Everything appealing about prog is fulfilled staggeringly well.
Twelve Foot Ninja
Sometimes you don’t realise how much you want something until you receive it. “Progressive funk metal” is absolutely one of those things, and it’s thanks to the erratic genius of Twelve Foot Ninja that we have it. Residing somewhere between Between The Buried And Me and Mr. Bungle on the “I don’t know what the fuck this is but I love it” spectrum, they cherry-pick from nu metal, EDM and even country with a cheeky twinkle in their eye. As a result, your head will spin faster than if it were mounted to a drill bit, as you’re thrust from grooving riffs to jovial ska in the blink of an eye.
With their ranks including two vocalists and a violin player, prog-metal bands rarely get more gloriously excessive than Ne Obliviscaris. And you’d best believe their music reflects their stacked line-up. Their latest album, 2017’s Urn, fills 45 minutes with just four songs, each a barrage of blast beats, strings, volleying roars and cleans, and ferocious riffing. Basically, imagine the offspring if Opeth and Dimmu Borgir fucked in an opera house. If you’re looking for an easy in, try Intra Venus, which fuses an elegant chorus, a swaggering bassline and wacky leads onto its click-clacking death metal backbone.
Be’lakor are a progressive death metal troupe named after a Warhammer 40,000 character. If that makes them sound geeky, that’s because they probably are. Still, these dorks pummel. Their M.O. is conceiving riff-strewn melodeath tracks that often fly past the 10-minute mark. Such an approach has given us titans like Hidden Windows and Roots To Sever: cavalcades of screeching guitar leads, elevated to dramatic grandeur by Steven Merry’s keys while frontman George Kosmas keeps everything consistent with his unending grunts.
In 2017, MusicRadar dubbed Sydney virtuoso Plini as the best prog guitarist on the entire planet. Not only can he play circles around 99% of self-proclaimed “shredders”, but he can do so while sounding like he’s having the time of his life. His jams stir in jazz, soul, funk and orchestral overtones to cook up some of the fluffiest prog-metal imaginable. His Handmade Cities EP and 2020 debut album, Impulse Voices, both shimmer especially vibrantly – ideal if you’re seeking a break from all that monolithic Be’lakor and Ne Obliviscaris death metal.
Djent ruled the world in the early 2010s. Everybody and their grandmother suddenly had a hankering to buy an eight-string guitar, tune it subterraneously low and make it go “djent dj-dj-dj-djent dj-dj-djent-djent”. Circles – who debuted with 2013’s Infinitas – were no exception. However, it also offered so much more than the competition. While so many started and ended at roars and riffs, Circles’ three-man vocal attack created sweeping melodies, while acoustic guitars and synths were used. Sure, 2017 successor The Last One is good too, but that first opus is a classic in a largely Meshuggah-derivative genre.
If you want your prog to come with the heartiest dollop of power metal silliness, then Voyager are the band for you! New album Colours In The Sun may be a Eurotrash dud, but its predecessors (especially The Meaning Of I, V and Ghost Mile) serenade via silky keys and catchy refrains. This Perth quintet’s greatest weapon, though, is their banger-laden live set, as demonstrated by recent livestream A Voyage Through Time; it was crammed with such infectious essentials as Hyperventilating and I Am The Revolution.