To the uninitiated, the world of progressive metal can appear a little humourless. Complex time signatures, aggressively virtuosic drums, brooding melodies, brutal metallic riffs… this is not casual, easy-on-the-ear music. But at its best, progressive metal can be fiercely imaginative, commanding and challenging in the best possible way. And one absolutely shouldn’t assume that the people making this music are humourless themselves.
French progressive metallers Uneven Structure arrive bathed in a kaleidoscope of coloured lights, as they deliver a Meshuggahesque mix of metallic weight and pensive strains. Tight, speedy, impressive drums and fiercely slapping bass mix with haunting guitar delays (not unlike the jazzier aspects of Steven Wilson’s heavier solo work), plus carefully placed death screams and mighty riffs. They span a lot of textures, and do so with a slick, vehement intensity that, at its peak, is highly compelling.
Perth-based quintet Voyager’s music – cultivated since 1999 over six studio albums – is challengingly, bafflingly diverse at times, with a vast array of bouncing electronics, melodica, synths, gargantuan riffs and tempo changes all packed into a razor-sharp melodic framework. They can sound a little like something out of a computer game, and in photos and videos they’re a serious, strapping group to look at. You’d be forgiven for thinking a gig of theirs would be interesting, but maybe not fun. You’d be wrong.
From the first notes, synchronised headbangs and boot stomps of Ascension (a standout hit from ambitious latest album Ghost Mile), it’s clear that this is a band who want you to enjoy yourself. Guitarist Simone Dow, besides delivering the fiercest of chops, pulls tongue-waggling faces of which Gene Simmons would be proud. German-born vocalist/synth man Danny Estrin is something of a chameleon, moving from metallic growls through emotional balladry, darkly piercing stares and toothy grins, hitting big notes and gesticulating like an edgy Broadway star.
When technical issues crop up (in-ear monitor problems, we’re told, though most of us would barely have known if Estrin hadn’t flagged it up), the band tell jokes and gamely play the first line to Shania Twain’s Man! I Feel Like A Woman! – like you do!
And then, rather wonderfully, just as Lost is in full flow, and we’re beginning to think, ‘Hmmm, this sounds rather like Darude’s hit Sandstorm,’ the band segue seamlessly into a full Ibiza-friendly blast of Darude’s hit Sandstorm. “How about some trance for a Monday night?!” Estrin bellows cheerfully in broad Aussie tones. We can’t believe it – hell, they can’t quite believe it – but it goes down well. Elsewhere, the likes of Hyperventilating swirl Devin Townsend-esque ferocity into the evening, and a furious The Meaning Of I draws their set to an enthused close.