Karnivool | Credit: Matt Jelonek/WireImage (via Getty)

Monolith Festival Review – Karnivool Lead Prog Rock Masterclass in Melbourne

Monolith festival took place at PICA, Melbourne on Saturday, 27th August. Brenton Harris reviews.

When you think of modern Australian progressive rock, you’d be hard-pressed to find two acts more revered than Karnivool and Cog. So, when these two titans agreed to team up for the first time in 17 years to headline Monolith festival, there was potential for something special.  

On an unseasonably sunny day in Melbourne, both acts put on powerhouse performances to send the capacity crowd home in a state of delight. In the build-up to the main event, the crowd witnessed performances from several of the finest progressive and experimental acts in Australia, taking in everything from instrumental and psychedelic art-rock to post-rock and prog metal.  

Monolith comes to Melbourne’s PICA


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Perth’s Yomi Ship were first up. The band’s dreamy psychedelic soundscapes won over an audience largely unfamiliar with their work. The way they weaved in and out of musical modes, from jazz to shoegaze to traditional prog, provided a sensation akin to being wrapped in a big warm blanket.

Sydney’s Reliqa delivered a much louder and chaotic performance, tearing through a set of innovative metal that they’ve accurately described as “outrageous alt-prog”. The powerful lead vocals of Monique Pym cut through the sonic mayhem provided by her bandmates.

With precise rhythms, unexpected detours and incendiary lead work from guitarist Brandon Lloyd, Reliqa kept the crowd invested throughout. Joined by The Gloom In The Corner vocalist Mikey Arthur on highlight ‘Safety’, Reliqa offered a glimpse of the future of Australian prog-metal.

sleepmakeswaves turned in a world-class set of instrumental post-rock, with every note of their complex compositions perfectly in place. They were a personable bunch too, adding witty banter to break up the shoegaze-come-prog metal onslaught.

Drummer Tim Adderly and bassist Alex Wilson have a special connection and the way they locked in with guitarist Otto Wicks-Green was hypnotic. Highlights of the set included ‘The Stars are Stigmata’, ‘Great Northern’ and the eight-minute epic ‘Pyramids’.

Steve Vai has described Plini as the “future of exceptional guitar playing” and the Monolith festival crowd would agree after witnessing an otherworldly display of talent. Flanked by an exceptional band, Plini ripped through a 40-minute set incorporating elements from across the progressive spectrum. Djent, jazz fusion, math rock and mathcore – all were present in a performance that was at times dizzying. Plini’s self-deprecating sense of humour was a hit too, with his quip that “We’re going to play 20 more mins of nerd music” earning the biggest laugh of the day. 

Plini – ‘Impulse Voices’ (Playthrough)

Ocean Grove brought a party vibe to proceedings, gaining immediate approval for their blend of nu metal, alt rock and punk. Front person Dale Tanner oozes charisma. He had the crowd eating out of his hand from the second he bounced onto the stage. Playing a set dominated by their two recent records, Up In The Air Forever and Flip Phone Fantasyone thing became abundantly clear: this band can write a chorus. 

The songs ‘SUPERSTAR’, ‘SILVER LINING’, ‘CALI SUN’, ‘ASK FOR THE ANTHEM’, ‘BORED’ and ‘SUNNY’ all inspired mass sing-alongs, while Sam Bassal’s drumming kept everything neatly bound together. There was a sense of optimism to Ocean Grove’s performance that was infectious. If they keep this up, they’ll be headliners in their own right in no time. 

Cog arrived onstage to a hero’s welcome. They entranced the crowd with the fragile ‘Bitter Pills’ before cranking things up with ‘Anarchy OK’ from their 2005 debut, The New Normal. Guitarist and vocalist Flynn Gower asked that we all try to be truly present during the performance, and then conducted a deafening call and response during ‘What If’. ‘Resonate’ followed and the Monolith crowd was in raptures.

Drummer Lucius Borich displayed legendary stage presence, while the vocal and guitar/bass interplay between brothers Flynn and Luke Gower was as instinctive and powerful as ever. Newer songs like ‘Open Up’ were well received, but nothing moves Aussie progheads quite like classic Cog. And so, when the band closed the set with the triumvirate of ‘The River Song’, ‘No Other Way’ and ‘Bird Of Feather’, the Monolith crowd was at fever pitch. 

Cog – ‘Bird Of Feather’

A black curtain dropped, heralding the arrival of Karnivool, who opened their epic headlining set with ‘Fear of The Sky’. Ian Kenny’s vocals rose and fell with ease, delivering crisp melodies that soared atop the crushing instrumentation of ‘Goliath’. Drew Goddard and Mark Hosking’s riffs enchanted during ‘A Simple Boy’ and inspired a frenzy of animation in ‘Set Fire To The Hive’.

Bass player Jon Stockman and drummer Steve Judd provided thunderous bottom end to power the fan-favourite ‘Roquefort’ and the aforementioned ‘Set Fire To The Hive’. The many mood shifts were matched by the lighting display, which generated an eerie haze during the tender ‘New Day’ and triggered pulsating strobes worthy of a rave during ‘Themata’.

‘Themata’, Karnivool’s trademark hit, drew the biggest response of the festival. From the djent grooves of the verses to the alt-rock pre-chorus and the stadium rock chorus, ‘Themata’ made an impression on everyone. If the set had ended there, people would have been happy, but Karnivool had more magic in store. 

A two-song encore of ‘All It Takes’ and ‘Fade’ evoked first emotion and then all matter of chaos. As the final notes of ‘Fade’ rang out, the crowd let go of one last appreciative roar. It was a celebratory way to end a day of prog rock and metal prowess.

Further Reading

Karnivool, Cog, and sleepmakeswaves Interview Each Other Ahead of Monolith Festival

KISS Review – Enough Substance to Maintain the Style at Melbourne Farewell

WHORES. Review – Sweaty, Cathartic Tour Opener For US Stoners

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