Australia has a particularly strong progressive rock/metal scene, and Progfest is as important a day on the prog fans’ calendar as John Petrucci’s birthday (July 12) or the anniversary of ELP’s Tarkus (June 14).
What is it that has made prog so popular lately – especially Australian prog? “I think there’s been a shift in what’s been popular in heavy music over the last three or four years,” Chaos Divine guitarist Ryan Felton says. “There have been more modern prog bands coming out of America and Europe. Bands like Animals As Leaders and Periphery. The dial has shifted and it’s highlighted the quality of the bands we already had in Australia.
“There are so many great bands coming to Australia on tour now and they’re using local prog bands as the support, and they’re pulling almost as many heads as the main act.”
Another secret weapon Australian bands have up their sleeves is producer and mixer Forrester Savell, who’s worked with artists like Karnivool, Twelve Foot Ninja, Dead Letter Circus, Birds of Tokyo, The Butterfly Effect and of course Chaos Divine. “We’ve got heaps of really good producers who have mastered the art of making a band sound big,” Felton says. “Prog music is all about big and epic sounds, and you’ve got guys like Forrester who have really mastered that big fan low end and lots of atmosphere. It ties all the bands together but emphasises their own personalities too.”
Prog bands are notorious gear geeks, so the talk quickly turns to guitar stuff. Felton recently took delivery of a Kiesel guitar, a custom Aires model made in California. “It’s a custom 7-string multiscale and it’s really nice,” he says. “It’s really affordable, even including shipping it from America. High quality woods and materials, and it plays awesomely. I got to use it on the shows in Europe and I had a ball. And Kiesel have shown that you can hand make guitars and do it well and not be a tiny boutique company. They have this huge facility but everything is made to order. They don’t really keep much stock at all.”
Felton prefers using digital modelling processors now instead of lugging big heavy tube amplifiers around. “I use the Fractal FX-8 floorboard, which is super handy to tour with because all you need to do is plug into the PA, and the sound is much more consistent than using rented amps all over the place. Our other guitarist uses real amps so we’re not all completely digital.” Felton’s early guitar heroes were musicians like Steve Vai, Dream Theater’s John Petrucci and Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour. “Then I got into a lot of acoustic playing like Andy McKee. A good mix of players, really. I don’t try to play like anyone’s style, and that’s reflected in the players I listen to.”
With this year’s Progfest fast approaching, Felton is excited to be a part of an event that showcases heavy music. “They’ve done a really great job of building that festival up over the years. The metal festivals had been dwindling and now it’s great to have something under a name like Progfest to bring it back. We’ve played a few Progfests before and it gets bigger and better every year. I suspect this time again it’s going to be amazing and it should be another full house.”
By Peter Hodgson