Having spent an incredible two weeks at home on South Island, it was now back up to Auckland and it was soon back into the live scene with my first gig at Dead Witch for 2023. Tonight was going to be interesting as I recently reviewed Ovus’s EP, Lucid, and it would be the first time I had seen Afterlight since they changed their name from Antebellum. First up though was Mudshark, a band I last saw towards the end of 2020.

The guys have a somewhat unusual line-up as there is no traditional bassist, and comprises Rory (vocals), Mort (guitar, vocals), Parsa (drums, vocals) and Nate (keyboards). I was chatting with Nate beforehand and said I was surprised I had not seen them play in such a long time, but like many bands they were messed up by Covid and lockdowns, and hopefully we will be seeing more of them this year. They kicked off with Emperor Fenguin, with Rory showing right from the off why he is so highly regarded as a frontman as he puts so much into what he is doing, while the rest of the guys mix complex music and intertwined melodies into something which brings in influences from Tool and others, mixing it all up into a sound which is immediately identifiable as Mudshark. There are not many quartets utilising keyboards like this in the local scene, providing some nice blanket chords which contrasts well with the sharp strike of the drums, and the hard-hitting guitar of Mort who also has a nice line in growled vocals.

The band are renowned for having an interesting line in song titles, and after Nebgatables we were into Panda which is a nice bouncy up and down number with some great drum patterns. Some running repairs to the drumkit saw us then into Bwen Stefani, one of their most commercial numbers, and I was constantly being reminded of why these guys are such a good time, and that is because they are all having a good time on stage so it comes down to us in the crowd. They are out to have fun, and are really good at what they do, mixing together different types of rock and metal to make something which is solidly Mudshark. Rory has a great singing voice, but he can also scream and growl, and shows this all off in Eight, one of their more recent numbers. From this we went into their circus number, Neb Flat, although while the vibe was definitely there (love the keyboards), no-one took Rory up on the opportunity of doing acrobatics in the audience (shame). They ended the set with Lamb of God’s Laid To Rest, and a cry of asking where was Nik? This again shows the band in another light with the keyboards playing a major role in their heaviest number yet. Nik made it up in time for the second verse and he and Rory then put in a great twin performance which had everyone moving. What a way to end the set!

Now it was time for the recently renamed Afterlight, which still has the same line-up of Daniel Beeler on guitar, Ash Rolston on drums and Isaac Martin on bass. I was asking Ash before the gig what the difference was going to be in the sound as he told me that they were going in a new direction, but  I would have to wait and find out. It didn’t take long, as they have removed the laptop which used to be in front of Daniel, and although they did kick off with an intro track before moving into Origin, there was a real difference to how the guys looked onstage, and the sound seemed far more powerful.

Daniel is on a 7-string and Isaac on a 5-string, and they tend to keep to their places on stage left and stage right, partially as this gives the crowd the opportunity to see what Ash is doing as he is one of the most animated drummers one will ever see with a wide range of facial expressions, and tonight a rather fetching hat.

The change in the use of samples (which are nowhere near as apparent as they used to be) has cleaned up the overall sound and allowed the band to really express themselves while looking as if they are not trapped by a computer. In a trio there is no room for mistakes, and everyone needs to be fully locked together, and that is what we were getting here with all three joined together in technical progressive metal of massive complexity, and while Ash may appear to be playing the fool, his footwork is amazing, adding drive to the constantly changing tempos and rhythms with superb use of the kick drum. Isaac provides the link through to Daniel who is constantly moving up and down the neck, using many different techniques to keep driving the melody. Songs like Ambition are incredibly heavy, loads of crunch and mathcore, while Daniel also uses the opportunity to show that as well as power chords he can really shred, with Isaac and Ash keeping it tight behind him. Their songs are all quite short given the genre they are playing, yet they never have an issue with finishing and constantly display the confidence which only comes from playing many shows together. This is the third or fourth time I have seen these guys and there is no doubt that tonight was the one I enjoyed most as everything just seemed right, with the complexity never getting in the way of musicality and melody, all coming together in a very powerful way indeed. They ended with the banger which is Crusade and their style of prog metal is certainly endearing and hopefully I will see them again in the near future.

Now we had Ovus, an instrumental technical prog metal quartet from Wellington. I was already impressed as not only was Joe Murphy (guitar) wearing a Pencarrow shirt when he arrived (apparently the bands are great mates and often gig together) but they had merch for sale, and they have brought it with them! That it included a pink sweatshirt is neither here nor there. The rest of the band are Adam Sive (guitar), Joshua Murray (big guitar – which is actually a 6-string bass. I asked what happened if he broke a string and was told it was okay, he had another 6-string on stage tuned and ready to go) and drummer Jignesh Jasmat. Over the last few years, they have been concentrating on writing and rehearsing and not so much playing live but hopefully that is going to change this year. They kicked off with Mesosphere, the opener from the EP, with Joe gently bending some chords and then they were off. The complexity of this music is quite staggering, yet they are a full-blown rock band, and everyone is into the music and moving as much as they can on stage. Joe is the more dynamic of the two guitarists, taking centre stage with his sailor’s cap (what is it with hats tonight?)  but Joshua looks as if he is auditioning for a death metal band as while his fingers never stop moving (and we even get some tapping) his head is always in motion as he is so into the music while Jignesh is fully invested, attacking the kit like a man possessed. Just two songs in, with the second being 2CB (also from the EP) and the crowd were already reacting in a very positive manner indeed.

They build soundscapes, and the listener never knows where they are going as with these musicians there are endless possibilities, and on Noodles both Adam and Joe are tapping away, in perfect harmony. For Kato they slowed it down somewhat, giving both themselves and the audience something of a breather, and it even gave time for Joshua to have a short but perfectly formed bass lead. This starts much more into the world of fusion, showing a quite different side to the band, although the guitars do pick up and become far more driven in the second half. One would expect a lot of tuning and retuning to take place during the set but the guys have this done to a fine art, with set times for Joe to talk so it can take place, and prior to Lucid Dreams he continued with some feedback while Joshua and Adam quickly got sorted, with Jignesh continuing, and they picked up a melody while he changed guitar, and then we were off. It was seamless and very clever as it meant there was no hanging around and loss of momentum.

The note density on this one is immense, and those at the front were being matched by the drummer at the back with some insane kick drums and plenty of fills. Somehow, they then lifted it even more with Vulgaris which was simply brutal – it is always nice when a prog metal band really goes for the second half of that equation while also keeping it complex and complicated and that is certainly what we were getting here. Ninjas started in a slightly more commercial manner, but soon changed into something far more robust with elements of mathcore and djent showing these guys really know what they are doing in plenty of different tech styles. Joe was even down on his knees at one point as he used the controls on his pedalboard to create a backwash of sound for the rest of the guys to lean into. From here on in it was keep pushing to the end, with all four musicians adding so much to the overall music we were taken on a very wild ride indeed.

They are one heck of a band, and this was a great way to start my gigs for 2023. I am sure we are going to be hearing much more from all these guys this year.