Words by Rangi White
Having not witnessed any of the bands that played last night at Valtosesh vol 4 before, I didn’t know what to expect performance-wise upon walking into Fortitude Valley’s Ivory Tusk, and upstairs to the Woolly Mammoth Mane Stage. It’s just as well that I didn’t try to guess, as the musical smorgasbord I was about to forcibly indulge in wasn’t anything the most perceptive of punters could have predicted – (without a hefty amount of online research, but why ruin the surprise?) The fourth show was put together by Brisbane’s very own Jazz-metal Orchestra, Valtozash. It was an expose of generic variance the likes of which I am not often privy to, and beer in hand, I sat back, relaxed, and proceeded to be astounded.
The MC for the night introduced the first group of performers, Pending?, as “milky, impertinent and mysterious”. Although an interesting description, it didn’t adequately prepare me mentally for the ensuing performance. Altogether heavy in some parts, jazzy in others, and unequivocally groovy overall, their tight compositions involving multiple mind-boggling time signature changes left me bewildered.
I enjoyed the cohesive moments as the rest of the band would hold down a rhythmic core while one member would step forward and take the melodic lead. Who that member was would change intermittently throughout the performance, and the constant swapping of who held the musical focal point in different sections kept their performance consistently intriguing.
Sporting an unconventional line-up of instruments (Bass, Drums, Keys and Saxophone), the combined timbre of their sound was very flexible. Moving from soft and flowing atmospheric moments reminiscent of early King Crimson to gut-wrenching Primus-y bass-led rhythmic breaks to Mars Volta-ish melodic mayhem. I was thoroughly impressed. Not to mention their usual Saxophonist was unable to make the show, so one of Valtozash’s talented players stepped in and bravely took their place. With reportedly two days to learn some of the most complex Sax parts I’d ever seen performed, it was a brilliant effort, and the tightness of everyone’s playing was most certainly to be commended.
For a radical change of pace came Therein, who maintained the set theme of rhythmic complexity but with a much heavier flavour. The progressive metal madness began as they launched into their first song, startling a few folks sitting up the back who must have been lulled into drowsiness by the crooning saxophone in the previous act. It wasn’t long before they were all alert and attentive.
With intuitively intertwined melodic dual guitaring and immovably solid bass rhythms fortified by immensely energetic and tricky-to-follow drums, they provided a masterful exposé of multiple generic metal elements. No genre was left untouched, with influences from prog to thrash, groove to djent, blues to psychedelic and back again. Their songs were ultimately impressive, with combined guitar sections running, like a short sprint, from one end of the fretboard to the other, only to drop into massive breakdowns. The esoteric wall of complex movement that was the bass and drums shined through to push the musical narrative of their songs.
With basslines featuring blistering finger tapping capable of causing cranial damage (as you would with that many extra strings on a bass), guitar solos of astounding speed and complexity imbued with effects emulation, I could only describe tone-wise as sounding ‘expensive’. With rhythmically dynamic drum sections that showcased well-thought-out time signature changes alongside thunderous blast beats and build-ups from Therein, I was left in abject awe.
Once again, an entirely different change of genre came with the infamous Kallidad. Well known for their energetic, flamboyant flamenco style and imposing onstage appearances, it was immediately apparent that the seasoned trio of performers were well aware of their own salt’s worth. With their traditional Spanish approach mixed in with rock and roll influence, a scintillating expose of groove and movement was displayed with major affluence. I was fascinated by how one acoustic guitar utilised different digital effects, such as distortion and Wah, for transitional and tone-building purposes. At the same time, the other stayed true to the typical nylon string sound that most flamenco guitarists possess.
This was excellent in establishing different levels of timbre throughout songs, staying mainly within the confines of the harmonic minor/Phrygian scale. What I didn’t expect was the ability of the unaffected nylon string to cut through the mix with such presence and establish itself as their unmistakable melodic focal point. Of course, this wasn’t the case the entire time. Each member traded moments in which they showcased their considerable ability, demonstrating excellent control over metre as they built tempo in certain sections and released it in others. This created definitive sections in which one member would take the reins to the pleasure of the bouncing crowd.
The theatrics were fantastic, red lights shining off their Dia de Muertos-inspired Calavera makeup. The percussionist leapt on top of his Cajon to conduct the more than appreciative audience who clapped along in rhythmical glee. The band was excited to play to a local audience, as it was their last home show before they ventured to Europe for a long-awaited international tour, on which I wish them the best of luck.
After venturing out for some fresh air in the smoker’s section, downstairs by the grease trap and porta-loo, I choked my way back up to the Mane Stage to a fantastical spectacle which had materialised apparently out of nowhere. This gleaming wall of golden brass shone before me like some sort of splendorous statue from El Dorado, and with an almighty bellow, Valtozash began their performance. With suspended disbelief, I witnessed a 16-piece Jazz Metal orchestra fit themselves onto the Woolly Mammoth’s stage. Although it seemed to be a relatively compact set-up, it did not impact the vastness of their resounding music. For such a wall of splendidly cacophonic melodious might to tower in front of me like that was not at all something I’d thought to witness on this night, nor was I prepared to, but I’m happy I did.
Under the direction of conductor and electric vibraphonist Andre Bonetti, wonderfully clamorous mayhem ensued. I’d never seen a percussionist tell so many brass players what to do before, but then again, that was just one of many visual firsts for me last night. Featuring all the rhythmic aspects of metal, the dyscognitive time signatures, the lightning speed of blast beats, and shredding guitar solos, alongside the variant musicality of big band style performance with featured solos from different artists within the brass section, my eyes and ears gorged themselves on something refreshingly, if deafeningly, different.
Casting genres aside, they blasted through multiple tunes, including a cover of The Gears by the mighty Dethklok. I was, of course, impressed by both the sonic and visual imagery Valtozash painted. However, I noted that it seemed as if this was a performance designed far more for the enjoyment of the actual performers rather than the audience. That is in no way a criticism. I could tell from how this group interacted with each other onstage that the gratification they gained from playing for each other was shared intuitively between them. In a band scene like Brisbane, wherein the average constituent is typically more obsessed with how potential listeners view their band rather than being interested in playing music for the sake of themselves, that communion was quite enjoyable for me to see.
Overall, the main element I enjoyed about last night’s Eisteddfod was that the majority of music played was focused purely on the quality of performance and instrumentation. Too often is a band ranked by the quality of their vocalist, or one defining aspect of their performance, whereas that criterium can’t be applied to a concert such as this. It was majorly music made for musicians, although in no way was any of it majorly major.
In light of this, I hope to see more of it around. One can have their fill of 4-piece rock outfits and cover acts and eventually lust for something more musically engaging If this sounds like you, then keep an eye out for Valtosesh – Vol 5.