EP Review: Reliqa – I Don’t Know What I Am

Reliqa - I Don't Know What I Am cover art
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I discovered Reliqa a few months ago. I was looking up the acts I didn’t know ahead of attending Monolith Festival in Melbourne, which featured some of the best prog and post-rock bands that Australia had to offer. Reliqa was new to me, but I was floored straight away. Energetic, innovative alt-prog with an incredible singer. It’s by no means their heaviest, but the song “Earthbound“, was a fast favourite, full of moody gravitas.

Reliqa have been on high rotate ever since. I just can’t get enough. They’re only young – all being in their early 20’s – but their songwriting and playing abilities are truly outstanding. It’s a bit of a given – seeing that they are a prog band – but their ability to draw from a variety of genres and experiment with sounds and styles makes their music exciting and enticing. And just as I’d hoped, Reliqa killed it when I saw them play live. A good portion of their set was yet-unreleased material from this EP, and even though nobody knew those songs, it still garnered a great reaction from the audience.

Reliqa Monolith Melbourne by Will Not Fade

I Don’t Know What I Am, kicks straight into it on the eponymous opening track. Vocalist Monique Pym’s delivery is direct and aggressive, backed by distorted guitar. This juxtaposes abruptly against a floating ethereal passage before launching into another rocky section. The crazy glitchy breakdown in the middle is one of the stand out moments on this EP. An effect kicks in, causing Pym’s vocals to stutter, falling away for the solo. I’m not sure which instrument is responsible but it sounds like a drum solo on synthetic boomwhackers, leading into a ripping guitar lead. The sheer weirdness of the tones and timbres make my ears prick up and notice. What is that sound? How did they pull that off? The guitar playing is reminiscent of their Monolith festival co-players Plini – extremely technical sounding, heavy and metallic, yet still very articulate and accessible.

“The Bearer of Bad News” takes us to exotic lands before crashing back to reality with frenzied riffing and playing. Pym alternates between singing and rapping, showing some diverse ability with her power voice. One moment her singing soars high, the next she’s whispering with menace. You know how System of a Down sometimes use scales that aren’t often found in traditional Western music? I have a feeling that Reliqa may be doing something along those lines to give sections of this song an different flavour. Listening to some of those guitar lines makes me conjure images of snake charmers.

“Safety” was an obvious choice as a single. For one, it features Make Them Suffer vocalist Sean Harmanis. Reliqa have been touring with and opening for an impressive selection of bands – a who’s who of premiere Australian alternative acts – so it’s cool to see them making the most of some of the contacts they’ve made by getting Harmanis to guest on this track. It’s also a heavy track, and the chorus is a real ear worm. Good luck getting it out of your head after a few listens.

“Second Nature” is the ballad of the EP, in the sense that it’s slow and powerful. It commences with serene guitar picking and spacious halftime drumming, revving up for the the chorus and a breakdown. Doublekick drumming fills the beat, giving the song some oomph. Throughout the song we feel an elastic tension with the tempo, pulling and pushing as the energy comes in waves. A soft cut out preludes a big build up, with lots of layered harmonies that create an anthemic final chorus and a juicy riff-laden outro. This powerhouse track shows Reliqa as masters of dynamic songwriting.

Brandon Lloyd Reliqa Monolith Melbourne by Will Not Fade

Brandon Lloyd

“.blip” is an interlude, an instrumental track that gives the Miles and Benjamin Knox a chance to show off how in sync the rhythm section is. They lock in, tight drums and warm running basslines, while guitar helps to flesh it out tastefully. This leads into “The Ritualist”, which also has a tight djent feel, with dense stop/start chugging..

True to its name, I Don’t Know What I Am EP is all over the show, never staying true to a set style or sound. But this eclectic dynamism is what I find so alluring. This music demands your attention, showcasing the immense talents of the four musicians responsible. Monique Pym’s singing is the true star of the show (and will earn Reliqa inevitable comparisons to Spiritbox), but the other three players are also incredible. Despite the technical nature of the music, I don’t consider it challenging or pretentious. Perhaps it’s because they explore a whole array of concepts within each song, but condense them into a standard length, unlike many other prog bands who are known for writing long songs. This keeps it sounding fresh, at any rate. It’s just great music, played by musicians who are talented beyond their years.

I Don’t Know What I Am drops on Friday 16 September 2022

Reliqa Monolith Melbourne by Will Not Fade

Reliqa is:

Monique Pym – Vocals

Brandon Lloyd – Guitars

Miles Knox – Bass

Benjamin Knox – Drums

Miles Knox Reliqa Monolith Melbourne by Will Not Fade

Miles Knox

Reliqa linktree:

https://linktr.ee/reliqaband?fbclid=IwAR1CBi3ZcIQh7JixtVTShsBDi4bqBz4SX7LBwhMLMMKFWVzRr8NPNne7v8M 


Review and photos by Joseph James

EP artwork by Eben Ejdne

Live Review: Monolith Festival, Melbourne

Monolith Melbourne Destroy All Lines
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Monolith Festival

feat. Karnivool, Cog, Ocean Grove, Plini, sleepmakeswaves, Reliqa, Yomi Ship

PICA, Melbourne

Saturday 26 August 2022

Australia hits well above its weight when it comes to excellent prog-rock and post-rock bands. Belgium does well, possibly because dunk!records is based there. Japan has an incredible scene, especially with the math-rock offshoot. America is obviously well represented, but that’s a given because America is huge and is there anything that they don’t dominate at? But honestly, give me the choice, and I’d most want to see Australian post/prog bands.

Monolith Festival was my chance. When I first saw the announcement I was almost too scared to hope. The lineup seemed too good to be true. Karnivool AND Cog? I’d consider coming over for either one of those acts, let alone both of them together. But this is the time of covid. A time of ruined dreams and cancellations and postponements and lockdowns and all those nasty things a pandemic can cause. It was too risky.

And sure enough, the gigs were postponed. But this worked for me. It meant that it took us to a time beyond extreme border restrictions and mandatory isolation. Travel was viable again. I could afford a glimmer of hope.

I’ve come to Melbourne for gigs a few times in the past: Into It. Over It. and Download Festival. Both were amazing, truly treasured memories. It was time for a hat-trick. Monolith Festival, here we come!

Yomi Ship

I arrived at PICA with my friend Francie half way through Yomi Ship’s set. Navigating Melbourne’s public transport had proven more difficult than anticipated, with some train services being closed for maintenance. PICA – Port Melbourne Industrial Centre for the Arts – was a cool spot. As the name suggests, it was in the port area. It used to be a warehouse of some sort, that had been repurposed as a venue. A bunch of old shipping containers had been converted into bars, and there were a few bars spaces that didn’t look quite so industrial. It was covered in corrugated iron and the walls didn’t come down far, giving it a half open-air feel – like an industrial gazebo of sorts. There was a designated area with picnic tables and an assortment of food trucks, and the obligatory merch tent and portaloos. It was a great set up.

Perth’s Yomi Ship – named after a Yu Gi Oh card – were a trio playing very technical-sounding post-rock. It was fairly laid-back, despite some time-signature changes that bordered on jarring. Melbourne had put on an unexpected beaut of a day, and this dreamy music was wonderful as we enjoyed the sun.

Reliqa

Reliqa is one of the acts I hadn’t heard of before seeing the Monolith line up. I figured I better check out all the acts about a month ago, and was blown away with how much I loved their music. They’ve been on very heavy rotate ever since.

I came in with high expectations, and Reliqa more than delivered. They draw from a range of styles, with elements borrowed from prog-rock, metalcore, djent and and similar alternative styles. They’re a young band, but showed great mastery as musicians and songwriters. Frontwoman Monique Pym stood out especially with her powerful pipes.

Mikey from local metalcore band Gloom in the Corner came on for a guest spot on their latest single “Safety”, with some pretty heavy hardcore vocals. After that the band previewed unreleased material from their forthcoming EP: I Don’t Know What I Am. I tell you what: it’s great music. Uplifting passages, thunderous breakdowns, infectious riffing – I was absolutely lapping it up.

I was very impressed with their set. Note Reliqa down as a band to watch out for.

Reliqa Monolith Melbourne by Will Not Fade Reliqa Monolith Melbourne by Will Not Fade

sleepmakeswaves

Back in 2017 I tagged along with Montana post-rockers Ranges on a two week tour across America. I saw a lot of post-rock bands during those two weeks, especially because the tour involved a few days in Vermont at the inaugural dunk!USA festival. I remember discussing with Ranges guitarist Joey Caldwell what it took for post-rock bands to stand out in a live context. They need either memorable melodies or great energy. Anything less, and they’re just not up to par.

sleepmakeswaves have both. Delicious riffs, interesting effects, great dynamics. And energy! Such energy! I’d seen them open for This Will Destroy You when they came to Wellington in 2015, hot off a three-month long tour. They, well, destroyed TWDY. Their energy was incredible. I’ve long awaited the chance to see them play again.

Sound check for their set had me giggling. Certain frequencies had the corrugated iron on the roof of the venue rattling sympathetically, like the wire snares on a snare drum.

Right from the opening notes of “Tundra”, I was transported into my happy place. Pure euphoria. It reminded me just why Made Of Breath Only is one of my favourite post-rock albums. As I already mentioned, they are an incredibly energetic band. And that energy was contagious. The three string players were bounding all over the stage, leaping up and off the foldbacks. I could tell there were some issues with the bass guitar because a roadie kept coming up to adjust the pedal board and swap out the lead, but I couldn’t hear anything wrong.

They dismissed their music as mere “interlude songs”, but honestly, their set was the highlight of my day. It has been a tough few years. I wouldn’t usually consider myself a happy person and life is often a struggle. But sleepmakeswaves made me experience such elation that I struggle to remember when I was in such joyful spirits.

sleepmakeswaves Monolith Melbourne by Will Not Fade sleepmakeswaves Monolith Melbourne by Will Not Fade

Plini

The sun had set by this stage, so the lights finally looked effective onstage. It was quite comical how much stage smoke was deployed, with the band often engulfed in clouds.

Like sleepmakeswaves, Plini plays guitar driven instrumental music. But I’d call Plini technical guitar metal, rather than energetic post-rock. I’d seen Plini play in Wellington once at a sold-out gig, in many ways reminiscent of the Intervals gig that had taken place maybe 6 months before. It was a great night.

I don’t have too much to say about his music. It’s a lot of widdly widdly wizardry. Once you’ve heard one of his songs you’ll have a fair idea what the rest will sound like. Very tappy and technical, bridging the gap between melodic and heavy.

One of the reasons that I love the prog/post styles of music is that the artists are often pushing their abilities as musicians. Plini doesn’t put on much of a show – he’s quite unassuming and self-deprecating – but he is a phenomenal guitarist. And his band members also have to be incredible as well. This was an act that you just stand and watch, mouth agape, in awe of their talent.

Plini Monolith Melbourne by Will Not Fade Plini Monolith Melbourne by Will Not Fade

Ocean Grove.

Now you have to understand that I am from New Zealand. The internet does wonders for connecting us all, but some big Australian bands just don’t have a presence over the ditch. I’d never heard of Ocean Grove. But based on their streaming stats, and the of bands they’ve opened for, I’d wager they’re pretty big here in Australia.

I gave them a few listens online leading up to Monolith. And to be honest, I never lasted long before switching to something else. I didn’t really get the appeal. But they made sense live. Their music was definitely more commercial sounding and catchy, something I could easily imagine gaining radio play. And they had great presence. They’re local to Melbourne, so I imagine that many people in attendance had seen them plenty of times.

Their sound reminded me of Limp Bizkit and Sum 41, switching from rapping to hook laden choruses. Their visuals weren’t exactly cohesive, but you can tell they’d put some thought into their image. The singer wore a boiler suit, and the lead guitarist had a skeleton hoodie and sequined jeans.

They encouraged everyone to get up on shoulders and crowd surf, with singer Dale Tanner jumping out into the crowd rows of the audience himself.

Ocean Grove Monolith Melbourne by Will Not Fade Ocean Grove Monolith Melbourne by Will Not Fade

Cog.

Cog are incredible. How can a mere trio be such a powerhouse act? One of my mates put my onto them a when I started university and I was instantly hooked. Cog were old news by that stage, and inactive. There was the wonderful side project from The Occupants that they released around that time, but I thought Cog was over. Thankfully after a few years, Cog reunited, released a few singles, and I was able to see them play on a trip to Sydney. It was everything I wanted and more. I even caught one of Lucius’ drum sticks that night, but regretfully left it in the hotel room when I returned to NZ a few days later.

They were obviously a huge drawcard for tonight. Looking around, you could see most people singing along to most songs. Guitarist Flynn Gower mentioned that they’d been coming down to Melbourne for close on 25 years, and felt that Melbourne was a musical home for the band.

As is the case with every band on the bill, the musicians in Cog were amazing players. All three of them sang. I was especially in awe of drummer Lucias Borich. He had a huge DW kit, flanked by sample pads with a huge Zildjian gong at the rear. And splash cymbals for Africa. He seemed like an octopus at times, utilizing so many different percussive elements in his playing.

Some of the mix wasn’t quite right. Flynn had two microphones with slightly different effects (I’d seen Faith No More’s Mike Patton do this in the past too) and the secondary one wasn’t working for the start of the set. And the samples from the drum trigger pads were a lot louder than the band at times, but all in all, none of this really detracted from the gig.

Everyone knew the songs so well, so it was neat to see how the band gave these songs live treatment. The song “Open Up” (A Leftfield/Public Imaged Ltd cover) stood out somewhat, having a more dancy/electronic feel. I loved the handful of songs which had extended jams, with “No Other Way” having an especially big build up. 

Bassist Luke Gower was having the time of his life. You could see him dancing and grooving onstage, even between songs. You could even see how much fun he was having as he sang some of the non-lyrical vocal parts, playing with what his voice could do. I chatted to him briefly after his set and he said to me “oh yeah, you could tell that tonight was a great set”. I have to say I agree with him.

Cog Monolith Melbourne by Will Not Fade Cog Monolith Melbourne by Will Not Fade

Karnivool

I dreamt of becoming a music journalist as a teen. Imagine being given albums to review, getting passes to concerts, interviewing rock stars. I never managed to make a career of it, but I did start this music blog so I’ve had a taste of it. My favourite magazine at the time was Rip It Up, a long standing NZ music mag that was celebrating its 30th birthday around the time I started reading it. Annual subscriptions worked out cheaper than buying each issue, and you’d get a free CD too. From memory I got a Velvet Revolver album the first year. The second year I got a CD from a band I hadn’t heard of: Sound Awake by Karnivool. I’m so grateful for that. I wonder if I would have ever discovered Karnivool if not for that chance subscription bonus?

That album was a game changer. As a teenage bogan, I was dutifully a huge Tool fan. This was a band who came incredibly close in terms of musicianship and feel, yet didn’t feel derivative. I loved the moodiness, the emotion. As a beginning drummer, I was in absolute awe of the drumming. There are plenty of brilliant drumming moments found within, but the intro to “The Caudal Lure” stood out, because Steve Judd plays around the beat. I couldn’t comprehend it.

I was even more fortunate to see them play at Big Day Out the following year. It was amazing, but criminally early in the day, and not a very long set. That was 12 years ago. I’ve craved more live Karnivool ever since.

Sound Awake remains one of my favourite albums. Now and again I meet someone who is a fellow Karnivool fan and it feels like we instantly form a special bond. I remember chatting to some of the guys in OHGOD (who opened for Karnivool in South Africa) at dunk!fest 2018, who share my reverence for the Vool. And my mate Josh (Tides of Man) talks about touring with Karnivool, and just being completely floored as he got to watch them from side of stage every night on tour. They’re on another level.

Tonight was the night. I would have come over just for Karnivool. I couldn’t miss Karnivool AND Cog, along with the other incredible bands.

Karnivool Monolith Melbourne by Will Not Fade

They’d hung a huge transparent curtain in front of the stage during set up and sound check. I couldn’t tell what the point of this was from where I was to the side, but I assume it added a theatrical element, dropping to the floor half way through their first song.

As I said before, Sound Awake is a huge album for me, so songs like “Simple Boy” and “New Day” were big highlights. But they treated fans to works from throughout their catalogue. Their encore was their newest song, “All It Takes”, followed by “Fade” – one of their oldest.

It had seemed like most of the crowd had been singing along to Cog’s set when they played. Well for Karnivool, it seemed like that number had doubled. It was a sight to behold, seeing everyone mouth along to the words, arms in the air. One of the best moments was the outro to “We Are”, which the band slowly faded out to. It felt magic, everyone singing along in unison at the last notes lingered in the still night.

Karnivool Monolith Melbourne by Will Not Fade Karnivool Monolith Melbourne by Will Not Fade

Monolith Festival was a huge success. Incredible bands, great venue, sold out show.

Karnivool guitarist Mark Hosking to summed it up well: “If there is one thing that this tour has made abundantly clear, it is that Australian music is alive! And here! And relevant!”

The pandemic stole a lot from us. But it didn’t defeat us. And tonight was a testament to that. Great music unites people, and reminds us what we have to live for.

Let’s do it again. Add Meniscus to the lineup. I’ll come back to Australia for that in a heartbeat.

 

Words and photos by Joseph James