Words and Photos By Rob Kachluba
After having been away for the last four years, I finally made my return back to Atlanta for ProgPower, but just barely… Even for me, this was a big blunder. I’d bought my tickets, flight, and hotel back in April, and for some unknown reason I made my holidays for the week of September 21st. Now you have to remember I was checking the www.progpowerusa.com site almost daily and talking to pals, and never once did the date of the 15th come up. However, just by chance, half asleep at 7 AM on Wednesday, I read a post by a friend saying that he’s leaving today and will see you all in Atlanta. “Hmm, why is he leaving a week early?” I wondered. I pulled out my tickets and to my horror and disbelief they read Sept 15th. I thought I must have booked my flight and hotel for the 21st as well, but after checking, I did indeed book everything for the week of the 15th. After some major rushing around and rearranging I made it to the fest.
Kickoff Party: Thursday, September 15
Not being a fan of Powerglove, I skipped them for Vanden Plas, who are hugely popular with the Progpower crowd. On the night, I found them good, but not great. They seemed to be lacking intensity on stage and Andy’s vocals sounded strained. He was hitting the higher notes, but I found his power lacking. Also, the guitars weren’t really up-front in the mix, which might have dampened my enthusiasm for their show. They played a well-rounded set from all their albums and the crowd really ate up their brand of melodic prog metal, but it really didn’t really hit me that hard.
Evergrey hit the stage and right off the bat they played the entire In Search of Truth album with Tom not even saying a word between songs. The band was on fire and the venue was going apeshit. The twin-guitar attack sounded ferocious and Tom’s raspy vocals blended perfectly with their brand of dark prog/power metal. New axeslinger Marcus Jidell (ex-Royal Hunt) was a perfect fit for the band, and they didn’t let up from the start to finish. After that set, they played another forty-five minutes or so with songs from their new LP Glorious Collision as well as tracks from Recreation Day and I believe even from the album Torn. Everyone in the venue greeted the band with open arms, and as one of festival organizer Glenn Harveston’s favourite bands, they could do no wrong.
Day One: Friday, September 16th
Creation’s End opened the show with a real workmanlike outing with the great Mike DiMeo on vocals (ex-Riot, Masterplan, among others). He sounded great within the great confines of the Center Stage venue. The guitarist really can play and the band showcased some good songwriting as opposed to just wanking off—a great way to start the day.
Darkwater from Sweden were next, arriving to much anticipation from the audience. They were potentially the Circus Maximus of the fest. Their warm, melodic prog metal was note-perfect for this prog metal crowd. They had some minor sound issues at first, but once they straightened that out they hit their stride and played a solid set. The vocalist had a really nice clean style and they did remind me of Circus Maximus a lot. They cut their set short due to technical issues but were definitely a nice fit for the fest.
I missed Voyager’s entire set due to some bad timing, but by all accounts they were the highlight of day one. The Australians’ quirky style of prog with growls and blackened screams really added some originality to the fest. The highlight was their “Ghostbusters” medley that was truly a sight to hear, and one dude even played a Keytar—unreal. I decided to pick up their new CD The Meaning of I to see what the fuss was all about.
Italy’s Eldritch was up next and were on a lot of people’s list to see. They play an almost thrash prog version of prog with vocalist Terence Holler not sounding like your typical Italian vocalist. They played a lot from El Nino and mostly their newer thrashy stuff with only two from Headquake, which most people consider their best. The sound was a bit off for them and a tad messy, but they appeared to enjoy themselves a lot on stage and had a good response.
Mob Rules really got the Progpower crowd up and moving. The singer was enjoying himself on stage and had the crowd eating out of his hands with his magnetic stage presence. He delivered some great vocals and the band played a lot from their latest CD Radical Peace. A crowd fave for sure.
Ihsahn along with backing band Leprous played one of the most intense sets I have witnessed at Progpower. He brought out some classic Emperor songs as he stood out front looking like a professor with his slicked-back hair and glasses while the band thrashed as hard as anyone. Truly a tour de force.
Now for one of my favourite performances of the weekend. When the mighty Sanctuary opened with “Eden Lies Obscured” it was obvious from the start they meant business. One of the best sounding sets of the night—the guitars had a crisp heavy tone, and who knew that drummer was so awesome? He hit so hard he broke his sticks twice. Classic after classic was performed, with “Die For my Sins” and “Battle Angels” being played early, most likely to get it out of Warrel Dane’s system. Even Dane commented on how hard these were to sing. He was 95 per cent on with his highs, but to conserve he didn’t hang onto the notes as long. Anyway, come on, it’s 2011, not 1990—we’re talking some serious ear-splitting highs. The crowd was going nuts for them, and they even played a Scorpions tune (“Animal Magnetism”). Dane was genuinely pleased to be up there, and the crowd let him know. Their second guitarist was Forced Entry’s Brad Hull, and he did a great job. Sanctuary were well worthy of their headliner status.
Day Two: Saturday, September 17th
Haken… What can I say, but maybe the best musicians of the weekend. They played mostly from Aquarius and one new one from Visions, which saw them going in a heavier direction. They played flawlessly and their singer was spot on. A lot of people love the music while having issues with his vocals, but I see no problem whatsoever. They’re a perfect blend for a prog rock/metal band.
Sorrow-filled epic doom was the order of the day for While Heaven Wept. They crushed it live with Rain Irving leading the way with his emotional vocals and amazing melodies. The band sounded tight and cohesive and had the crowd banging along. I was surprised they only played one song from their Nuclear Blast debut Fear of Infinity, but it was “Saturn and Sacrifice,” the best song from that LP. They played mostly from Of Empires Forlorn and two from Vast Oceans Lachrymose, ending with the epic “Vessel.”
Red Circuit were next, featuring Chity, their diminutive vocalist from Sri Lanka. The opening song I thought was a bit of an odd choice as it plodded along. It lost my interest so I decided to grab a bite.
Next up was Italy’s Labyrinth for their U.S. debut. Their brand of double-kick power metal was a big hit with the crowd. Playing mostly tracks from Return to Heaven Denied and Return to Heaven Denied Pt. II, it’s easy to see why they neglected their last three albums, which went for a more modern sound. Vocalist Rob Tyrant was just that—a tyrant on vocals. Very controlled and amazingly versatile, he was like the Mariah Carey of metal, hitting hit notes that only a dog could hear.
Next up was San Francisco’s Forbidden, who were a late addition to the roster to fill the void for Dream Evil. They did not disappoint. Full-on raging thrash was the order of the day with a one-two punch from Twisted Into Form. The crowd went apeshit, with a pit going on for most of their set. Russ Anderson sounded great. The mountain of a man commanded the stage and kept calling the fest “Powerprog” until Gene Hoglan corrected him! Speaking of Hoglan, this atomic timekeeper destroyed his kit. Hard to fathom that he was on loan, as they’re looking for a drummer. He sounded tight and powerful, and people were in awe of his skills. They added some songs just for the Progpower crowd in “Tossed Away” and a track from Distortion. The whole band seemed really pleased to be there and the sound was fantastic.
Symphonic metal veterans Therion, who headlined back in 2006 to astounding success, was back but with only main man Christofer Johnsson as well as Snowy Shaw and one of the female vocalists. The new male vocalist was Thomas Vikström and the other female vocalist was his 18-year-old daughter. They came right out of the gate with splendid sound and all four vocalists taking turns on the first track. This show had more of a theatrical setting as they were playing off each other to a great effect. Most of their albums were covered (except the older death metal albums), but the sound and performance were near perfect.
Snowy Shaw commanded the stage with his vocal heroics and the two ladies sang in perfect operatic unison. And to think they almost didn’t play as Christofer bumped his head in the soundcheck earlier in the day and had to go to the hospital, returning to the venue an hour before performing. Now that’s a true metal warrior. I’ve been to seven of these Progpowers and this may end up being my favourite in terms of bands and sound.