ProgPower Day 1: Sinbreed/Kingcrow/Amaranthe/Serenity/Primordial/Redemption/Epica
By Justin Richardson
After two nights of Nightwish/Kamelot (which you can read here if you haven’t already), alcohol-fueled conversations with friends that I only get to see once a year, and waking up early as hell the next morning… I was already starting to feel a bit beat. But having done this many times, I knew I just had to push through it to get a second wind to make it through the next two days.
You’d think that a festival that starts around 2:30 pm would be pretty easy to deal with, but having come to Atlanta for years now means I’ve built a tradition with friends: we always hit up The Vortex. It’s a fantastic hamburger joint with tons of great burgers, including the one I’ve yet to try, The Coronary Bypass. The beer selection is equally fantastic and the atmosphere is great too. And to top it all off — many other festival-goers and band members are usually there. During ProgPower weekend it can get pretty packed, which means that it might take a little longer than usual for your food and the check. After some hamburgers and a quick trip to the grocery store and Target for some stuff to get us through the weekend, we rushed down to the venue to make our way to the front rail — our home for the next 9 hours or so. The lights went down and ProgPower XIII had begun.
Sinbreed was tasked with the opening slot for the festival — definitely a challenge since they’re not really a well-known band and have to loosen the crowd up. It’s your standard sounding power metal, but with a lot of great hooks and melodies. Frontman Herbie Langhans’ distinctive voice definitely helps the band set itself apart from more generic sounding power metal clones, and they’re German, so you know what you’re gonna get. Their debut, When Worlds Collide, was well received and their live show definitely jolted the fest into high gear. And as a small treat, the band had guitarist Marcus Siepen of Blind Guardian fame in tow. It was a high energy set from start through finish and definitely set the bar that other bands would at least have to try to match.
Hailing from Rome, Kingcrow, whose latest release Phlegethon has been getting a lot of talk in the prog metal circles, were the next to perform. Phlegethon is extremely well written and after a few spins it became a staple in my rotation for a while, and when it’s heavy — it’s heavy. Those already aware of Kingcrow walked away extremely happy and impressed. A friend even said that the performance ranked among his top of all time. Most of the songs they played were from Phlegethon with one brand new song as well as a teaser of their upcoming album. They’re a band to keep on the lookout for as I see them gaining a lot of ground after making a lot of new fans at the show and introducing them to a larger audience here in the States. I’m definitely looking forward to their new album.
A relative unknown before the festival, Amaranthe proved to be one of the most popular bands of the evening. Lead singers Elize Ryd (female vocals) and Jake E (male vocals) both performed at ProgPower before in 2010, after Khan’s departure from Kamelot, which definitely helped get some momentum within the ProgPower crowd with their self-titled debut. Amaranthe’s sound has a lot of synth-laden pop leanings with a small dash of metalcore inspired growls by way of Andreas Solveström (with Antony Hämäläinen of Nightrage filling in at the festival). The band was energized and the interaction with the audience was that of a headliner. The place was packed and the band won many people over. No doubt some of those people were won over by Elize’s skin-tight outfit showing off her fantastic figure rather than the music itself. I was told at one point by security that they were no longer allowing people down to the floor as it was too full, something that I’ve never seen happen in the many years of going to the festival. However, despite their energy and the love they were getting from the crowd, I have to admit that the music just doesn’t do much for me. I’m glad that they went over really well at the show but I just couldn’t get into them.
Austria’s Serenity finally made their USA debut after originally being slated to play ProgPower in 2008. And with two albums and many live shows since then, they’ve had time to mature and refine their songwriting and live act. The excitement for Serenity’s announcement to play ProgPower XIII was high after their cancellation years before, but so were expectations. Their earliest album, Words Untold & Dreams Unlived, was a more prog heavy affair whereas the band has veered off into a more power metal sound with a lot of prog tinge on their later albums — think Sonata Arctica’s Reckoning Night. Whether or not they’ve struck a good balance between the two is all up to the listener. If the Sonata Arctica comparison is enticing to you then you will really love the vocal melodies — Georg Neuhauser is at many times a dead ringer for Tony Kakko, so much so that when I first heard Serenity I thought that Tony had a guest spot. Their performance at ProgPower was energized and confident, on par with a band that you’d expect to have way more touring experience. Maybe it just comes naturally to these guys?
While I enjoy most of the bands that ProgPower has had to offer through the years, I obviously have a few that I’m looking forward to the most. This year Primordial took that spot. Most ProgPowers have had an ‘oddball’ of sorts. A band that doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the lineup. Bands like Mercenary, Diablo Swing Orchestra, and Ihsahn have all shared that distinction and this year Primordial would be added to that alumni. Primordial has been pushing out solid release after solid release, and much like fine wine, they’re only getting better with time. That can’t be said of many bands. And although the quality of their work is strong, they would have to put on one hell of a show to convince the ProgPower crowd that they were worthy of being the oddball. Alan Averill a.k.a. Nemtheanga announced to the audience “We’re here to bring the fucking darkness” and they kept their word — literally and figuratively. Lights were rarely used and it was one of the most intense sets at the festival in terms of sheer emotion and raw energy. I know there were many who either couldn’t get into them, or had already decided they weren’t going to like them and went to get a bite to eat, but for those of us that stayed we were left with our jaws open afterwards. It was a performance that was spoken of repeatedly throughout the weekend. “Gods to the Godless”, “The Coffin Ships”, and “Empire Falls” were just a few of the great selections from their discography. I really wish the guys had more time and maybe switched it up a little from their tour, but there’s always next time!
Redemption, a veteran band that has grown with the festival, has risen from opening the festival back in 2003 to near-headliner status this year. It’s the brainchild of Nick Van Dyk and was initially just a project with members from other bands, but has since grown into a full-fledged group that has had the opportunity to open for Dream Theater’s tour a few years ago. Ray Alder, of Fates Warning fame, has been at the vocal helm since their sophomore effort The Fullness of Time, which definitely holds a lot of weight in a prog-metal audience — especially since Fates Warning has been put on hold indefinitely. The setlist was promised to be fairly unique and cover more material that wasn’t originally played on their Frozen in the Moment DVD, recorded at their last appearance at ProgPower. The reason? They were going to be recording another DVD. If that weren’t cool enough, Nick promised that one song would be played that had never and would never be played again. Redemption put a lot of work into preparing for their performance and it was very evident. While they might not be the most energetic band at the festival, they more than make up for it with conviction — proving why they had moved up the roster slots over the years. The material was diverse, but definitely touched on the last two albums the most since they came out after the aforementioned DVD. However, the highlight of the night was also a bittersweet moment as it was “Parker’s Eyes” — the promised special song. Not only is it one of the best songs the band has written, it also holds very special meaning for Nick. Since I’m not sure if it’s public knowledge or not, I’m not going into detail as to why it’s very special — but it’s completely understandable that it would be an emotionally draining song to play. For me, this show by Redemption would be the most memorable due to that performance alone.
Finally, to close the night out, Holland’s Epica brought their ‘A’ game and their finest wooden shoes. It took an hour to prepare the stage which cost them some audience members since it was already nearing 1:00AM. A large rail was attached to the stage that was rigged to release high pressure CO2 during the show which brought something unique to the table for their performance. I can’t say I’ve seen anyone else do anything like it in the festival’s history. It also provided some much needed cool air since the front was pretty toasty by the time they went on (and it’s late summer in Atlanta — ouch). Their previous North American tour was likely a disappointment for die-hard fans as front-woman Simone Simmons was unable to come due to severe illness and Amanda Somerville stepped in for the tour. Main axeman/band founder Mark Jansen was his usual charismatic self on-stage while still giving room to Simone lead the band. Even though crowd energy was waning, the major crowd pleaser (and traditional Epica encore), “Consign to Oblivion” was brought with full force and re-energized everyone ending in screams and applause from the audience.
It was a long first night and there would be a lot of talk regarding next years roster (which had been announced earlier in the evening). But there was still one more day of festivities to enjoy.