ProgPower 2015: Day 1 (Wed, Sep 9)

ProgPower XVI: Wednesday

We arrived to Wednesday’s Midweek Mayhem show in time for Ashes of Ares just beginning their set. We missed out on local stalwarts Halcyon Way, because we arrived in Atlanta a little too late to get there in time. Halcyon Way’s sound has evolved over the years, but it’s basically proggy power metal with occasional harsh vocals. They are a solid act that has earned its spot touring the country, and opening ProgPower festivities in the past.

Ashes of Ares is the “super group” of sorts featuring former Iced Earth frontman Matt Barlow and drummer Van Williams (ex-Nevermore). Their sound is basically Iced Earth Light, but they are a formidable act nonetheless. Barlow especially continues to show that he’s a titan of the metal genre, with an extraordinary range and a charming stage presence. He still hits amazingly high highs and surprisingly guttural death growls.

Ashes of Ares is all about Barlow, though, as the drums and bass were a little muffled (Williams’ bass drums were nearly inaudible, even though I could see he was pounding away). Guitar solos were nimble and appropriate, but this band would be pretty “meh” if it weren’t for the inimitable Barlow. That man is still one of the best in the game. God damn he still has it. His stage banter is candid and unrehearsed, which in my opinion adds to the charm.

Voyager is a prog-synth-power-electro-pop metal band from Australia. They played their first American show at ProgPower USA in 2011, and went from virtually unknown to a house favorite in one performance. With the pressure to impress, they decided they’d do two sets at this year’s ProgPower, including the performance of a fan-chosen album in its entirety. That album was I Am the Revolution, an album that is as accessible as it is nuanced. Speaking to the tour manager, I know the band was nervous about playing a bunch of songs they’d never done live. But let me tell you, despite a few early technical issues with the bass guitar, they killed it.

Their stage presence is infectious. The album I Am the Revolution has some crowd favorites like “Lost” and “The Devil in Me,” but hearing songs like “On the Run From the World” and “In My Arms” was a treat I doubt many of us will experience again. Through it all, the members of Voyager are dancing, bouncing, and skipping across the stage with the energy of children at recess, let loose with the energy just to have fun. And of course, the fans have the same fun; this is a band that should reconsider moving from their remote hometown of Perth, and somewhere more conducive to touring often – they have the potential and crossover appeal to become a formidable act. More people deserve to see Voyager live. [WS]

So Voyager finishes and William went to the Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats show that was happening in the main venue area.  At this point William and I have seen Evergrey multiple times over the years so missing them wasn’t the biggest deal to him, especially since he saw them the night before on their Charlotte, NC date.

Evergrey was one of the two bands that got me to ProgPower USA so many years ago (the other being Dan Swanö’s Nightingale), so at this point it’s pretty safe to say that I’ve seen Evergrey a few times — I think we figured out that it was nine or ten.  So these days Evergrey is more like comfort food for my ears.  Do I get super excited when they get announced? No — hell, it’s definitely been ‘Really? AGAIN?’ in the past — but by the time they get on stage and let the riffs fly, I’m hooked right back in.

Now I haven’t really enjoyed the last few albums much.  They have had some good songs, but I always felt they had been writing watered down versions of their previous material.  But this new album, Hymns of the Broken is fantastic!  It could have easily been the album after The Inner Circle and it would have fit right in.  The band has gone through numerous lineup changes with Tom Englund being the only constant, but it was with this album that many longtime Evergrey vets returned to the fold and the energy that brought to the table is palpable — not just on the new album but live too.

The set didn’t really have any surprises in store.  Not really unexpected, since it was a tour to promote Hymns of the Broken.  But that’s okay — remember what I said?  Comfort food.  The new material translated quite well live and it solidified “The Fire” as being my favourite song from the new album.   And it’s always a treat to hear classics like “Recreation Day” and “Mark of the Triangle” (one of those songs that just never really gets old) leading into “Solitude Within,” which is from my favourite Evergrey album, Solitude Dominance Tragedy.

While I wish the show was longer to allow Evergrey to play more material, I remind myself that I’ve seen them play nearly everything at this point in some form or another.  And I also know that I’ll see them play again in the not-too-far-future.  And I look forward to that comfort food. [JR]

Stay tuned as Hellbound’s report on ProgPower 2015 continues with William and Justin’s review and photos from Day 2….