ProgPower USA 2012 - Who Says Germans Don't Have A Sense Of Humor?

October 1, 2012, 2 years ago

By Mark Gromen

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Punctual, meticulous, but comical? Based on SINBREED, LANFEAR and SERENITY, many more Americans discovered what my frequent trips abroad proved long ago, the answer is a resounding yes! OK, the final act is Austrian (despite singer Georg Neuhauser's contention they're from the Austrian Empire, a regime which died out with the Habsburgs, in the early 1900s), who share common linguistic and cultural ties to Deutschland, ignoring protests to the contrary. Frequent visitors to ProgPower weren't surprised, having witnessed EDGUY singer Tobias Sammet's wicked tongue-in-cheek view of the world on this Atlanta stage, but happily it was a major revelation to most others. We came to a rock concert and (at times) a comedy club broke out.
Thursday evening is now all but an official part of the festival (albeit with a separate admission), many attendees arriving early to take in the kick-off of the NIGHTWISH / KAMELOT tour. A full report on that show can be seen here. Friday got off on the right foot, a fun, traditional German power metal set from SINBREED. While I know it was their first American appearance, was there really any need to ask, “Are you still with us, Atlanta,” after opening with 'Through The Dark'. Only bump in an otherwise stellar afternoon (beginning at 2:30). BLIND GUARDIAN drummer Frederik Ehmke is part of the band and for this performance, he brought along guitarist Marcus Siepen. By the time they'd run through 'Newborn Tomorrow' and 'Enemy Lines' the venue was about ¾ filled, which is good for the kick-off act. The final line of 'When Worlds Collide' was delivered a cappella, followed by an instrumental coda (ta-da!). The band were static, apart from frontman Herbie Langhans, who patrolled the stage and one point, took a photo/clip to kill time while Flo Laurin replaced a busted string. Either side of the stage, a column of 4 blinding headlights alternated red-green-blue-white. 'Dust To Dust' was advertised as a YouTube video, during which the singer got the crowd to clap along and sing the titular chorus: even males vs. females. Since its been a couple years since their debut, they offered 'Reborn', an unreleased, speedy gallop of a track. While Laurin again needed to tune, the frontman joked, “It's heavy metal, forget tuning. It needs to be loud and played like this (open mouth, shakes hair, feet wide apart).” If only the rest of the weekend's band would heed his advise, the lengthy delays would disappear. 'Salvation' came next and the audience booed when it was announced that 'Book Of Life' would be their final song. No worries, the tall Langhans assured, “We only go from the stage, not from the bar!” True to their word, the rest of ProgPower, he and most of the others could be found talking to fans, posing for photos and just having a good time. Could the first band on end up being the best of the day, if not the entire festival. There's a reason When Worlds Collide made by best of 2010 list and seeing them live did nothing to dissuade that opinion, only whet the appetite for disc #2.
A sextet onstage, with half the members being singers: a pair of ball cap and hoodie wearing, chain wallet “thugs” offer counterpoint to the tight-fitting leather clad, female singer, Elize Ryd. Yo yo yo metal! AMARANTHE have a dual Scandic background, most notably with Ryd (currently backing Kamelot on tour. She stayed an extra day in Atlanta, to perform with her own outfit, even though her hired gig pulled out of town, without her), Jake E. Lundberg (vocalist formerly with DREAM EVIL) and NIGHTRAGE guitarist Olof Morck. His Nightrage bandmate/vocalist Antony Hämäläinen was the butt of Lundberg's joke, talking about how girls would have difficulty yelling out that Finnish surname, during sex. 'Leave Everything Behind' had some technical issues with in-ear monitors, Ryd almost wincing in pain. By Serendipity', she'd removed the leather jacket, revealing a sleeveless top. For '1,000,000 Lightyears', began with the female singer, alone onstage, with piped in piano music. Apparently (unbeknownst to the crowd until days later, Lufthansa had lost their luggage, including backing tapes. Until the 11th hour, there was talk of an acoustic set, but the band worked feverishly to download enough samples, via Internet to make it work). The mix was a mix of infectious, death voiced pop, the crowd pogoing along, as Ryd did the Running Man dance moves. Between the hands up, clapping and jumping, most in attendance got their aerobics credit for the day. When she departed, Ryd was on her hands & knees at the front of the stage, slapping hands and blowing kisses across the barricade.
During the opening 'Rust Of Coming Ages, SERENITY's Clementine Delauney had an electrical fan blowing from below, her chestnut mane behaving wildly in the breeze. She disappeared for a few songs, leaving vocal duties solely to that bald-headed card, Neuhauser. The aptly titled 'Far From Home' saw the charismatic frontman easing, “You are the best audience we've had in the US,” albeit their debut performance on these shores. (Later, a friend of mine went up to him in the bar and offered congratulations, saying, “You were the best Austrian band at the festival!” Of which they were the only one: Neuhauser loved it.). Delauney was back, having changed into a black gown, for the dual-sexed vocal ballad 'Fairytales', after which our visiting comedian said, “Give it up for the best female singer in the band!” 'New Horizons' gave way to 'Coldness Kills' both minus any fem-metal influences, before 'Serenade Of Flames' the final male/female duet of the evening.
Had the pleasure of seeing PRIMORDIAL a few times recently, from the grandeur of an open air European festival, to the intimate confines of a Philly dive bar (just days before Atlanta: here ), even talking to Alan Ave rill (aka Nemtheanga) over a pint. Wasn't sure how their visual and bombast approach would go down with the ProgPower crowd, but the luck was with the Irish, as a good portion of the attendees remained open-minded and were treated to a stunning performance, winning many new converts in the process. Talk about literally stalking the stage, the corpse-painted Nemtheanga genuflecting at the front of the stage. The opening 'As Rome Burns' was all the more poignant, given promoter Glenn Harveston's hometown. Atlanta hasn't been this hot since Sherman marched through. 'No Grave Deep Enough' and the essentially acoustic begun 'Gods To the Godless' followed, most audience members rapt, seeing something like this for the first time, despite the band's 21 year career. The subdued 'Bloodied Yet Unbowed' was lit in green. When they finished, a chant of “Primordial” broke out, which the frontman acknowledged, with “Thank you, you cunts.” Later, between 'Heathen Tribes' and the Coffin Ships', Averill (no fan of most prog nor power metal, the next day he told me: “I love Keeper Of The Seven Keys and Fourth Dimension by STRATOVARIUS. I loved DORO, but I didn't think I was going to fuck Doro. What do guys get out of this. What do they identify with. Makes me want to listen to HELLHAMMER demos or VENOM!) offered, “When we came out, some of you were wondering what we're doing here. We wondered that ourselves.” They ended with the jangly guitar begun 'Empire Falls', the frontman parting with “Better to live on your feet than die on your knees,” as he slammed the mic to the stage and departed the stage, although he was more than happy to discuss his vision of metal throughout the weekend: in the bar, at the hotel, wherever. In the history of ProgPower USA, easily the greatest potential obstacle overcome. Shlàinte!
Despite the considerable talents of guitarist Nick Van Dyk and FATES WARNING singer Ray Alder, REDEMPTION had, heretofore left me cold, be it on record or on stage. The most recent album Redemption disc, This Mortal Coil (from which a trio of the set was culled: 'Dreams From the Pit', 'Stronger Than Death' and bottom heavy 'Noonday Devil') was, in my opinion a step in the right (heavier) direction and tonight Alder, dressed all in black (t-shirt & jeans), loosened up considerably, “I talk a lot... when I get a couple of Captain and Cokes in me.” Instead of the usual band backdrop, there was a stage-width video board behind the band. The quartet of side lights flashed rapid fire, almost a strobe effect. Whether it was alcohol, late in the evening, or the inability to see the band elsewhere, but several boisterous fans were vocal in their support, yelling the band name, as mild-mannered Alder attempted to communicate with the rest of the crowd. 'Walls' rounded out the evening.
Going on more than an hour late (well after midnight) cost EPICA some fans, especially since they'll be back, touring Stateside in a couple of months. Former GOD DETHRONED guitarist Isaac Delahaye adds backing growls to founder/guitarist Mark Jansen, but the real drawing card is the lovely Simone Simons, shaking her strawberry blond mane side-to-side, as an electric fan gives it even more body. Given the late hour (and wanting to get photos online asap), only stuck around for the opening 'Monopoly On Truth', 'Sensorium' and 'Unleashed', knowing full well there'd be another chance to see them in a little over a month.
At Bang Your Head, this summer, had promised LANFEAR I'd check them out in Atlanta, having missed their 10 am start time in Germany. Certainly glad I did. While the music was a guitar heavy take on prog, frontman Nuno Miguel de Barros Fernandes (a doppelganger for character actor Richard Libertini: Google it!) proved highly entertaining, trying to get the Saturday afternoon crowd to participate as much as possible, if only to say “Hi Kai,” to their bass player the rest of the evening, onstage or off. After two or three days of musical debauchery, most were seated for a reason (rest) and none seemed too keen to clap overhead, or sway arms side-to-side, OZZY style. However, as they progressed, his good-natured fun began to win people over. 'By-Product Nation' featured a brief, high-pitched caterwaul, surrounded by chunky riffs. 'Stigmatized' saw Fernandes pull out a megaphone, for effects and vocals. When he announced they were going to play a new song, ears perked up. However, when he explained it was 25 hours long and going to be released on a double hard disk version, we realized it was a joke, but continuing, he said the song was called 'Silence'. After about two seconds of dead air, he continued, “Thank you” and went into 'The Unrestrained.' Even if the music wasn't your cup of (beer), he certainly made it more enjoyable. A relatively new band (formed in '08), with just one album to their name, it was SOLUTION .45's first show, EVER! The fact the members are Swedish and/or Finnish makes it all the more impressive, traveling so far from home for a debut. Borrowing the decade's old melodic death metal sound first popularized by SOILWORK (who are on next year's bill) and (early) DARK TRANQUILLITY (whose Mikael Stanne wrote all the lyrics on For Aeons Past, as well as added backing vocals), tall, bald-headed lead singer Christian Älvestam (ex-SCAR SYMMETRY), in black worker shirt and chain wallet, even channels Soilwork frontman Bjorn “Speed” Strid. They also gave a nod to countrymen HYPOCRISY, covering 'Roswell 47'. Some said they were Soilwork light, but that's the only thing light about the band. There's no truth to the rumor that their moniker refers to their waist size, as there was considerable girth onstage. I kid, I kid. Triple guitars, of the six, seven and eight string variety (“It's one louder.”)
Germany's MYSTIC PROPHECY were making their North American debut and played it straight, although bespectacled frontman R.D. Liapakis, in a cowboy hat, wasn't exactly the visual one might expect. No matter, kicking off with 'Eyes Of the Devil', it was hard & fast for most of the hour. The guitarists traded side repeatedly, as the stage became a blur. 'Endless Fire', off Ravenlord was introduced to an adoring crowd, then 'Hollow'. The frontman complaining about the wintery climate back home, before tossing a European t-shirt into the audience. The lights turned yellow and red to begin 'Satanic Curses', as the singer thrust the mic over the heads in the front row. Not sure, since this was their first time overseas, why they opted for a pointless 'Paranoid' (BLACK SABBATH) cover. Surely, you could have graced long-waiting fans with another original. A sped up, thrashy 'Evil Empires', complete with strobes (underutilized all weekend) finished things off, but not before a “Prophecy!” chant rang throughout the venue. They came. They saw. They conquered.
MAYAN was an important act, as much for the overall theme (2012, doomsday prophecy, festival t-shirts decorated with ancient runes/glyphs and the drum riser shared by all the acts was made to look like a stone temple), as saving the promoter some cash, with founder/vocalist Mark Jansen (as well as bassist/drummer/second guitar) being part of the previous night's headliner, Epica. Any imagined savings went up in smoke, with the inclusion of three addition guest singers: Henning Basse (METALIUM), Floor “no relation” Jansen (ex-AFTER FOREVER/REVAMP) and an operatic voice, rumored to be head man Jensen's girlfriend. Much heavier than his “day job,” the added voices offered some counterpoint to the death metal proceedings, as well as provided more visuals, especially the statuesque Floor, pinwheeling hair in pleated skirt. Not sure of all that was played, but certainly enjoyed 'Mainstay Of Society', 'Bite The Bullet' and the closing 'Sinners Last Retreat'. Probably wouldn't go out of my way to see/hear them live again, but glad I had the opportunity.
It was the first PRETTY MAIDS show in North America in more than two (three?) decades,the Danes having only been on these shores, briefly, in the early 8os. Much of the set was culled from that era and the initial pair of CBS releases. A fan since the self titled/Shelley The Maid Ep and having lived through the sparse (albeit extremely expensive Japanese-only import) era of the 90s, the Danes' repertoire (singer Ronnie Atkins and guitarist Ken Hammer are original members!) still contains the likes of 'Back To Back', 'Rodeo', 'Yellow Rain', 'Lovegames', 'Future World' and the ubiquitous finale, the title track from their Red Hot & Heavy full-length '84 debut. While the show began slowly, running through newer material, including three of the first four off the most recent studio effort, with some in the crowd getting worried, once they switched on the vintage material, Atlanta was eating out of their hands. Hammer wore a cowboy hat and large leather jacket, the bassist in silver adorned stove pipe hat SLASH would kill for. 'Walk Away' saw the crowd help with the chorus. Atkins asked, “Does anyone remember the 80s,” as they launched into 'Yellow Rain' and if ACCEPT set the standard from proto-thrash with 'Fast As A Shark', then 'Back To Back' is a second dose. They left the stage, briefly, as thunderclaps filled the auditorium, greeting 'Future World', followed by an extended 'Red, Hot & Heavy' (which paradoxically, turned into snippets of 'Smoke On The Water', not sure why), which ultimately led to the band being whisked off-stage, the curtain closed as they were attempting to take their bow.
After soundchecking in the afternoon for more than two hours, a 45 minute changeover (including drum/guitar/vocal checks, again!) was beyond ridiculous. Some of these people had been here four days (since Wednesday), pushing 30 hours of music (or more if they attended JON OLIVA workshop or any of the private shows), to say nothing of the after-hours partying with fans/bands. SYMPHONY X might be the posterboys for ProgPower, having appeared at the fest's Chicago debut and twice more in the following three years, but this was pushing the limits of tolerance. Both Michael Romeo (guitar) and Russell Allen (vocals) looked fitter/trimmer than the most recent US tour. Opening with the 20+ minute 'Divine Wings Of Tragedy' and an encore of the nearly half-hour 'The Odyssey', the rest of the tunes were “shorter” numbers, predominately off Paradise Lost and Iconoclast, including 'The End Of Innocence', with bassist Mike LePond headbanging like a madman. 2013 sees ProgPower USA return to Atlanta September 6th-7th, start making your plans to attend. Additional photos: Day 1 Day 2

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