ProgPower XI - The Year That Glenn Would Soon Forget!

September 22, 2010, 8 years ago

by Mark Gromen

xi feature

After ten shows, Glenn Harveston has an excellent track record, running impeccably timed, first rate showcases. Offering many bands their lone opportunity to play these shores, under the best lighting/sound conditions, to a rabid fanbase, ProgPower USA has become THE model on how to operate a small scale, multi-day music event. That said, 2010 isn’t likely to be remembered all that fondly by its creator, though no fault of his own. A virtually spotless track record doesn’t matter to first time attendees when lengthy breaks between acts crop up. Despite finger pointing between tech crew and band members (spoken to after the fact, seemed dismayed roadies couldn’t handle in-ear monitors), such incidents taint the virgin’s experience, at least somewhat (judging from post-concert online postings). Turisas pulled out, to concentrate on recording a new album and 80s German thrashers Paradox broke up. Thus two of my reasons for attending were rendered moot, yet there was still the headliners, both friends: Kamelot (even with the last minute cancellation of vocalist Roy Khan) and HammerFall, plus a rare chance to catch Nocturnal Rites, the female fronted Delain (having met Charlotte Wessels at Wacken), fun, straight ahead Deutsche metal from Stormwarrior and Tarot (Marco Hietala doubles in Nightwish, with whom I’ve toured). There were also bands witnessed elsewhere, with varying degrees of affection, like Tyr and Leave’s Eyes and a host of prog acts completely unfamiliar to these ears: DGM, Oceans Of Sadness, Illusion Suite and Seventh Wonder. Oh yeah, there was the reunited Accept on Thursday’s pre-show. After the marvelous opening night in NYC, couldn’t miss seeing that again!

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The great thing about ProgPower is that many of the artists, particularly the overseas exclusives, come into Atlanta early and hang for the weekend, rather than head on out to the next tour stop. That means most mingle with the crowd, having a drink and a laugh with fans. This was readily apparent during ACCEPT’s set, as Oscar Dronjak from HammerFall stood on the floor, besides Crimson Glory mainman Jon Drenning and members of Nocturnal Rites, beverages in-hand, all rocking out to the Teutonic terrors. (reviewed here: http://www.bravewords.com/news/146253)And when the live entertainment is completed, many continue the after hours revelry in the hotel down the street.

Norway’s ILLUSION SUITE kicked off Friday afternoon. A one guitar, keyboard prog outfit molded in the style of countrymen Pagan’s Mind. Suffering from the same lack of stage presence seemingly inherent to a sub-genre built on musicianship, but they also lack the talents of one Nils K. Rue. ‘Scarlet Skies’ failed to deliver on its intense, teasing intro. ‘The Wire’ and ‘A Ghost From The Past’ were delivered with flawless conviction.

BLACKGUARD are now part of the King Foo entertainment world, the Finnish based management company responsible for the likes of Nightwish, COB, Sonata Arctica and Amorphis, to name but a few global chart-toppers. The initial signing to the US office (going under the moniker Foo King), they describe the outfit as their Canadian Finntroll. Musically, there are similarities, although the lack of a live accordion/keyboard player hurts (playing to a tape instead). Gruff vocals and plenty of synchronized pin-wheeling hair accompanied the opening ‘Allegiance’, ‘In Time’, ‘Scarlet To Snow’ and the closing ‘This Round’s On Me (weekend’s motto?). The rougher sound (not a favorite amongst most the ProgPower crowd: “I don’t do ‘growlies’ (vocals).”) and a Kamelot autograph signing saw the Blackened ones playing to the smallest crowd ever witnessed at any of these events.

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Got to feel for LEAVE’S EYES, flying to North America in hopes of starting a full tour, in support of Kamelot, to find it cancelled. Making lemonade from those lemons, they soldiered on, playing the few dates that would have them as headliners, yet undoubtedly incurring massive debt since the handful of shows were spread across the Midwest and Canada! Theirs was the first of interminable delays, going on a hour after originally scheduled. Both guitarists had to forego their wireless connections, tethered to the Marshall stacks. Despite his massive height Alex Krull, he of the impossibly long mane (almost down to his knees) played bouncy cheerleader alongside his wife, Liv Kristine, in flowing crinoline dress, with crimson trail. The pair wowed with ‘Take The Devil In Me’, ‘a pre-recorded introduced ‘Ragnarok’ and her moment to shine, alone onstage for ‘Elegy’. After the set ending ‘Frøya's Theme’, both vocalists repeated blew kisses to the crowd.

Wasn’t all that interested in SEVENTH WONDER, but gave them a couple of songs anyhow. Very AOR sounding, some Journey, with mix of Styx and Kansas. The singer wore a flak jacket, but after the steel plated antics of Sabaton’s Joakim Broden, all such get-ups pale. So it was on to TYR, with tattooed guitarist/frontman Heri Joensen sporting Thor’s hammer medallion around his neck. These guys like to have fun (frolicked naked in the pool backstage at Bang Your Head, until they broke the inflatable pool) and seemed to be the first ProgPower band to excite the kiddies. From the ‘By The Sword In My Hand’ start, people were singing along, like a European beer hall get-together! Joensen’s accented English didn’t preclude him from funny banter, claiming his grandfather was Odin and when a bottle of vodka was produced, offering a toast, “As they say in the US, cheers motherfucker!” Then there was his limerick about the Bishop of Birmingham molesting little boys… At times a cappella, three part harmonies, oft bordering on chant and in their native (Faroese) tongue, Tyr are special, especially when airing ‘Hail To The Hammer’, ‘Northern Gate’ or a traditional Irish (?) ‘The Wild Rover’.

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NOCTURNAL RITES singer Jonny Lindkvist also fashions himself an amateur comedian, calling his band, “five idiots from Sweden” or “We’re from Sweden and we drink!” Their first show in two years, he had to have the lyrics printed on the floor, besides the monitors. “I had like 20 beers,” but he was obviously thrilled to be back onstage, claiming, “This is better than sex.” ‘Never Again’ was up second, the crowd clapping along to ‘Not The Only’ or singing along to ‘New World Messiah’ and ‘Leave Me Alone’. Unfortunately, due to the time overruns, when the band exited the stage (preparing for a three song encore: ‘Afterlife’, ‘Fools Never Die’ and ‘Against The World’), the house lights came on and the Rites left.

The days before Atlanta must have been a whirlwind for KAMELOT, what with decision to attempt a fill-in for singer Roy Khan (in the form of Circus Maximus’ Michael Eriksen). First he was to step in for one show, then the entire tour and ultimately scaled back to just the ProgPower date. He did a great job, given the limited rehearsals and was helped by a couple of guests, including a pair of female led duets: Charlotte “Nuclear” Wessels (for fans of the original Star Trek’s Mr. Chekov) on ‘The Haunting’ and masked touring back-up singer Elize Ryd (Amarenthe), showing her face as she stepped to the front of the stage for ‘Sailorman’s Hymn’. The stage, featuring a pair of risers on which guitarist Thom Youngblood and bassist Sean Tibbetts could survey the crowd, was bathed in dark colors, lots of purples and deep reds. ‘Ghost Opera’, ‘Center Of The Universe’, ‘Nights Of Arabia’ (Elize shimmying in I Dream Of Jeannie harem pants outfit) and . ‘When The Lights Go Down’ contained short solos by drummer Casey Grillo and keyboardist Oliver Palotai. ‘Hunter’s Season’ off the new Poetry For The Poisoned was dedicated to the memory of Youngblood’s mother and ‘Forever’ closed the proper set. A strong encore of ‘The Black Halo’, ‘Karma’ and ‘March Of Mephisto triumphed, in spite of all the adversities. Hats off on a Herculean effort guys!

Germanic metal, courtesy of STORMWARRIOR, kicked off day 2. Virtually the same set witnessed in their homeland, just a month prior, this was less hectic (for both of us) and more enjoyable. Beginning with ‘Heading Northe’, the faithful early arrivals (96 degrees, college football Saturday and inefficient air conditioning conspired to keep the numbers down) were clapping, singing and thrusting metal fists aloft. Speaking of which, the backdrop depicted a pair of studded leather gauntlet arms and fingerless gloves crossed in an X. The likes of ‘Valhalla’, ‘Thunderer’, ‘Heavy Metal Fire’ an old school (debut album) ‘Signe Of The Warlorde’ and ‘Into The Battle We Ride’ finale were often strung together without interruption, guitarist/singer Lars Ramcke wasting little time. Ah, German efficiency!

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Belgium based OCEANS OF SADNESS were heavier (bottom end) than most prog outfits and the tan, shirtless and well chiseled frontman Tijs Vanneste sang predominately atop the monitors. By contrast, Italian outfit DGM’s singer Mark Basile reminded me of comedian Dave Attell , who hosted Insomniac TV show on Comedy Central. Neither act really moved me.

Another exaggerated wait for DELAIN, fronted by the mini-shirt bedecked Wessels. Most of the set was comprised of material from the most recent April Rain, including the opening ‘Invidia’, ‘Stay Forever’, the title track, ‘Go Away’ and ‘Nothing Left’. While the studio version of the latter features Nightwish/Tarot vocalist Marco Hietala, he opted to join the Dutch band for ‘Control The Storm’ and ‘The Gathering’ (ironic, given their well known female fronted countrymen of the same name). Having talked with the easy-going woman face-to-face, her dolled up, onstage persona was almost unrecognizable to me, as offstage she tends to dress down, more of a flower child, hair down, denim and sandals (weather permitting). Infectious, near pop rhythms, punctuated by metallic underpinning, you’re sure to hear more about this band, even in an overpopulated femmetal field.

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Call me old school, but a guy with a Mac notebook computer onstage, equal placement to the frontman? That’s a problem. Such was the case with TAROT, who also had a keyboardist with them! Otherwise, it’s just a drummer and the two Hietala brothers: Marco (bass/vocals), in Teva footwear and Zachary (guitars). The Finns were playing the States for the first time, despite a recording career begun in ’86! They had a lot of ground to cover, so why cover Blue Oyster Cult (‘Veteran Of The Psychic Wars’)? Even if it was a bonus track on Crows Fly Black. Speaking of said album, the title cut, ‘Tides’ and ‘Traitor’ were all on display. The majority of the set was culled from their most recent output, including a fun little number called ‘Satan Is Dead’, off the new Gravity Of Light (‘Sleep In The Dark’, ‘Calling Down The Rain’ and ‘Hell Knows’ were played as well). ‘Crawlspace’, from ’98 For The Glory Of Nothing was the oldest inclusion. Whether or not people were into the music (lots of wandering around, tired souls throughout), Marco’s charm throughout the weekend (posing for pictures, sharing a moment/drink and telling stories) were priceless “promotional opportunities” for all his entities.

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Lateness, a long weekend and too many drinks hampered some, waiting for HAMMERFALL. Once the Swedes hit the stage, they were “heckled” by one boisterous idiot demanding only old material. Frontman Joacim Cans was unfazed, guiding the band through the same set performed on the biggest festival stages of Europe throughout the summer. ProgPower marked the last tour of their No Sacrifice, No Victory world tour and as such, the band (sadly) didn’t deviate from a tried and true repertoire, including many of the raps (although I love the “Slayer neck” idea). Never been able to see HammerFall four times within ten months, but such was the case in Atlanta. Sure, the likes of ‘Dragons Lie Bleeding’, ‘Stronger Than All’, ‘Heeding The Call’ and the encore inclusion, ‘Let The Hammer Fall’ bang hardest, but there was (thankfully) no ‘Natural High’. The kid at heart, Oscar Dronjak is all over the stage, on the drum riser, loving every minute of it. It will be at least 2012 before we see them again on these shores, so hopefully you got the chance to witness them. ‘Hearts On Fire’ joined by the guys from Nocturnal Rites brought another sold out ProgPower to a close.

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2011 promises to be Harveston’s most eclectic line-up since he moved the show to Atlanta (#1 was at JJ Kelley’s, outside Chicago). It will take place September 16-17 and host exclusive headlining appearances by SANCTUARY and THERION, as well as North American debuts by European favorites like DREAM EVIL, ARCTURUS, LABYRINTH, MOB RULES, ELDRITCH and RED CIRCUIT, as well as Australia’s VOYAGER, WHILE HEAVEN WEPT, HAKEN and CREATION’S END. More information about the event can be found at Progpowerusa.com.


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