ProgPower X Review – The Power And The Glory

September 17, 2009, 8 years ago

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Pictures and words by Mark Gromen

Ten festivals in nine years, North America’s premier metal event is at a crossroads, having nurtured overseas talents to a knowledgeable, yet hungry core audience. In fact these are big fans, as demonstrated by the XXL and $5 more expensive XXXL fest t-shirts being the first to sell out! Seriously though, ‘09 marked a celebration of progressive and power metal artists, as the 2010 roster (driven by deteriorating economic situations and successfully bringing global headliners to Atlanta) will be the most diverse yet.

After PRIMAL FEAR’s stunning conclusion to Thursday’s pre-show (reviewed here) the gauntlet had been tossed. San Diego’s CAGE was the first to meet the challenge. In a word, relentless! Cage = No Ballads, just a flurry of lightning quick traditional metal that borders on speed/thrash. While some early arriving middle-aged couples sat in the amphitheatre like the wind blown Maxell commercials, the stamina required to sustain this barrage is amazing. From the opening ‘Planet Crusher’ (which also kicks off their latest CD, Science Of Annihilation) it was non-stop intensity: ‘I Am The King’ (floor length buster attired singer Sean Peck thrusting the mic into the crowd for each titular chorus), ‘Kill The Devil’ (the body building guitarist Dave Garcia and axe partner Anthony McGiness providing back-up vocals), the synchronized stage movements of ‘Scarlet Witch’, ‘Hell Destroyer’ during which the singer climbed the drum riser (a rarity at ProgPower), ‘Black River Falls’ a showcase of the different voices in Peck’s head/throat, ‘Speed Kills’ (perhaps the fastest song ever performed at PP), the hammer-on begun ‘Metal Devil’ and a closing, albeit abbreviated paean to one of the audience’s Holy Trinity, SAVATAGE (‘Dungeons Are Calling’). Blistering…sweat-soaked…wow!

Fans didn’t have to wait long for an encore, not that they let Cage back onstage. Having previously seen SABATON overseas, I knew they’d slay. The war obsessed Swedes didn’t disappoint, turning in THE performance of the weekend, in large part to the whirlwind that is steel breast-plated frontman Joakim Brodén. Along with his similarly camouflage pants wearing band-mates, the Mohawk and mirrored shades singer tore around the stage, exhorting the crowd and flipping the wireless mic in the air. ‘Ghost Division’ is a (fire)storm of an opener, followed closely by ‘Art Of War’, the rousing ‘40 To 1’ and a Savatage flavoured single, ‘Cliffs of Gallipoli’. Quite the card, he tried t kick his guitar player in the ass, a move apparently performed regularly, as the six-string caught his foot and made the vocalist hop a one-legged retreat. During ‘Attero Dominatus’ he jokingly picked his nose and “ate” it for the video camera and surprised by the response, particularly for another newbie ‘Price Of A Mile’ (their CDs are not distributed in North America), he asked, “Do you have Pirate Bay (notorious illegal Internet download site) here too?” The concluding ‘Metal Machine’ was dedicated to all the women in corsets (an annual tradition one night of the fest). The next night, upon announcement of the 2010 line-up, organizer Glenn Harveston announced (to the consternation of no one!) that Sabaton would eventually be back, as a future festival headliner! If you get the chance to see them live, don’t miss this dynamic powerhouse.

As the night’s headliner, CRIMSON GLORY employed 17 different voices, performing in pairs (if not more), beginning with Astronomica-era singer Wade Black and ending with Black and newly “discovered” Floridian Todd LaTorre, with whom founder/guitarist Jon Drenning is rumored to be highly enamoured. Was it a bit of foreshadowing? Who knows, but most agree it was fun to hear the original band playing classics from the debut and Transcendence once again. Having seen the original line-up and Black-fronted line-ups in concert, the admittedly under-rehearsed artists lacked any chemistry (Drenning and other guitarist Ben Jackson flanked the singers), but it seemed cold and sterile. True, some had only practised 10-15 minutes downstairs in the dressing room, other brought notes/lyric sheets with them, but in tribute to the fallen Midnight, none of them (however talented) exuded the charisma this material warrants. Links to pictures and a more complete run-down of the evening can be viewed here.

Everyone got to Saturday’s show early, as it was packed to the rafter for opening CIRCUS MAXIMUS, probably the biggest (certainly least preoccupied) crowd of the weekend. Personally, was more interested in the return of Israel’s ORPHANED LAND, a strange mix of progressive death metal and laid-back Grateful Dead (not musically, more live vibe). A winner in their initial appearance, it made sense for an invite back. Skinny frontman Kobi Farhi looks like a well tattooed Chris (THE BLACK CROWES) Robinson, including the beads looping from his neck. Lest they bring a few more (expensive and only occasionally utilized) members over with them, lots of backing tapes were used for their ornate native rhythms. Could have used a repairman though, as technical issues forced them to end the set a bit prematurely. Although Mabool is the lone full-length this decade, that didn’t prevent the Orphans from dipping into their history, for ‘El Meod Na'ala’, ‘Thee by The Father I Pray’ and ‘The Path Ahead’, as well as Mabool’s ‘Birth Of The Three’ and new (as then unreleased songs from The Never Ending Way Of ORwarriOR), like ‘Baraka’, ‘Sapari’ and ‘From Broken Vessels’. Farhi even made the seated portion of the crowd get up and jump, aided by the front row security guard (thoroughly enjoying himself) how was air drumming throughout the set.

Either as a guest, performer or with PAGAN’S MIND, Nils K. Rue has been to about half of the ProgPower USA festivities. Needless to say he’s a welcome sight, to say nothing of the Norwegian’s underrated and nearly unparalleled voice. Unlike so many prog acts, Nils and the guys aren’t afraid to show emotion (even be slightly silly), visibly enjoying themselves onstage, all the while concentrating on consummate musicianship. The set offered tracks virtually identical to the forthcoming Live Equation dual DVD/CD package (audio portion was available for pre-release purchase at the merch table, as well as killer t-shirts, although the cover figure’s nipples had to airbrushed out before being brought into the country, to prevent being wrongly accused of importing pornography! Crazy.), with six lifted off God’s Equation (’07). Good to hear ‘Through Osiris’ Eyes’ and ‘Dimensions Of Fire’ still in the set. Other highlights included the DAVID BOWIE cover, ‘Hallo Spaceboy’, ‘Alien Kamikaze’ and ‘Resurrection’.

BRAINSTORM was yet another returnee, so much so they opted for The Scorpions’ ‘Coming Home Again’ as their intro music. Opening with ‘Forsake What I Believed’ a punishingly heavy number from their forthcoming debut for German home-grown label AFM, they’re fronted by the affable Andy B. Franck. The band was adorned in matching black shirts, a Brainstorm crest emblazoned on the back and each member’s position written in German below it. While suffering a few technical issues, it was the first night of the global tour and without their usual crew. ‘Worlds Are Coming Through’ followed, a one-two punch belying the noted musicality, as demonstrated on ‘Shiva’s Tears.’ The jovial Franck mocked, “You can thank the American economy for getting better thanks to five Germans shopping today!” With only limited action for last year’s Downburst, good to hear the likes of ‘Falling Spiral Down’, ‘Fire Walk With Me’ and ‘How Do You Feel’, while earlier albums were relegated to just one track. The other newbie, a bass heavy ‘Shiver’ (“On the way to nowhere. It’s me against the world.”), while unremarkable on first listen (live no less), will fit nicely into the recent ‘Storm repertoire. Here’s hoping for a full set somewhere, soon.

Anointed Day #2 headliner, FATES WARNING delved into their metallic past (although no John Arch songs), opting for material as far back as Perfect Symmetry, before ending with a surprising (if not rough encore) of ‘The Ivory Gate Of Dreams’. It was nice to hear ‘Through Different Eyes’ and ‘Nothing Left To Say’, however most of the Ray Alder era leaves me cold (didn’t even air ‘Eye To Eye’?). Multi-band bassist Joey Vera (also ARMORED SAINT) remains an unheralded asset, bopping around the stage like a Mexicali mix of jazz-punk. Great guy too.

ProgPower USA XI is already set for September 10-11, to be headlined by HAMMERFALL and KAMELOT, alongside NOCTURNAL RITES, TAROT, DELAIN, TYR, DGM, SEVENTH WONDER, OCEANS OF SADNESS, STORMWARRIOR, ILLUSION SUITE and legendary '80s German thrashers PARADOX! Make your plans now.

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BLACK SABBATH - "Paranoid" (Live) (Eagle Vision)

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