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ProgPower USA XVI Report, Part II: "ProgPower USA Is Where Dreams Happen....For Everyone"

Photo of Armored Saint

Band Photo: Armored Saint (?)

Daybreak…..September 10th. Going out to the Artmore the previous evening was lame by comparison to the rest of the weekend. Though sold out, the Mid-Week Mayhem show after party just isn’t as big because many of the fans and musicians haven’t arrived to the area quite yet, so a 3:00am turn in time may as well have been midnight.

Waking at 7:00am, I trudged over to the Residence Inn’s quality free hot breakfast on floor 2. Today was the day….it would all hang on Dragonland – the band I’ve been lusting over since the announcement came a year ago. The Kick-Off event has always been a special occasion, but since Nathan Block of Swordlord took over, the bar has been raised dramatically…for me. That is, if you are a power metal fanboy, Nathan is your man.

Having successfully proffered deals to bring Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody’s cinematic amazement in 2013 and the 1-2 punch of DGM and Pagan’s Mind in 2014, this year Dragonland was the 2015 Luca…for me. Originally, the event was to be headlined by DC Cooper’s solo band, who is working on new material. At some point, DC dropped off the bill and was replaced as another stop on the second leg of the Saxon/Armored Saint tour. Brazil’s Almah was the opener…and when you start with a band that has one of the greatest singers of all time – Edu Falaschi (ex-Angra) – then you know the night will be special.

After gulping down a second coffee and scarfing down the last of my scrambled eggs, I jumped in the shower and then was off to meet friends for lunch at the infamous Vortex. Dietary and health concerns heightened, I went with simple. I didn’t need to destroy five months of hard work to get myself on the right track. Still, the place is amazing and a must visit each time I come to Atlanta.

Having brokered a trip back to the Residence Inn via Lyft’s handy dandy service, I returned to a well-stocked fridge from a massive beer run the day before. Pre-gaming for Dragonland called for what can only be described as a “chocolate Guinness” – Dragon’s Milk. It seemed appropriate…and legit. Over the preceding three months, I treated myself to copious amounts of car ride material from the band’s five releases, including my favorite “Under the Grey Banner.” I had wild dreams of singing duets with vocalist Jonas Heidgert, especially on tracks like “Fire & Brimstone.” Little did I know what was about to happen.

Three beers in, I was ready for the first event of the day – a special acoustic set from Evergrey, a product of Milton Mendonca’s Infinity Concerts’ hard work. If there was one thing that could easy the soul crushing pain of Evergrey’s “The Grand Collapse” the night earlier…it was pulling the plug and hearing it stripped down to showcase Tom Englund’s pure emotion.

As I crossed the street to go into the Loft portion of Center Stage – like a beacon in the night…there was Dragonland’s Jonas Heidgert and the long sought after first meeting started with a shout from across the ultra-busy Peachtree Street to the loading dock. A quick hello and a picture later, I was on my way to some emotional acoustic bliss from Evergrey.

Filled with emotion, tears, laughter, jokes (especially with Tom reading the lyric sheets) and even a surprise Iron Maiden cover, Evergrey showed a different side of material like “Recreation Day,” but nothing less powerful. In this fashion, the emotion oozes from every note. Even though “Missing You” is basically an acoustic track on “Hymns for the Broken,” I never tire of hearing it. It was an experience that was as incredible as its “powered up” performances.

I scampered off to pick up my VIP badge for the Kick-Off show and to be first at the merch table to obtain the special ProgPower USA exclusive shirts offered by Dragonland before regular doors opened. If you haven’t experienced the VIP treatment at the Kick-Off show, Nathan Block brings his style of VIP from his shows in Minnesota to the big time in Atlanta. Not only do you have access to the back stage area, but dinner with the bands.

Having experienced this for my third year in a row, I was less eager to eat – wanting that first talk with the bands. No sooner did I park my camera gear down, then Olof, Elias, Jesse, Jonas, Andreas and new drummer Johan (Firewind/Gus G) came over to check out the special “first US show” flag I made and to talk about those silly “SIngin’ in the Car” videos. It is one thing to be able to tell one of your favorite bands what you think of them in person…it’s a whole other thing to have them tell you the same thing. Clearly, this was sensory overload.

ProgPower USA is where dreams happen…for everyone.

Pictures, CD signings done – we made our way into the best part of the VIP experience – full use of the photo pit the entire night. I camped out just right of center against the stage, as usual. Almah started off the night with a brilliant performance. So many people spend way too much time watching crappy YouTube videos of Edu Falaschi…followed up with comments like “he lost it” – “he sounds like he is struggling.” Please folks….witness it in person and then tell me. Edu sounded brilliant – both with the Almah and Angra material.

Three Angra tunes were in the nine song set: “Heroes of Sand,” “Angels and Demons” and “Nova Era.” What seemed like a little bad blood between Almah and Angra was quickly dashed at the news the broke during ProgPower USA weekend – an anniversary show in November that will see Falaschi once again sing with his former band [Note: At press time, the announcement seems to have been removed from the Angra Facebook Page]. Also, it was just announced days before press time of this report that Almah guitarist Marcelo Barbosa will join the band live when Kiko Loureiro’s is absent due to Megadeth commitments.

Performance wise, Edu nailed everything with the ease and professionalism expected from one of metal’s finest, yet most underappreciated vocalists. The band prodded through newer classics “Wings of Revolution,” “Raise the Sun,” “Believer” and “Treasure of the Gods” (all from the latest album “Unfold” (2013)) alongside “Living and Drifting” and “Days of the New” (from 2011’s polarizing release “Motion”). Obviously, closing with Angra’s “Nova Era” received the biggest pop from the crowd.

Anticipation for Dragonland was palpable….

When “Ilmarion” faded into the intro to “Shadow of the Mithril Mountains” it was pure magic. I’ve watched guitarist Olof Morck rise to fame with his now main act Amaranthe at ProgPower a few years ago. Since that time, Amaranthe has toured the U.S. twice with a third on the way in a month. Its no secret that Amaranthe’s style is not my thing, but I cannot fault anyone for making a living. Still, having this moment to see and hear Dragonland was so special. I wonder how many people could hear the origins of Amaranthe in Dragonland’s 2006 release “Astronomy.” Check out tunes like “Antimatter.”

Excitement was intensified as the band called upon Brittney Slayes of Unleash the Archers (who scored a main festival position with the loss of Sweden’s Morgana Lefay due to USCIS BS) to sing “Cassiopeia.” The band shot through tracks like “In Perfect Harmony,” “The Tempest” and “Starfall.”

The it all turned into dreamland for your author....”The Black Mare” - one of my favorite songs from “Under the Grey Banner” started....chorus first (the live version is a little different). About half way through the song, Jonas Heidgert kneels in front of the monitor and daintily hands yours truly a microphone which he snuck out...and that dream became a reality. I sang the first chorus and then had a group of friends gather around for the second and third. It was surreal.

The set continued with “Fire and Brimstone,” “Durnir’s Forge,” “Supernova,” “Antimatter” “Astronomy” and “The Neverending Story.” What a night...it could have ended right there and I would have been perfectly satisfied the entire weekend. A group of us went backstage to congratulate the guys and take some post-show pics. I made it back to the pit for the latter half of Armored Saint.

Armored Saint is one of those bands that when you get the honor of standing in front of one of the performances...you do it. They are too few and far between, despite having two U.S. runs with Saxon in this year. You never know when those moments come to a screeching halt for years when the band’s members run into other commitments. When I made it to the floor, the band was in the midst of “An Exercise in Debauchery” (from the newest release “Win Hands Down”).

Classics “Raising Fear” and “Last Train Home” were followed by another new one “Mess,” before the set took a “Left Hook From Right Field” into a “Reign of Fire.” Live staple “Can U Deliver” was followed by the classic “Mad House” and Armored Saint wrapped up another amazing performance.

I wanted to see Saxon again. It was just about six months ago that the first wave (albeit short one) of Saxon/Armored Saint dates hit Worcester, MA. Saxon’s nostalgia is as unparalleled as its ability to make quality new music. Hearing “Battering Ram” in this set was a topper, as the album is a monster release you will not want to miss!

All the classics and mainstays of this “Warriors of the Road” tour were out in full force - from “Dallas 1pm” to “Wheels of Steel,” to “Princess of the Night” and “Heavy Metal Thunder.” “Solid Ball of Rock” and “This Town Rocks” were a nice touch. The newer classics were represented in the form of “Sacrifice.” Even though I could watch Saxon play the hits forever...just one tour I’d love for them to pay tribute to the newer material from albums like “Call to Arms,” “Into the Labyrinth,” “The Inner Sanctum” and “Lionheart.” Fans cannot seem to shake those nostalgia trips though.

Later that night, the first of three epic after parties ensued. I was knighted by Jonas Heidgert of Dragonland and told about the original plan. He presented me the original “script,” which was cut due to time constraints and which would have had me on stage...something the band referred to as “The Carl Frederick Experience.” This night was full of dreams....but 4:30am rolled around and I had to get at least one hour!

CROMCarl's avatar

From the early to mid-90's, Carl published his own fanzine called C.R.O.M. In 1997, he released a compilation entitled "CROM: The Resurrection of True Metal," which featured songs from bands from around the world, including the first U.S. release of any kind for bands like Italy's Rhapsody (n/k/a Rhapsody of Fire) and Brazil's Angra. Follow Carl on Facebook and Twitter: @CROMCarl.

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1 Comment on "ProgPower USA XVI, Part 2: Project Dragonland"

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1. Nerdwerld writes:

It was a magical night indeed, but little did we know Thursday was just the beginning.

# Sep 21, 2015 @ 9:11 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address

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