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ProgPower USA XVI, Part IV: "God Sent His Strongest Angel With A Voice Of Gold"

Photo of Unleash The Archers

Band Photo: Unleash The Archers (?)

3:45pm - September 12, 2015

It’s surreal….I stand on the ramp looking out Dragonland performing “Starfall,” minutes before I make my stage debut. Nerves, excitement, tension….all wrapped up as I stood with my friend Tommy to unleash “The Black Mare” with one of my favorite bands. I sang along to practice…

“The sign of truth – starfall lights in your eyes
The wish it hides – is in your mind
The hope of life – when astral angels cry
Truth and lies – starfall eyes”

Hey…I felt strong! Excitement flowed as I banged my head thinking…this is going to be awesome! Its back! My voice was back!

Far cry from this morning……

7:00am – September 12, 2015

Ugh……………….staying out until 5:00am didn’t help much. Wait….oh crap…I can’t even talk. Yeah, this evening is going to be fun. In a panic, I went to breakfast and grabbed any hot liquid, which means coffee. I downed two cups there and then another 6 back at the room. Then I switched to tea…it helped a little.

For the next couple of hours, I trying singing something I know like the back of my hand…. “Journey into far away and to forgotten lands…and here by my side, she will ride there with me, to the home of her kind!” Suddenly, confusion set in. Was it “distant lands”?

I received a message from my dear friend Frank: “So, how are you doing? Are you excited?” In the extremely helpful exchange, I decided it would only work if I just winged it and had fun…no one really cares if “I sing it properly” except me. Any further nervousness over this would be akin to blacking out on a test after over studying. Grab a beer, relax and go with it.

So I did.

Dragonland’s set was second. First was a band that I’ve been dying to see for a very long time. For years leading up to the release of Helker’s “Somewhere in the Circle” in 2013, the band spent the first 15 years presenting it’s amazing form of metal in the native tongue – Spanish. Seeking to have a global audience, “En algún lugar del Círculo” was presented in both Spanish and English. I understand the decision, but there are plenty of metal bands that have been marketed in the U.S. that still sing in their native tongues (Arkona, Heidevolk, Finntroll, Korpiklaani come to mind). There are so many great Spanish speaking bands from all over the world that are virtually unknown here in the U.S., but who can stand toe to toe with the best bands in the world (Saratoga, Warcry…).

For Argentina’s Helker, the band’s centerpiece is the brilliant voice of a larger than life individual – Diego Valdez. His “imposing teddy bear” way is even better than that golden throat. Songs from “Somewhere in the Circle” might have been the center piece of the material presented, but it was really cool that they decided to become the first band at ProgPower USA to present a song in Spanish. Now, I’m not going to lie – 6 years of Spanish between high school and college didn’t merit any special knowledge – but just knowing that a song is being presented in the way the band is most comfortable was really special.

You could tell that outside of Diego, guitarists Mariano Rios and Leo Aristu and bassist Christian Abarca were genuinely excited to play here. It showed on their faces and they were excited that the crowd was so receptive (as they should be). The choice of Helker for this festival was genius and the band’s performance proved that in my short tenure going to ProgPower USA – this band was one of the most professional and exciting openers that I’ve witnessed.

About halfway through the final song, I headed up to the backstage area with my friend (Tommy who would join me in this experience) to meet the guys in Dragonland and see what the plan was for the set. Greeting Jonas, Olof, Elias, Anders, Jesse and Johan backstage felt like a homecoming. I told Jonas I was wicked nervous and he replied “So am I, I get nervous every time.” I sometimes forget that Dragonland up to this point had played only around 25 shows in 15 years. In thinking that, it was such an honor to see them not only once, but twice in the span of three days. With plans set for being at ramp to the stage at the time “Starfall” was played, we headed back to the pit area to watch from the front until our cue.

This time “100 Years Have Passed” and the “Majesty of the Mithril Mountains” - the opening intro/track from 2002's “Holy War” - started off the set, and guitarist Olof Morck stepped out in basked in white light and fog backlit in blue to perform the opening solo. The rest of the band emerged and the tales from Dragonland saga were well under way. Jonas belted out “A hero will come with the dawn, to give them the light and the spirit to fight, a hero to banish the darkness and to bring balance to life” while wearing his “Fuck Me I’m Famous” shirt!

The bad followed with “A Thousand Towers White” (from “Under the Grey Banner”) and “Cassiopeia” (from “Astronomy” and with Brittney Slayes of Unleash the Archers for a second guest appearance)...and the time was drawing close now. I stepped out of the pit for “In Perfect Harmony” and “The Tempest” and then made my way to the backstage ramp area for “Starfall.”

3:48pm - September 12, 2015....

....thank the lords of metal those last 6 cough drops worked magic! A sudden rush of excitement and....oh yes, I got this. “Starfall” ended and Jonas announced me and Tommy’s name.

Most people never experience the opportunity to entertain a crowd on stage. If this were a tiny club with six people, it wouldn’t even matter. However, this was ProgPower USA - so in terms of “stage debut” - it doesn’t get any bigger for this author. I walked out - tried not to look at the crowd and I gave Jonas a big hug to get my mind of what was happening and try to make it small, like we were all just hanging out back at the Artmore.

In a rush of pure excitement and nerves, I had completely forgot that the live version of “The Black Mare” begins with the chorus, so I completely missed the queue (having only heard the live version for the first time a few nights ago). In the corner of my eye, I saw Jonas look over. In my brain fart of silence, he proceeded to back me up and just sang it himself. Well, that didn’t start well...

Tommy - already an established singer with live experience - played to the crowd like a pro. I retreated to the back by Johan’s drum kit and headbanged, singing the verses like I always did in the car and started to psyche myself up. When the chorus came, Tommy came over to my right and we jointly belted out the first half. Tommy dropped off at the higher end second half and I heard myself in the monitor and just went with it - thinking “whoah.....this isn’t my Hyundai Sonata anymore.” I totally understand the both the rush of the live performance that a lot of musicians get and the complete terror of failure that other musicians likely get. Nevertheless, the adrenaline was pumping and I went with it.

During the solo, I leaned up shoulder to shoulder with Olof and whipped out a mean air guitar solo along with his real one. That moment right there was the single greatest part of my entire weekend. I followed up with an air keyboard performance with Elias on top of his keyboard as he played. Oh yeah, now it was really fun - nerves out the window. I went back to the drum set and met Jonas with a fist bump and then went back to the front and sang the choruses like I had in those dreams leading up to ProgPower.

Dreams really do come true.

When it was over - I gave each member a hug and Jonas says “You better get back in the pit for this one!” “Fire & Brimstone” started and I ran through the backstage area and back into the arena and down to the pit and just went nuts. It didn’t get any better. “Supernova” and the ultra rare bonus track (specially requested by promoter Nathan Block at the behest of my friend Daniel Millard) “At the Inn of Eamon Bayle” closed out an amazing set.

Wow. Did that just happen? I didn’t have the courage to check social media to see what the instant reaction was from so many people I knew who were in attendance. I’d wait until I finished shooting pics of Unleash the Archers to know that almost within five minutes after I came off stage, there were at least 30 videos from every angle in the building. I really couldn’t process this.

Unleash the Archers was another “replacement act” - but proved right away that they absolutely belong on this stage. Already on tour, originally with Hibria (until the government reared its ugly head), this Vancouver based power/thrash/death act with one of the true rising stars in vocalist Brittney Slayes would go it alone in North America. It’s a shame because that lineup of Unleash the Arcers and Hibria would have been really special. Also, I’m sure Unleash the Archers invested so much of their own time, effort and money that they really had nothing to lose.

They may be new to many people in the U.S., but Unleash the Archers is not a “new band” by any means. Having been formed in 2007, they amassed two full length albums and a EP from 2009-2012 before signing with Napalm Records for the release of the breakout 2015 album “Time Stands Still.” Proving their worth on this, of all stages seemed like a tall order, but they pulled it off with absolute ease. I picked out “Test Your Metal,” “Tonight We Ride,” “Hail of the Tide,” “Frozen Steel,” “Dreamcrusher” and “Time Stands Still” from the new one. They balanced out the new with some earlier stuff - “Daughters of Winterstone” and “Realm of Tomorrow.”

The crowd seemed genuinely stunned by the strength of Slayes vocals, which would transition fluidly from power, to beautiful soaring high, to depths of deathly low. All this from a women that couldn’t weigh more than 90lbs. What a stunning voice of fire breathing power!

Denmark’s Royal Hunt was another bucket list band for me. I’ve met vocalist DC Cooper before at ProgPower USA. He seems to be a recurring guest (last appearance before Voyager’s set the night before was with Shadow Gallery). From the U.S. and residing in Pittsburgh, Cooper is one of the coolest and best vocalists in the world - having formerly fronted Silent Force and currently fronting his solo band, Amaran’s Plight and Missa Mercuria when the need arises.

This night was special to both Royal Hunt and Cooper. With his children in the crowd to witness their father perform for the first time, the band presented the live performance of the classic 1997 release “Paradox” in its entirety for the first time. As a studio album, “Paradox” ranks lower for me than the newer material Royal Hunt has been releasing. As a live performance, “Paradox” is ten thousand times better.

DC utilized his recent weight loss by changing clothes five times in the course of the set, each one a little more revealing until he finally lost the shirt for the last couple of tunes. His interactions with guitarist Jonas Larsen and bassist Andreas Passmark were insanely entertaining, as was his overall energetic performance. There were brief moments when you could see that emotion started to overtake DC. It should have: ProgPower USA is where dreams happen...for everyone.

Some People made a big deal out of the band’s use of backing tracks at a live show, but seem to forget that in a performance such as this - with a crowd that wants to hear “Paradox” as close to the studio version as possible - there is only so much a band can do before having to rely on backing tracks. I understand the need for it’s use and the night required it.

It was glorious.

As the final performance of this festival came to fruition...it was only fitting that Fabio Lione be the centerpiece. I remember in 2012, my first time on 70,000 Tons of Metal - I saw the very first performance of Angra with Fabio at the helm. I remember so much trepidation at his presence..and Italian in the beloved Brazilian jewel. How would it be remembered? Well, the fact remains - however “overused” you think Fabio may be, he is far and away the greatest singer on the planet. Can you blame Angra for that choice?

Now, three and a half years from that first performance, Angra has made Fabio the permanent presence, released a stellar “Angel’s Cry” anniversary DVD, released a new album called “Secret Garden” earlier this year and headline America’s best festival. That’s not too shabby for a band with a guy who is a perpetual chain smoker.

As the fog flooded the stage like a scene from an old movie, it was as if God had sent his strongest angel with a voice of gold, appearing at first as a dark shadow in the fading mist. Fabio lit up the night, especially on that common center theme of “Don’t think I’m good enough? I’ll humble you mortals with a singing competition.” It’s the section of the show where Fabio proves how immortal he is when he breaks out the tenor, holds a note, challenges the crowd and shows them why he is the best. Now, I’m pretty certain that’s not the real intent - but an unapologetic fanboy can dream...and ProgPower USA Is where dreams happen!

Angra was here to celebrate a game changing album for progressive metal - “Holy Land.” Released in 1996, the sophomore release was unlike any other at its time. When the metal world was morphing and changing with the evolution of Nu Metal and grunge, Angra introduced this wonderful perfect progressive album that was different, fresh and new. Now, 19 years later - the near 20th Anniversary was celebrated in style in Altanta. Fabio handled Andre Matos’ parts with ease, but with his own inflection (no disrespect to the amazing Matos).

When news spread about Kiko Loureiro joining Megadeth, questions arose as to whether he would even be in Altanta. That was quickly dashed by the Harvestons, assuring fans that Kiko would be there - and there he was, in all his splendor. Aided by band leader and guitarist/vocalist Rafael Bittencourt (a fabulous singer in his own right), bassist extraordinaire Felipe Andreoli and drummer Bruno Valverde, the band ripped through “Nothing to Say,”“Silence and Distance,” “The Shaman,” “Lullaby for Lucifer,” before adding some new material like “Final Light,” “Newborn Me” and “Storm of Emotions.”

As if to signal the world of a second “Rebirth” - Angra encored with the title track of the 2001 album, which was the first rebirth with now Almah lead vocalist Edu Falaschi. The band’s backdropwas taken from the cover of that album, as if to indicate another rebirth with Fabio. “Nova Era” was played before the band came back with guest stars Jeff Scott Soto and DC Cooper for a closing rendition of The Kinks “You Really Got Me.”

It was a night filled with dreams, one that can only happen at ProgPower USA. With the 2016 lineup for Days 3 and 4 announced here and the first two for Day 1 (Gloryhammer and Stream of Passion) (third on October 2, following each week with the bands for Day 2), tickets go on sale October 3rd (Days 3/4) via Ticketmaster, with tickets for Days 1 & 2 to follow in November. For more information head on over to this location.

If you have any love for music and hope for dreams to come true for you...then you have no choice. Go and see what dreams await you.

If you missed ProgPower USA XVI Report, Part 1, check it out here: Part One
If you missed ProgPower USA XVI Report, Part 2, check it out here: Part Two
If you missed ProgPower USA XVI Report, Part 3, check it out here: Part Three

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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