ProgPower USA XIII: Day Two at Center Stage in Atlanta
Band Photo: Mystic Prophecy (?)
The morning of September 15th was a bit hazy for most attendees, as the Artmore post-show celebrations had famously ensued when Epica finished up Day One's show at 2:30 in the AM. Really, where else were you going to go after getting 12 straight hours of show time, knowing that the bands you just saw on stage would be mingling with you in the courtyard? It just didn't make sense to go home. Nightwish and Kamelot were off on their tour after playing the pre-ProgPower show on Thursday.
One of the other fun things about ProgPower is that it brings out members of other bands who aren't playing, but just want to see a great show. In the courtyard later in the day, I would run into Pyramaze vocalist Urban Breed (ex-Tad Morose) as well as Oklahoma-based progressive metal band Vangough. I met the members of Vangough at a Mexican restaurant a block up from the venue for lunch and an interview about their most recent album, "Kingdom of Ruin," and their future. Festivities for Day Two kicked off at 2:30 in the afternoon. Brace yourselves, because this is going to be a long write-up.
Due to a huge delay on Symphony X's end, their scheduled 2 PM autograph session was pushed back to 2:30, though the band didn't show until after 3. This had stolen a bit of the crowd from German openers Beyond The Bridge, although the area soon swelled with new fans who weren't quite aware of how impressive they would be. The ProgPower hangover was soon to be sated with more hair of the dog and heavy music.
The band played a riveting set with most of the songs from their debut album, "The Old Man and the Spirit." "The Struggle" and "The Difference Is Human" were huge highlights, with vocalists Dilenya Mar and Herbie Langhans belting out the grand lyrical tale of whether to choose life or knowledge. From here forward, fans chose Beyond The Bridge when they went to the merch booth, often sporting the special t-shirts the band had made for the festival. In simple and clever white lettering on the back of the black shirt, it read "I am not a fan of the band depicted on the front side. I just liked the color of this t-shirt."
Another German band, Lanfear, took the stage after a set change. The band played a smattering of songs from their discography, but songs from "This Harmonic Consonance" seemed to get the biggest response. The band had a tough act to follow after Beyond The Bridge, but kept the energy level consistent. As heads banged through the afternoon, it was beginning to look like Germany was going to win the day. The Swedes and Finns of Solution .45 were up next, though.
Vocalist Christian Älvestam and crew brought the house down with their massive melodic death rampage. In his signature style, Älvestam switched back and forth between a strong and expressive clean voice and a menacing death growl. Inbetween songs, he spoke of his interest in Science Fiction and The X-Files, as well as his appreciation of Japanese Solution .45 fans, of which there were none at the festival (his question of "Are there any Japanese fans out there?" was met with crickets and one non-Japanese guy who put his hand up anyway.) The musicianship was high among the band as sweep-picked guitar solo after guitar solo was traded between the two lead players.
Earlier, MaYaN had been at the autograph table for awhile, revealing guest vocalists Floor Jansen (Revamp, ex-After Forever) and Henning Basse (Sons of Seasons), as well as Laura Macri. While in the line, conversation floated from "I'm so disappointed I didn't get Symphony X's autographs" to "Mark Jansen told me I'm beautiful", but always came back around to remarks about Beyond The Bridge's performance. The band was a true ProgPower break-out, winning the crowd for the day.
Mystic Prophecy was up next in the midday time slot of 7-8 PM. With the most energetic performance of the night, they stole the show similar to Serenity the night before, winning a big crowd response after the first song. The guitarists constantly tag-teamed on stage, getting up next to each other and tilting their guitars to the sky for solos. Performing with his spectacles on, R.D. Liapakis looked rather astute as he commanded the front. Lest these Germans show up the other bands again, MaYaN claimed the next band slot of the night.
Together, Mystic Prophecy and MaYaN made up the heavier part of the night so far. Before their set, Serenity and Beyond The Bridge were signing autographs, all very thankful and eager to talk to everyone. Along with being the ProgPower surprise of the day, Beyond The Bridge was also the nicest band of the weekend for being very visible (bassist Dominik Stotzem and guitarist Peter Degenfeld-Schonburg were literally EVERYWHERE during the weekend), approachable, and intensely conversational.
When MaYaN took the stage, they owned every part of it, although that might be unfair to say, seeing as how they had the most members on the stage at one time. Not playing guitar in this band, as he was the night before in Epica, vocalist Mark Jansen was now free to run all over the stage and grab various bandmates' shirts as he screamed the lyrics in their faces. All in good fun, the band brought out the guest vocalists and performed the monstrous songs from their debut "Quarterpast" to great reception. When Floor Jansen went front and center, clearly beloved, the crowd visibly surged.
Pretty Maids was up next after Kingcrow and Mystic Prophecy's signing sessions, both of which were well-attended, though it was getting hard to break away from the main room band to wait in line for autographs as the original time schedule was thrown off. Pretty Maids made ProgPower feel like they should party like it was 1984, which was the year of their debut album. It took the band 30 years to finally play in the US, and they had finally done it with this show. With their Motley Crue-esque outfits, it was hard not to draw the comparison in appearance, but they tugged at old heartstrings of classic metal fans as they played their lengthy retrospective set list into history.
Newcomers Seven Kingdoms premiered a music video on the ProgPower video screens inbetween Pretty Maids and Symphony X, which was widely well-received and seemed to be a pretty effective promotional tool for the band. Other promotional tools of theirs made their way into ProgPower attendees' special program bags received at the doors. Business cards with internet memes from the wise words of Boromir to the Ermahgerd girl, aimed at promoting their album, "The Fire Is Mine", were hilarious additions to the Beyond The Bridge promotional anti-flyer that read, "THIS IS NOT A FLYER -- It is a picture of your favorite band."
Hilariousness aside, it was time for the musical iconoclasts in Symphony X to bring their inferno to the stage and set the ProgPower world on fire. In true prog fashion, the band played an 8-song set, opening with "The Divine Wings of Tragedy" and opting for other lengthy songs from "Iconoclast" and "Paradise Lost," and ending with the entire 24-minute title track to "The Odyssey." The fingers of guitarist Michael Romeo, famed as impossibly fleet, were a wonderful blur during a solo. The band was rock solid and vocalist "Sir" Russell Allen was a hell-beast of the stage, proving his might and belting out lines like "Hit the switch, you son of a bitch" with predatory vigor. This was easily the most sing-along set of the night, with Allen noting that the crowd knew all the lyrics at the conclusion of the last song.
In the annals of ProgPower history, XIII will go down as a mighty year. Until next year, attendees will have to figure out what to do with themselves in the meantime besides rehash that show again and again. The American heavy metal tradition of ProgPower goes on, thankfully, with the efforts of many and the dedication of the core team of promoters Glenn and Jen Harveston.
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