Unearthing The Metal Underground: Progressive Metal at ProgPower USA XIII
Each week, carrying on faithfully in the tradition of bringing the bands that are currently simmering in the underground up to a rolling boil, we feature several quality underground bands in their respective genres. With the 'power' side of the ProgPower USA XIII festival already unearthed in October, the 'prog' side remains unspoken for.
The ProgPower USA festival has taken turns at skewing the balance toward one genre, but has been notorious for bringing in bands who straddle the line between both in the eyes of those with a more liberal view of things. The lines of demarcation are not very clear and the next year's roster often ends up surprising many. Fortunately, many prog bands are able to weave their way into the system and capture some attention. One such band hopped the ocean to pre-empt their 2nd album release, unveiling that they would be selling the CD months in advance at the show.
Few bands brought the prog with such unabashed love as Haken in the festival's history. As the openers of Day Two of 2011, a spot happily filled this year by fellow prog-heads Beyond The Bridge, the boys of Haken unleashed a set list that included one song from their upcoming album, "Visions" (reviewed here,) but focused mostly on the first album, "Aquarius." Multiple melodic themes are developed throughout the albums, with expert re-interpretations for emotional impact linking up with the storylines. Both albums are concept albums, and both involve songs that go beyond the 20-minute mark, showing their prog side.
Haken is a five-piece, with keyboardist and Haken main brain Richard Henshall performing both keyboard and guitar duties. Henshall and Diego Tejeida both focus on crafting synthesizer sounds not heard elsewhere, which often makes for multi-faceted lead tones. Haken bassist Tom Maclean heads a prog metal sideproject by the name of To-Mera with Henshall assisting, as well.
The prog element in Darkwater lies mainly in the choice of time signatures, because the other elements are fairly familiar to the melodic death metal world. Darkwater hails from Sweden, and were quite an easy fit alongside fellow melodic death metal titans Evergrey for the 2011 year. Lead vocalist Henrik Båth, in an interview I conducted, had voiced an admiration for vocalist Göran Edman, who had a very strong part on noteworthy prog rock band Karmakanic's recent release, "In A Perfect World" (reviewed here,) as well as a long history of session work for various bands. Synthesizer is another main focus of Darkwater, as well, making for memorable leads such as the ones in "Breathe," from their most recent release, "Where Stories End."
Newcomers Myrath will be making their way to the ProgPower 2013 stage all the way from their home country of Tunisia to show off their prog folk prowess and bring a sandstorm or two with them. With quite a large sound already developed on their third album, "Tales of the Sands" (reviewed here,) it's a wonder this band hasn't already blown sky-high. Fronted by the high tenor and tight vibrato of Zaher Zarguatti, the band also boasts a guitarist hot on the heels of fellow shredder Jeff Loomis -- Malek ben Arbia -- as well as a slew of impressive bandmates.
Musically, the band puts an exciting and heavy spin on eastern music, with a smattering of ethnic hand percussion, violin, and notably eastern melody lines. The prog element comes from Myrath's seamless synthesis of these native elements along with the added time signature shifts, although there's not much aimless noodling to be found for prog's sake -- the format is intentionally technical.
Many bands have graced the stage at ProgPower USA, and many more are to come, as long as the prog part of the festival encourages the strict power metal fans to go drink in the lobby or spend time in the merch room. It's a moneymaker to have bands that both highly impress with technicality and can get non-listeners away from the stage long enough to buy drinks or merch they might not have bought otherwise. Join us next week for another special unearthing, as well as our archive of prior columns.
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