ProgPower USA XIV: A Friday To Remember In Atlanta, Georgia
Band Photo: Soilwork (?)
Internationally respected, domestically loved, and locally interesting (“Look at all these black-shirted people walking into this Einstein Bagel Co!”), the ProgPower USA festival returned to its frequent home at Center Stage in Atlanta, Georgia this past weekend for its fourteenth year of bringing quality metal to the stateside masses.
Through the hallowed gates (err… glass and metal doors) of the venue, almost anything was possible on the days of September 5-7. To some, it was an ocean of opportunity or a place to be reborn in metal. To others, a place to spend endless nights with the masters of the world themselves. To most of the 1,000+ attendees, it was where they went to reach within, feel alive, and leave with a sense of pride -- nobody was wondering “Why am I here?,” even if it was only the 1st chapter of their ProgPower story. (For this writer, the festival was also a chance to write 9 song/album titles from the bands that would be performing at the show into this second paragraph about the show. Because it sounded really cool.)
As previously detailed, the festival brought 5 bands to the states for the first time and 16 in total throughout the three days, with an extra 2 added to that in a separate Wednesday show. When I had arrived on Friday, the ProgPower elite who had come both days prior to it were feeling quite at ease and even had a sort of comfortable glow about them. I later learned that this was due in part to warm hangovers, but mostly due the awesomeness of the concerts on the days leading up to Friday, which were written about in part by Metal Underground admin CROMCarl. This, however, is the record of my time at this year's crazy heavy wonderland.
Friday went on schedule without interruption, with the venue opening up the vendor room at noon to Gold Badge holders and an hour later to the public. The way it looked immediately after the public swarmed, you’d think that there were a few gold tickets to an exclusive chocolate factory somewhere in select merchandise items. Rarely do you see such a beautiful sight as Century Media, Nuclear Blast, Nightmare Records, Death Gasm, and CD Inzane merch tables set up all in one room, among a couple of others. After a few minutes, it looked as if these albums and shirts weren’t going to last but a few minutes. Lance King of Nightmare Records also had specially-created “Awakenings” coffee for sale. (Because why not?)
At 2 PM, Damnation Angels took the stage after rolling into the venue and the United States for the first time in a limo (because who wouldn’t want to?) In symphonic style, with all of their backing tracks for added oomph, the youngest band on the bill made their case of why they were here. Along with the songs from their debut album, Bringer of Light, the band lit up the faces of the crowd with a never-before-heard song from their forthcoming sophomore record, “The Valiant Fire.” The set closed with chants and raised fists during a highlight of the set, “Pride (The Warrior’s Way),” and the crowd cheered their approval loudly.
As I discovered through an interview, there was a great deal of difficulty getting Myrath, the next band, into the states on time and back to the venue for their performance. However, thanks to the extraordinary efforts of the ProgPower crew, the band was able to take the stage at their scheduled time after all, and just in time to completely steal it for the rest of the day. After the last member of the band got to the venue just a half hour before showtime, Myrath blew away the crowd in ways they didn’t even know were possible. At one point, vocalist Zaher Zorgati divided up the crowd to create a 2-part Tunisian singalong that evolved into 3 parts, engulfing the entire venue in harmony. Together with guest keyboardist and super-champ-level producer Kevin Codfert (of Adagio), the band put the crowd under siege with their tales of the sands and merciless times, as well as bass-slapping, guitar wailing, and a tiny bit of ethnic dancing.
With the bar set high after their set, and done so running on only about 4 hours of sleep for the band members after their travel adventures, Myrath claimed Friday as theirs. Germany’s Xandria were to follow a short time afterward, allowing the crowd some time to wander inbetween sets. For some, it was time to head to their cars to refresh and put on one of the three sampler CDs that they were given for free in their ProgPower bags upon entering the festival. (Because three is way better than one, as they learned over the years.) As a treat this year, one of this writer’s favorite new prog bands, Vangough, had released an impressive exclusive song on that ProgPower sampler from their forthcoming 4th album, “Between The Madness.”
Xandria was up next, with all the pomp and bombast you’d expect from a band that takes its cues from Tarja-era Nightwish. More than that, though, Xandria’s Manuela Kraller was certainly one example you could use to make the argument that if it’s not sung properly, it’s not worth listening to. Her classical training and style made the band’s set a very intriguing listen, regardless of whether you were listening recreationally or educationally. They certainly knew how to entertain and really captivated the crowd on the ground floor.
Wolverine followed their set with a worthwhile offering of their own in what festival-goer Matt Vicente had explained metaphorically as ‘a warm hug that becomes stronger and eventually smothers.’ With depth through subtlety being their forte, Wolverine powerfully gave their all through a set rich in dynamics and deep into their discography back to “Cold Light of Monday.” Amazingly, a select crowd of concertgoers would find that Wolverine had even more emotional depths to hit in a special acoustic set the next day. “And She Slowly Dies” was a highlight of the set, showcasing most of the band’s strong points. Drummer Marcus Losbjer and vocalist Stefan Zell had sat down for an interview with me earlier on in the day, fresh off of the airplane.
The hotly-anticipated Ashes of Ares performance was to come next. Festival-goers could find exclusive advance CD and vinyl copies of the debut self-titled record in the vendor room. When they took the stage, few were prepared for the fury that was to be unleashed. Through songs about justice, punishment, death, fallen brothers, and vampires, the five-piece band anchored by Matt Barlow (Iced Earth), Freddie Vidales (Iced Earth), and Van Williams (Nevermore) really brought the fire (and the fiery red hair). Barlow looked positively fierce when singing “Chalice of Man.” Earlier on in the day, I had met with Barlow and Vidales for a more relaxed and even more goofy than serious interview.
Following Ashes of Ares were Soilwork, who constantly bring the house down wherever they go. Lead vocalist Bjorn “Speed” Strid noted to everyone that they were finally the heaviest band on a bill, although that’s debatable with Ashes of Ares and Divinity Compromised both making major bouts for that position. They were certainly the fastest, though. (Because drummer Dirk Verbeuren is a hurricane, his individual limb speed was hard to measure, but there was quite some damage done.) They reached back in their discography, drawing from A Predator’s Portrait, Natural Born Chaos, and Stabbing the Drama as well as their newer records and the most recent, The Living Infinite. Between the dual-guitar solos, the wild and imaginative drum fills of Dirk Verbeuren, and the hilarious moments of slow-dancing between Ola Flink and his bass, they were a real hit for the festival, embracing melodic death metal as the festival did with Solution .45 the year before.
After Soilwork, it was once again time for one of the most anticipated traditions in ProgPower history: The next year’s reveal video, going over each of the bands slated to perform at the next ProgPower. Throughout the later part of 2012 and into 2013, festival organizer Glenn Harveston had asked the concert fans to pick their dream lineups for the festival according to a monetized scale so that he had some ideas of who to go after to please the most people. Everyone had their own ideas what it would be, but the 2014 lineup revealed a real whirlwind of a lineup that had some concertgoers jumping and screaming in excitement. Chants of “Glenn! Glenn! Glenn!” and “Shut up and take my money!” reverberated in the hall for a few minutes.
Feeding off of the excitement, Shadow Gallery took the stage at the climax of the night to thoroughly feed the need for old-school prog. They made the extremely technical type of playing look so easy that it was almost disgusting. Somewhere in their blur of hands and coordinated harmonized vocals, several of the bandmates changed instruments several times and a flute graced the ProgPower stage, which surely is a rare happening. DC Cooper came out to assist with vocals during the set to a good deal of acclaim and the band shut the night down on a high note, leaving everyone fully satisfied for the night.
For those that still needed more out of the night, there was the Artmore after-party to hit. Like the years before, the partiers kept it (mostly) classy and thoroughly fun. What happens at the Artmore (usually) stays at the Artmore, and is also usually worth the price of the ticket alone for the sheer number of the band members that attend for you to shmooze with and the camaraderie to be had between festival-goers. The next day of the festival was to bring the same level of intensity, with six more bands to come and make believers out of simple attendees.
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