To celebrate five years of bringing the weird and wonderful of the world's progressive rock and metal bands to this quiet superb of the Dutch capital, organisers had put together an enticing line-up consisting of some of their favourite bands from the first four events and some new discoveries. Always an eclectic mix, this was probably the broadest pot of genres you're ever likely to get at a small festival. On a holiday weekend, I had the choice of paying 120 euros for a hotel in the Red Light District or 5 Euros to put up a tent by a lake in the beautiful Amsterdam woods. So having to fix my guy ropes after a 10 hour train journey, I missed the opening Dutch Death metallers
Obsidian, however the rest of the weekend’s line-up would provide a fascinating musical journey.
To-Mera: I caught one of the band’s first gigs at last year’s Bloodstock Festival. Sadly an appalling sound didn’t help a rather fumbling performance that led me to conclude that things could only get better. In the six months since, things have got better, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement. To-Mera’s debut album certainly takes a few listens and has its fair share of misses as well as hits, but their unique take on avant-garde progressive metal has great potential. On stage they haven’t quite worked out how to convert the album’s complexity into a coherent live sound. As on the album, ‘Blood’ was the standout track and they also played a new song ‘The Lie’. Again there was little interaction with the crowd, and apart from bassist it’s all rather static. A work still in progress.
Sun Caged: After a four-year absence from the scene, this was only their second gig with a brand new line-up, but it was clear from the off that guitarist and band leader Marcel Coenen was delighted to be back in action with his merry band of Dutch ProgMetallers. I don’t know if the decision to only play tracks from their new album, ‘Artemesia’, was due to the need to concentrate on songs that the new line-up is familiar with, or a desire to put the past behind. But considering the album had only been out a week, then the set went down a storm. Singer Paul Adrian Villarreal has a great blues-tinged voice and an infectious, boyish enthusiasm that is a little more digestible than his predecessor. Fuelled by a band clearly enjoying itself and at ease on stage, the audience response grew with each song. I’d seen the previous incarnation live on two occasions, and while it’ll take a few more shows to hit their stride, this version looks even better.
Zero Hour: There’s only one word needed to describe this set. Phenomenal. For the 85 minutes they were onstage, these American tech/prog metal masters kept me mesmerized with a performance that stands as one of the best gigs I have ever been to. With more than three decades of concerts to choose from, that’s no mean achievement! The sheer wall of power and emotion that these four musicians were able to produce was amazing. As tight as a size zero dress on a sumo wrestler they managed to make their complex arrangements seem as easy as reciting the alphabet. Thankfully they did prove to be human; having to restart the new song ‘The Temple Within’ when they failed to get under the same starters orders! I thought original vocalist Erik Rosvold would be impossible to replace, but in ex-Power of Omens singer Chris Salinas they have managed the impossible. Relishing the chance to play his first gig in Europe, the man was pumped up to boiling point, giving 200% from beginning to end. Living every word, hitting every note in an amazing range each and every time, this was a level of singing I’ve rarely seen. If I had to pick the highest of the highlights I’d have to be the emotional roller coaster that was ‘Face The Fear’; Salinas’ pure emotion in the mid-set ballad, and the incredible drumming from Mike Guy. As the Tipton twins on bass and guitar were impeccable too, I’ve come to the conclusion that you really need five gigs to appreciate this band. One to watch each of the musicians and one to enjoy the whole show. Well I’ve more than enjoyed the whole show; so let’s hope they return soon so that I can see the other four gigs! A band at the peak of its game. Phenomenal.
TransmissionO: Ambient death metal may be the ultimate contradiction in terms but with two guitarists, bass and drums and a growler stuck behind a stack of synths that’s exactly what this Dutch band delivers. The riffs were a little repetitive, the vocals are not my thing and with no in-between song banter, the band found it hard to develop any rapport with the crowd. That being said, around halfway through their short set, I settled into their extremely tight groove and found it went down rather well with my first beer of the day.
Seventh Wonder: One of the main festival attractions for me, this Swedish band produced one of my favourite albums of 2006 with the superb, melodic ProgMetal of ‘Waiting in the Wings’. What a shame that this was clearly not meant to be their day. Having spent the morning driving around the city trying to find some medicine for their singer who had been up all night with a fever and had almost lost his voice, their set was bedevilled by technical problems. Full marks though for perseverance, and they did enough to show they are one of the most promising progressive metal bands on the scene. Especially impressive was bassist Andreas Blomqvist, and when his voice was willing, Tommy Karevik also showed why he is one hotly-tipped newcomer. The band is more than capable of delivering complex songs like ‘Star of David’ and the rousing set-closer ‘Edge of my Blade’, although the inclusion of ‘Temple in the Storm’ from their dull debut, suggests that they should leave the past behind altogether. This was only their second gig outside of Sweden. Apparently their priority now is to work on a new album, and ideally to win some better fortune for future gigs.
Dial: Another attraction for me was the chance to see this new Dutch band featuring former Pain Of Salvation bassist Kristoffer Gildenlow. Dial is really hard act to pigeonhole, the music changes as often as the band changes its instruments. The drummer becomes the bassist, the bassist becomes the guitarist who then plays some synths, and the vocals twist and turn between Gildenlow and the engaging Liselotte Hegt, who had the greenest eye shadow I’ve ever seen. Musically there’s a few rocky numbers but the bulk of the set is made up of catchy, modern, ambient progrock. The mellowest band of the day, they were ideally placed on the bill. They had an instant rapport with the crowd and did more than enough to get me to buy their debut album ‘Synchronized’, which is also rather tasty.
Morglbl: God knows how you pronounce it or what it means, but what I can tell you is that this was the best show by an instrumental band I have ever seen. Generally guitar solo alums bore the pants off me, but this trio, led by French guitar maestro Christopher Godin, turned their music into a visual and audio feast. There was plenty of mind-boggling playing to ensure the musicians in the audience spent plenty of time picking their jaws off the ground. And for the instrumentally inept, the show verged on musical pantomime with funny faces and movement inspired by the Mr Bean school of comedy. From beginning to end, it was clear the trio was having great fun. They brought a smile to everyone’s faces and deservedly won a great reception at the end.
Loch Vostok: ‘We’re Loch Vostok and we suck’ yells beefy bearded frontman Teddy Moller. A band that impressed when I caught them at the debut Headway Festival years ago, these Swedes delivered another competent hour-long set of progressive death metal, with Teddy delivering growls, clean vocals and his dry sense of humour in equal doses. It’s not really my sort of music but one can appreciate the appeal. The hour certainly sped by, and Loch Vostok showed you don’t have to take yourselves too seriously to be taken seriously.
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum: If Zero Hour provided one of the best performances I’ve ever witnessed, then Sleepytime are vying for a place as the weirdest. On stage we had the five band members in pink, flowery, home-made dresses. The fact that only one of them was a female makes it an interesting sight. Like the dresses their instruments are also home-made. The second percussionist even brought the kitchen sink! And whilst the music was also home-made, unlike the dresses, there was nothing second-hand about it at all. A groovy, avant-garde, death, thrash, progressive metal wrapped around a performance that was theatrically engaging. It drew an admitting reception from a crowd who, from the number of frowns on faces at the start, had clearly never seen anything like it either. Like several of the bands here, I can’t say that I’d ever buy one of their albums, but as a live show it was spot-on.
Redemption: The thing that really struck me from this weekend was how professional all the band’s had been. You may not have liked the music but you could always appreciate how well it was played and performed. Sadly the one band to disappoint in this respect was the headliner, and in particular a musician who has had more than 20 years of playing major venues all over the world. Led by guitarist-cum-Walt Disney executive Nicolas van Dyk, the release of their superb third album, ‘The Origins Of Ruin’, has seen Redemption quickly climb the Champions League of ProgMetal bands. Only their third ever gig and their first in Europe, things started off well with the bone crunching riffery of ‘Threads’ and ‘Suffocating Silence’. But as things progressed it became clear that Ray Alder hadn’t spent nearly enough time in rehearsals. Redemption’s music is lyric heavy and so a ‘cheat sheet’ could be excused for the Fates Warning frontman. But watching him read whole songs from the sheet made it more like a poetry recital than a rock concert. The extra strain was also taking its toll on his voice and performance level. By the end, his confidence and focus had gone and his voice was totally shot.
The rest of the band seemed to have spent more time practicing, although movement and interaction with the crowd was non-existent. The riffs and twin solos on songs like were a joy to listen to. Even without the vocals, hearing the monumental ‘Sapphire’ as the closing track was immense. However none of that can avoid the fact that this show was badly under-rehearsed. It turned what should have been a great gig, into merely a good one. For a headline act, and for a band that has such potential, that is simply not good enough.
And finally… This is a great little festival and it was cool to meet up with several other people who had made the trip across from the UK. Sadly, speaking to one of the organisers after the final curtain it would appear that this could be the final Headway. The 600-capacity hall being only a third full, must have meant a considerable financial deficit. The Netherlands has a huge following for this sort of music but more people visited this festival from overseas, than the host nation. Dutch music fans can only blame themselves for the loss of an event that, in its short history, has managed to attract many bands that would never have had the chance to play in Europe, as well as providing me with three excellent weekends of musical discovery.
Redemption Threads; Suffocating Silence; Nocturnal; Bleed;
Fall On You; (Keyboard solo); Release; Memory, The Real Thing, Death of Faith & Reason; Sapphire
Seventh Wonder Taint The Sky; Banish The Wicked; Temple in the Storm; Star of David; Walking Tall; The Edge of My Blade
Sun Caged Lyres Harmony; A Fair Trade; Blood Lines;
Higher Ground; Unborn