Concert Review Archive

 

ProgPower Europe 2012

3-6 October 2012
Sjiwa, Baarlo, The Netherlands

Persefone, Orkenjott, Atlantis, A Liquid Landscape, Anubis Gate, Shattered Skies, Alarum, The Levitation Hex, Thurisaz, Uneven Structure, Borealis, Akphaezya, Nightingale, Heaven's Cry, Vanden Plas, Circus Maximus

Article By Andy Read
and Article and Live Photographs by Dries Dokter
Introduction

As last year’s ProgPower Europe ended, so this year’s began on a very sad and thought-provoking note.

Flowers and candles were lit around the memorial stone that had been laid close to the spot where Mikko Laine the guitarist with Finnish band Sole Remedy was so tragically taken from the ProgPower family in a freak accident.

An extra night had been added to this year’s event to allow those who do not live locally to commemorate Mikko in their own way.

Since last year a guitar has been carved in stone with Mikko's name and donated by a local craftsman. Around 80 people gathered in a very moving and appropriate event that allowed people to put down their own thoughts before the music started again with a great high energy set from Persefone, a young band that had driven up from Andorra.

Their music encapsulates complex instrumental layers usually found within the more instrumentally accomplished ProgMetal bands but with almost entirely growly vocals. I’ve enjoyed the arrangements on both of their albums to date but have always been put off by the vocals. However this show whetted my appetite to see them on a bigger stage to appreciate what was going on a bit better - the basement sound is rather enclosed. A good start to their three-week European tour.

Day One

ØRKENKJØTT (NOR)

Andy: : On the eve of a European tour with fellow Norwegian avant-garde metallers Leprous, this would be a good warm-up show for a quintet promoting their debut album Onskdiktet.

The singer was dressed as a bearded spiritual guru, the two guitarists as glam rockers and the bassist looked like one of those free gifts the Robertson Jam company gave away in the 80s. Musically every song combined at least six genres and the next song combined a different half dozen! The fact it was growled entirely in Norwegian didn’t help to decipher what they were trying to do (the dynamics work much better on the album).

Visually it was somewhere between entertaining and excruciating to watch - especially when the larger-than-life singer came out bare-chested and transformed as an American lager lout for the final song.

Ørkenkjøtt: Website

ANUBIS GATE (DEN)

Andy: : Seven years ago this festival had seen the debut live performance from this Danish melodic ProgPower metal band. I seem to remember that the sudden illness of their singer, left bassist Henrik Fevre to stand in behind the microphone. That’s where he is again after the departure last year of ‘new’ singer Jacob Hansen. Now promoting their newly-released, self-titled fifth album this was a solid, if unspectacular set.

I must admit I liked the first two Anubis Gate albums (Purification & A Perfect Forever) a lot. The next two were a bit too similar. There was a similar lack of variety on stage too, always the down-side of having your singer double-up as guitarist/bassist. Musically it was all a little one-paced for my taste. Anubis Gate was also one of many bands affected by too much bass-end overwhelming the other instruments and preventing a lot of the detail in the band’s music from coming through. However they won a warm reception from the crowd and for those who enjoy their metal with more melody than progressiveness this is a band to investigate.

Setlist: Snowbound, Waking Hour, Hold Back Tomorrow, Golden Days, Future Without Past, Purification, Find A Way, Dodecahedron, Tell Tale Eye, The Final Overture

Abubis Gate: Website

HEAVEN'S CRY (CAN)

Andy: You'd never have guessed they'd been away for 10 years. This Canadian quartet was one of the highlights at my debut ProgPower visit in 2002. Sadly, having released two quality traditional ProgMetal albums and securing some decent support slots to the likes of Threshold, Nightwish and Saga, they disbanded in 2004. Back in business, this return to Europe was in effect the launch party for their third album, Wheels Of Impermanence and a worldwide deal with Prosthetic Records.

The re-formed band features the last active line-up of Pierre St-Jean, Sylvain Auclair, Eric Jarrin and René Lacharité and boy did they hit the ground running. A solid ‘best of’ selection plus some cuts from the new disc, the band was impressively tight with Pierre and Sylvain delivering their trademark close harmonies throughout. Amazing to listen to. I’ve always felt Heaven’s Cry have the raw ingredients but they just need a few more killer melodies in their songs. However every copy of their new CD that they could slip in their flight cases had sold out before the end of their set, so I guess this goes down as a very welcome return?

Setlist: Empire’s Doll, Mad Machine, The Horde, 1 of 24, Divisions, Realinging, Wheels Of Impermanence, Komma, Masterdom’s Profit, Out Of Me, The Hollow, Compass, Rememberance, The Healing, The Alchemist, A Glimpse of Hope, Your God’s Crime, Gaia’s Judgement

Heaven's Cry: Website

Day Two

A LIQUID LANDSCAPE (NL)

Andy: Despite the early start, I was eagerly awaiting this exciting young Dutch band whose accomplished debut album will easily be within my Top5 albums of 2012.

I had seen a few YouTube clips of them live, and was concerned the singer was just overdoing it. He's nailed it now, as have the rest of the band. This was heavy where it needed to be, light where it mattered and packed with passion and melodic intricacy from the first note to the last. This was my 10th visit to ProgPower Europe and this was one of the top 10 sets I've seen in Baarlo. They played, or rather performed their debut album all the way through (bar one song) including opening with Nightingale Express, the 12 minute title track.

Musically this is a very classy mix of Tool, Riverside and Karnivool with a healthy dose of NeoProg. Best set of the weekend for me. Utterly mesmerising.

Setlist:Intro, Nightingale Express, Wanderer's Log - You, June Fifth, Phases, The Unreachable, Wanderer's Log - Me, Thieves Of Time, Out Of Line, Wanderer's Log - Storm, Secret Isle

A Liquid Landscape: Website

SHATTERED SKIES (IRL)

Andy: Second best set of the weekend for me. I’ve been following this young Irish band since I was told to listen to their Reanimations download a year or so ago. A couple of singles have followed but despite being yet to release a full album the quartet is sure building a big reputation. That reputation must after grown after this highly impressive hour on the Baarlo stage.

They often seem to fall under the djent banner but for me this is melodic, groove metal with some progressive twists and turns. Barely a growl in audible sight.

The guitarist and bassist were amazing and the singer had the cheeky chappy look, a great connection with the crowd and a fabulous voice. They previewed two new songs but the highlights were the fabulous Beneath The Waves and the amazing guitar lick that opens Attrition.

Apparently quite a lot of people did leave the show for a while – all of the band’s merchandise had sold out halfway through their set! The skies may not be big enough to limit these guys – coming to a much bigger arena near you soon!

Shattered Skies: Website

ALARUM (AUS)

AlarumAndy: One of the tightest technical metal bands I have ever seen. This Melbourne four-piece has been around since 1992 and were in Europe to promote their third album Natural Causes. Compared to the likes of Atheist and Cynic, on this showing it would be unfair to simply lump them into the vague progressive metal genre, as they blend rock, jazz, Latin and fusion. The playing was mesmerizing, especially the guitar work. “This is a f**king difficult song to play” was the introduction to more than one track. For a newcomer it was hard to digest it all on a first listen. Although I didn't like the growly vocalist, I stayed the course.

Dries: From the description upfront, Alarum sounded like my kind of band. And musically they were really great: firm, loud & energetic. Unfortunately the music was also a bit too complicated to grasp the first time listening. And when it comes to that, it did not help that Alarum had little to no, connection to the audience. So yes, it was technically good, yes it were all complicated and well thought of compositions, but no, it did not win me over for the music of Alarum. Somehow my standard has come: if I can't understand the music enough to be able to hum, it is too complicated for my taste.

Alarum: Website

THE LEVITATION HEX (AUS)

The Levitation HexAndy: Currently touring Europe with Alarum as an Aussie double-header. I think this band has the Alchemist singer/guitarist and the current Alarum singer bassist and the former Alarum guitarist. Somewhat incestuous? It was the thinnest crowd of the weekend and after what went before it was all a bit much for my ears. I caught the first and last song but this more extreme version of Alchemist really wasn’t my thing.

Dries: Compared to Alarum, The Levitation Hex were more melodic, but even louder. This was to be expected: as The Levitation Hex rose from the "ashes" of Alchemist and because of that (such fond memories of Alchemist's last performances at ProgPower), The Levitation Hex were a must see for me! And these metallers did not dissappoint me. Loud, but very Melodic. Rhythmic and therefor very headbangable (is that a word? it should be!). So that's what we did: headbang to the music. Not many people stayed on for this band, but in my opinion they missed one of the better bands of the weekend.

The Levitation Hex: Website

Setlist: Depressedemic, Internal Chatter, Manipulator, Scratch A Life, Flirting, A Breathing Ap, The Longest Path, Breaking Point, Dream Deficit

NIGHTINGALE (SWE)

NightengaleAndy:I didn't get this band the first two times I caught them at the ProgPower USA and then at this festival nine years ago. I think it was because their serious (gothic) look and attitude on stage didn't match the melodic hard rock they were playing. I’ve now come to appreciate most of their seven albums. Meanwhile frontman Dan Swano has padded out a bit and this time smiled throughout.

It’s been five years since the band’s last release (White Darkness). A new Nightingale effort, tentatively titled Bravado is ‘in the works’ but sadly no new tracks were exhibited here. Some said the music didn't really fit the festival but this was a solid 'best of' set with a few rarities that I and many others seemed to love and appreciate for what it was.

Setlist: Thoughts from a stolen from soul, Fields of Life, Glory Days, Alonely, Shadowland Serenade, Still Alive, Stalingrad, Revival, Steal the Moon, Shadowman, Better Safe Than Sorry, A Raincheck, Hideaway, Nightfall

Nightingale: Website

VANDEN PLAS (GER)

Andy: One of the most enduring and consistent ProgMetal bands ever, Germany’s Vanden Plas did exactly what I’ve come to expect, having witnessed their live show on at least seven occasions in the past decade. Great songs, great musicianship, great vocals and a great stage presence. They ended with the classic Rainmaker.

This was a ‘best of’ set that had a strong resemblance to the great show they delivered at last year’s Fused Festival - their debut headline show in the UK. It again received a great reception from a very full house. However the best news was when Andy Kuntz announced that a new album and also a live DVD recorded at the ProgPower USA Festival are set for next May.

Vanden Plas

Setlist: Postcard To God, Rush Of Silence, Holes In The Sky, Far Off Grace, Scar Of An Angel, I Can See, Quicksilver, Cold Wind, Frequency, Silently, Christ 0, Rainmaker

VandenPlas: Website

Day Three

ATLANTIS (NL)

AtlantisAndy: As has become festival tradition it was a young Dutch band that opened proceedings on the final day. Atlantis started off as a one-man project but has evolved into a six-piece band with two EPs and an album (Mistress Of Ghosts) to their name.

Sitting in the instrumental post rock category this was one for those who like repetitive instrumental atmospheres that build slowly to a climax before fading back again. In fact every song did just that. Metronomic Monotony. The only real variety was in how long the song took to build and how long the climax lasted. There was plenty of energy and passion onstage but after two songs it had become too predictable for my tastes.

They had three guitarists, yet offered one of the best sounds of the weekend. The benefits of using the in-house sound guy?

Atlantis: Website

THURISAZ (BEL)

ThurisazDries: In 2007, because Aghora cancelled about 2 weeks before the festival, Oceans Of Sadness was added to the bill on last minute. History seems to repeat itself this year when a week before ProgPower Empty Yard Experiment cancels and then gets replaced by a Belgium band called Thurisaz. This upset a lot of people, Empty Yard Experiment had been mentioned as the reason to come to PPeu more than a couple of times. I do hope that Empty Yard Experiment get there chance another year but if they would have been there: how proud would these guys have been of their replacement.

After the good vibes of Atlantis, Thurisaz came, saw and conquered. The last festival day had only just begun and these 2 bands set the standard for the bands that were to come.

Thurisaz plays a doom-prog-metal style of music, grunting, loud, delicious wall of sound. Tight, melodic, speedy music, that allows for pauses in the guitar riffs. Their attitude on stage is energetic and modest, probably the best way to win over the ProgPower audience. Even more so when they allowed a fan on stage to play his inflatable guitar together with them.

At the end of the set, it was clear Thurisaz had the progpower audience twisted around their little finger. Excellent band, excellent performance..

Thurisaz: Website

UNEVEN STRUCTURE (FR)

Uneven StructureDries: Then French metalistst Uneven Structure took the stage. As their music is described as strongly influenced by Messugah, I was kind of reluctant to embrace their music fully. And this reluctance did not fade away during their set. Uneven Structures is not a bad band, in fact it is a great band (this year's progpower musical standard again was very high). But the energetic singer could not rid me of the feeling that Uneven Structure's set was kind of uneventful. Music without real lead guitars, screaming vocals without real highlights and simple, but air tight, rhythms.Common theme of all songs being the three guitars, delivering slash guitars is small doses.

Again the sound quality was really good, and the band did benefit from that: no one doubted their musicianship. But after the energetic and inspiring presence of Thurisaz less then an hour ago, Uneven Structure's can only be labeled: not bad.

Uneven Structure: Website

BOREALIS (CAN)

BorealisAndy: On the strength of their superb second album, Fall From Grace, released on Lion Music last year, this young bunch of Canadians was one of the bands I was most looking forward to. On the basis they’d come all the way from Canada just to play for an hour, I was expecting a pretty full-on show. And that is pretty much what they delivered.

The band actually started life with a female operatic singer. That was until they realised guitarist Matt Marinelli was hiding a world class voice behind his six string talent. Live he sounded even better than on record. Add to that some lovely, flowing twin guitar work, tight drums and bass and good selection of melodic metal from their two albums.

Musically there’s a bit of the Evergrey crunch at times but mainly they remind me of the wonderfully melodic and much missed Magnitude 9. A big hit for an impressively full house. More melodic metal like this next year please.

Borealis: Website

AKPHAEZYA (FR)

AkphaezyaAndy: Wow. Double Wow and wow again. This band set draws-a-droppin’ when they opened the day at this festival two years ago. Promoting their second disc (Anthology IV) they were promoted to second on the bill.

Often when a band returns after a memorable debut when no-one had any preconceptions, it is rarely as good the second time around. It quickly became clear that in two years this French foursome has managed to improve by several divisions both musically and performance-wise.

Singer/pianist Nehl Aelin is the main focus with an eye-catchingly exuberant stage presence and probably the most amazing voice I've ever heard live. She can go from Nina Hagen to Angela Gossow in a note. The rest of the band ain’t bad either!

They played their new album entirely and were dragged back for an encore with a track, Secret Of Time, from their previous disc. Musically this will be way too left-field for many but this is a band everyone who enjoys heavy progressive music should try to see live once before they die.

Akphaezya: Website

CIRCUS MAXIMUS (NOR)

Andy: On paper I didn't have these as headline calibre and although they delivered a decent show I think I felt the same at the end of their set. Musically proficient and certainly with some good melodic ProgMetal songs (among a few less appealing for me AOR numbers) they just lacked something in the energy and passion of say Seventh Wonder. Again the bass-heavy sound didn't help my appreciation, drowning out a lot of the singer’s mid-range – and he has a lot of mid-range.

Not being a fan of the lighter, AOR leanings of their new album, the set list was also a big disappointment. Playing eight out of the ten tracks from Nine left just two each from their first discs. Not even a sniff of the wonderful Glory Of The Empire or Why Am I Here, let alone awesome The First Chapter. Strange selection for a festival with Prog and Power in its title? However they did draw a big crowd and got a terrific response and clearly provided a great end to the festival for many.

Circus Maximus

Setlist: Architect Of Fortune, Namaste, A Darkened Mind, Abyss, Reach Within, I Am, Sin, Alive, Game Of Life, The One, Burn After Reading, Last Goodbye

Circus Maximus:Website

Ending theme

It never ceases to amaze me what a great range of bands the organisers compile every year and how well everything seems to run to the published schedule (a rare thing at festivals). The after-show parties and the social side seem to get bigger every year as well, with people attending from almost every European country and as far away as Australia and New Zealand.

Despite the lack of any 'big names' this year, the attendance seemed to be high with good support for every band. And ProgPower Europe must still be growing in attention because the number of first-time visitors was considerable this year. Many of them wishing to return again next year.

After a few good years, the only down point was the return of some uncomfortable sound levels. This was exclusively by bands that chose to bring their own sound person instead of using the in-house guy who knows the venue and always seems to get a great balance.

Anyway we hear organisers are hoping for at least two major names next year. October 4-6 are the dates. Book your places early.

Sjiwa, Baarlo: Website

 


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