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Out of the ashes of Be Prog My Friend arose a collaboration of one half of the BPMF organizers with a Dutch team to create something new at a slightly different approach: the Prognosis Festival. DPRP's Raimond Fischbach reports.
A festival not with giant - and super costy - prog superstars but on a more modern edge with a line up consisting of up-to-date artists that shape today's prog scape. Thinking of all the many festivals in Europe that cater the retro/neo-prog scene in Europe, it appears only logical not to run another party with the likes of Jethro Tull, Marillion, Steve Hackett, etc. Instead it's a festival that has the current gravity of melodic prog metal on display with quite some trips into the surrounding styles. And even better, it took place 6 months apart from Progpower Europe and Euroblast, so it prevented the annual spring deprivation blues perfectly!
With 17 bands in two days, plus conferences, artist clinics and meet and greet sessions, the organisers had filled up the space of the venue rather efficiently in order to offer the audience the best amount of events, if not too much. Rushing from event to event became quite a challenge and it was sad to have to leave out several performances because of overlapping and even simultaneous playing times on the two stages. It gave us mixed feelings at the start of the festival, but after all the greatness experienced, this and some other mishaps were almost forgotten at the happy ending of the weekend.
Being stuck in traffic and then in the queue at the venue, we missed most of the opening act, Wheel. A Finnish heavy rocking band with strong Tool-ish influences. Being on the road with Soen, it was quite logical to have them participating the festival, and it turned out quite a good idea. We only caught their last track, but that only amplified the feeling that we've been missing a great performance. With two EPs and one short album out, it was already safe to say that they have great potential to rise, and after the glimpse of their performance, it became obvious that they have a great future ahead.
Rushing over to the big stage, The Gathering had started their show already, and it was a little surprising, to me at least, that they filled the floor so well. The large hall is capable of 1,500 and it was three quarters full. I never thought that this band with so many atmospheric and folk elements would entertain so many people on a prog festival. Not knowing much about them, their performance was quite convincing, as the band stand proof their reputation. Second band and euphoria began already to kick in.
A little checking out the venue De Effenaar was due. It's a place with quite a history, and like all of the Dutch venues I've been at so far, of stylish, comfortable interior. It contains two stages, a small one, capable of 400, in a good spacey room and a large one upstairs, capable of approximate 1500 in a room of cubic dimension, high enough for great air sound-wise and also in terms of oxygen. And there's also a decent bar where one can rest and chat, relax and gain forces for the next sonic attack. Decent food is served there and a fine selection of beers, too. Finally a venue that understands that fans of modern music don't wanna be fed with the cheapest shit available, served at highest price.
Coming up next was Jo Quail, a single female artist playing and looping cello. I didn't gain access at home when listening to her recordings, but live on stage she opened a great spectrum of emotions. The progress of tracking the backing loops on stage before the actual song begins to take shape often is rather boring for the spectator, but Mrs Quail has a great concept of doing that almost in a Berlin School way. She has a perfect way of building up backing loops and applying atmospheres and leads and even doing transitions of various song parts on stage without ever losing track. It is a very complex task to do this all in one person on stage, but she mastered it brilliantly and still managed to deliver a great emotional set.
Rushing back upstairs to Leprous was already challenging, as the building filled up more and more. Leprous, after touring recently, played a special set on request, doing their fourth album The Congregation in full. Since they're on a move away from the heavy edge, they somewhat reduced the overall sound and turned down the volume and distortion of the guitars a bit, which was a brilliant move because it showed what quality their song-writing really has. It was quite a refreshing experience to hear the material that way.
One little thing was a bit disturbing though: while the large hall has only little reverberation, it tends to created a sort of a „rolling bass“ reverb, which resulted in Baard Kolstad's kick drums and double bass rolls becoming over-saturated and by that making some of Simen Børven's bass lines barely audible. But the band delivered as always. It's not only because the never-heard-live-before songs were such ear candies that made the performance so awesome. But also, even though the album has been played over and over again so often, because the Norwegians managed to bring the material to news heights on stage. Chapeau! Enthusiastic ovations were well deserved.
Meanwhile the Alex Skolnick Trio played their gig on the small stage and the stage make-over had been finished already. As I rushed down in order to catch at least two or three songs from Soen, I ended up at a huge mass of people before the entrance and the band was playing already. A strange thing, having Soen at the small stage. Probably it had already been scheduled before the sell-out of their new album kicked in and it was not possible to re-arrange the play times? Anyway, the audience stormed the small stage, security closed doors, then re-opened to let more people in and then closed again. So beers and chats for a great mass of fans had been processed until the next act.
Back at the large stage, Haken took over operations. Having nothing more on offer than the current tour set, one might think it wouldn't be as hot a gig as usual, after having seen them perform it already. But still, it was different, and the band had us enthusiastic immediately, cherishing every note played.
It is the sheer incredible performance of their complex material plus the sympathetic stage appearance that hooks up everybody. It only took them three songs to achieve a raging audience. The band was just perfect, and one really cannot go without saying that Ross Jennings nailed it at absolute perfection.
Many were annoyed because Leprous' Einar Solberg didn't do the growling on The Architect, but I think it was quite fair to keep it this way. Because after all the years of criticism, it was due for Ross to stand proof of the full spectrum of his capabilities. And boy, this man is top notch! A real pity that festivals like this don't allow encores, because it took Ross incredible cover of Toto's Africa off the playlist.
Those who remained till the end were completely knackered after Haken's show, but is it any wonder?
Day one complete! And I must say, even a long distance travel at the same day and a few let-downs couldn't impair my mood and day one released us in a great happily satisfied mood, ready to gain some sleep and reinforce condition for the next day.
Funny start of the Saturday as it opens with a band from England called Prognosis at the Prognosis festival. I hadn't found much about the band on my research, and nobody of the mates I was chatting with during the festival knew of them beforehand. So it wasn't a wonder that they've played in front of only a little crowd at the main stage. Another solid performance though. They do the sort of heavy rock that is so common these days, in the style of Opus Of A Machine and In The Presence Of Wolves. Their material doesn't kick somehow. It lacks catchy lines and grooves. But still there are way worse ways to start a festival day.
Second up was some delight neo prog with Golden Caves at the small stage. It appeared to me that the two ladies lead the band and manage to bring back some golden light to a genre that has been run dry many years ago. Their mellow, yet thoughtful songs are so beautiful, that I forgot to be in time for the next performers, enjoying Golden Caves' gig until their very last note.
Green Carnation, another highlight of so many, came back on stage after so many years, no wonder that there was a rave going on about their appearance. And yes, they delivered like they've never had a break! Even though their material sound quite dated today, the band performed to the max and at full entertainment, as if it all had been released recently. They practically electrified the audience, which has grown quite well meanwhile. And by playing a new song, The Sentinels Of Chaos, they made one thing clear: "we're not finished yet!“.
Letters From The Colony
But I couldn't stay till the end. Letters From The Colony had me convinced half a year ago at Euroblast, so I didn't want to end up somewhere behind the FOH during their performance. And that really was the right decision. The five young Swedes marked the heavy edge of the festival, but in a very dynamic way. Starting rather uncomfortably - one could see that from the floor - they began their set of - what is it? - djent core? progressive math death metal? Well, apply any genre you like, it really isn't important. Their blend of heavy riffing, complex rhythms and grooves, growling and melodies, brutality and mood, and ambient comes in so brilliant turns and twists, they got me to tears several times. It took the boys a while to suite themselves and perform at ease, but they created such a perfect arc from first to last note that they became my highlight of the festival. Mark my words: if you are into modern edge progressive metal, you will come across this band name very often in the not so distant future.
Next up, Devin Townsend, I like his music, then I hated his attitude, then I reconciled with him again eventually. And now he would come up with an acoustic set. A setting which I generally don't appreciate. But he again prove his genius by mastering it at ultimate level. A man and a western guitar, a Mac Book with tons of samples and a galaxy full of reverberation is what it needs to produce the wall of sound at minimalist level. Townsend re-arranged his songs brilliantly in a way that one never had the feeling of a "man with a guitar".
Mind you, it was all actual Devin Townsend tunes, but just not as loud. What really came to shine in that setting is what an incredible vocalist he is. Never before have I been so impressed by his skills! But that also has to do with his role as stand-up comedian and his hilarious silly ways of acting while he sings his stuff. Which would just be half of the show, because the other half is talking a lot of fun stuff, and in his case it is fun to have that.
While having her around, it was logical to invite Anneke van Giersbergen to guest two songs. Not sure if it was a good idea though, because in my opinion Townsend outdid van Giersbergen in her own vocal range pretty thoroughly. Surely no everybody will have that opinion, but speaking of technique there is no way expressing it differently.
Headlining day two was TesseracT, the masters of melodic djent, and one must say, at the end of such an exhausting weekend, they marked a phenomenal finale. They performed extremely brilliant with Dan Tompkins in best shape, singing the ultimate a throat can give. Even though their sound also got victimised by the venue's rolling bass, the band's rhythmic math did hit us hard and the ambience provided their healing air. A mixture that work ultimately great in such a set and the euphoria kicked in even harder. This finale turned out to be the best a festival can have.
With so many brilliant performances at such a narrow time slot, Prognosis Festival 1 has really marked a standard that will be hard to accomplish in future. But as we know the organisers are not new in the biz and I'm sure, if they keep the musical selection in that field of genres, there are many great festivals to come. A few flaws have bothered the audience, such as the useless stage overlaps, having Soen on the wrong stage and the overcrowded Friday. But I'm confident that the guys are professional enough to have learned from that and will avoid these in future. So if the line-up of future festivals will be of the likes as we had it this year, They will surely soon feel the need to find a bigger venue.
We did not have the chance to bring our own photographer, the pit was already filled when we applied. But our friends from The Progspace were kind enough to help out and provide us with some of their amazing work. Head over to their gallery for more!
Wheel: website FacebookTwitter
The Gathering: website Bandcamp Facebook Twitter
Jo Quail: website Bandcamp Facebook Twitter
Leprous: website Facebook Twitter
Haken: website Facebook Twitter
Prognosis: Bandcamp Facebook Twitter
Golden Caves: website Bandcamp Facebook
Green Carnation: Bandcamp Facebook Twitter
Letters From The Colony: website Facebook Twitter
Devin Townsend: website Facebook Twitter
TesseracT: website Facebook Twitter