banner ad
banner ad
banner ad

LIVE: PROGPOWER USA – September 5-7, 2013, Atlanta, GA @ USA Center Stage

| 2 October 2013 | Reply


Reviewed by: Robert Kitay

Photos by: Esa Ahola, Ken Lackner, Stephen Schmidt, Allen Ross Thomas, and Jim Wilkinson

I’ve wanted to attend a ProgPower USA concert for years, but being on the opposite coast the money or timing was never there when the lineup was irresistible. Well, as soon as the lineup was announced last year I knew I would be attending my first ProgPower this year. The lineup was solid from top to bottom, and contained Circus Maximus, who I added to my bucket list after “Nine” became my favorite album of 2012.

Before talking about the performances, let me tell you about the ProgPower experience. The venue is excellent. There is seating around the outside with an open floor. Even in the very back row of the seating you still feel up close. The staff was very friendly and the festival ran like a well oiled machine. When entering the venue you are given a very nice program and a 3 CD sampler. How awesome is that! There was rarely a wait at the bar and drink and food prices were very reasonable, especially for a concert. Every single band had an autograph signing session. One of the very best things about the festival is the atmosphere. Many of the bands just hung out around the venue and chatted with fans. Members of Wolf, Wolverine and Damnation Angels seemed like they were always within close proximity. There is also a vender room full of CDs and DVDs that you just won’t find at your local record store, all at great prices, including a dollar bin and an end of festival sale where your choice of thousands of CDs could be had for just $5.

THURSDAY: I was a little late arriving at the Kick-Off show on Thursday and missed all but the last 15 minutes of In the Silence, which is a shame since I really enjoyed what I heard. I noticed that they are from my part of the world, so I hope that I will be able to catch them somewhere locally.

The second band was Circle II Circle, featuring former Savatage vocalist Zak Stevens performing a 90-minute set, including all of Savatage’s “Wake of Magellan.” I enjoyed their set well enough. Zak’s voice is still strong, but the band wasn’t quite a tight as I might have hoped. They even made a comment about never rehearsing, and it showed a little bit. They also stopped after most songs and chatted, which for me kind of took away from the playing the entire album experience. After the “Wake of Magellan” they played a few Circle II Circle songs, which I actually enjoyed more than the “Wake of Magellan” material and they finished their set with a spirited cover of Iron Maiden’s “The Trooper” featuring Zak Stevens playing drums (very well I might add).

The final band on Thursday was Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody. This was a fantastic 135 minute set that featured not only Rhapsody/Rhapsody of Fire songs, but also Luca Turilli solo songs such as Demonheart, The Ancient Forest of Elves, and Kings of the Nordic Twilight. The entire band was fantastic, especially vocalist Alessandro Conti. It was quite interesting to compare Luca Turilli’s version of Rhapsody to Fabio Lione and Alex Staropoli’s version, still known as Rhapsody of Fire, which I saw about a year ago. Both versions were fantastic, but Luca Turilli’s version featured only a single guitar and seemed to rely a little less on symphonic recordings than the Rhapsody of Fire version, which gave the show more of a “live” feel to it. Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody was also the only band of the entire festival to feature a large screen behind the band. It was also fun to see the crowd so into it, including a group of fans up front with homemade swords.

FRIDAY: The first band on Friday, which was the first day of the “main” festival, was Damnation Angels from the UK. Their first full length CD “Bringer of Light” is one of my favorite releases this year. Their live show was good, but I did have a few minor issues with it, all of which I’m sure are related to how young these guys are. First, during some of the symphonic recorded pieces it would seem like the entire band would just kind of stand around not doing anything. It just seemed a bit awkward. Second, they attempted to do an acoustic sing along version of “Pride (The Warriors Way),” which is their masterpiece, before launching into the regular version. I thought this fell flat. Hey, you’ve got a masterpiece aggressive song. Go attack that thing! Even with these minor criticisms, I still really enjoyed their set and think that this is a band to look out for in the future. Damnation Angels members always were hanging around the festival and talking with fans and were obviously thrilled to be there for their US debut. Big thumbs up to them.

The second band on Friday was Tunisia’s Myrath. Wow! I was expecting a great show from these guys, but they absolutely killed it! They were tight, aggressive and never let up. And the crowd ate it up too. Standing ovations were given to the band all the way to the back row mid-set. Their heavy metal infused with traditional Oriental music sounded fresh and powerful. It wasn’t until later that we found out that they delivered this brilliant set under extraordinary circumstances. As we later found out, several band members didn’t arrive at the venue until literally the last minute, with their plane landing from their transatlantic flight just 30 minutes prior to hitting the stage. Even more, the airline lost their equipment, so they were playing their set on borrowed equipment. How they were able to get those unusual perfect tones on borrowed equipment is beyond me. Without a doubt, their performance was the talk of the entire festival, and for many the top performance of the entire weekend. The line for their autograph session was also among the longest of the weekend, which speaks volumes as to their popularity at this festival.

The unenviable task of following Myrath fell to Germany’s symphonic metal band Xandria. I was impressed with Xandia’s performance, but in all honestly Manuela Kraller’s operatic voice, although beautiful, is not to my liking for a metal band. With her addition, the style of the band also shifted to more of a Tarja Turunen era of Nightwish sound. Again, not to my taste as I much preferred their style when Lisa Middelhauve fronted the band. That said, their performance was very good and well received by the crowd.

The fourth band to play on Friday was Wolverine. I missed a good portion of their set, but I enjoyed what I saw. Although I prefer a more aggressive approach to metal, their songs did have a moody tone that held my interest. Although I did not attend it, they also played an intimate acoustic show for the gold badge holders that I heard was even better then their main stage show, with plenty of time for telling interesting stories.

Next up was Ashes of Ares, featuring former Iced Earth vocalist Matt Barlow, Freddie Vidales (also ex-Iced Earth) and Van Williams (ex-Nevermore). Since their album didn’t drop prior to the festival, I had never heard the band before other than an unimpressive Youtube video from a European performance. Not knowing what to expect, I had relatively low expectations but was pleasantly surprised. Matt Barlow’s voice was still as strong as ever and he and the band put on a powerful performance. There were a lot of Iced Earth shirts being worn that day and it appears that their performance was a significant draw for the festival. It certainly went over very well. I’m looking forward to hearing their album as I get the impression it will be one that I will enjoy more as on subsequent listens.

Up next was Sweden’s Soilwork. They seemed like a strange fit for the festival, but they went over very well with the crowd. Vocalist Bjorn “Speed” Strid stated that this was the first festival they’ve played where they were the most brutal band on the bill, and he was right. It was also the only performance of the weekend that led to a mosh pit. Having seen Soilwork before, I must say this was the best I’ve seen them. A powerful aggressive performance that I won’t soon forget.

Friday’s final performance was by Shadow Gallery. Shadow Gallery’s performances are beyond rare, as for years they were purely a studio band. With that in mind, you might think that they would have a boring stage show. Not so! They were on the top of their game and delivered a strong, entertaining show. Each and every musician delivered a strong performance. Many members played multiple instruments and all delivered beautiful vocal harmonies. The show also featured one of the best drum solos I’ve ever seen, delivered by Joe Nevolo. Royal Hunt’s DC Cooper joined the band on stage for two songs, “New World Order” and “Ghost of a Chance.” With the concert finishing sometime near 2 am, it was a long 12 hours of music that day. Fantastic, but exhausting.

SATURDAY: The first band on Saturday was Divinity Compromised, who replaced ReinXeed who cancelled all future concerts for reasons unknown. I was a little late arriving in the venue so I did not catch their entire set. I was not very familiar with this band coming into the festival. They were one of the heavier bands of the weekend. At first the band really didn’t capture my attention, but by the end of their set I became interested enough in them that I purchased their CD. The biggest reaction from the crowd they received was when they played a cover of Savatage’s “Hall of the Mountain King.” Funny that throughout the entire festival, Savatage and Iron Maiden covers seemed to be the rage.

The second band on Sunday was Canada’s Heaven’s Cry.” In some respects their set was kind of like Divinity Compromised set, unimpressive at first but eventually drew me in. Not a whole lot to their stage show, but really it was more about letting the music do the talking.

The energy level was kicked up several notches when Wolf took the stage. Wolf put on a high energy set kicking things off with “Make Friends With Your Nightmares, and then keeping the energy level up with such songs as “Hail Caesar,” Voodoo,” “Skull Crusher,” and finishing up with “Speed On.” This was just full on traditional heavy metal at its finest.

After Wolf, it was time for the band I was most excited to see, Circus Maximus. I’ve been a huge fan of theirs since I first heard them years ago and love all three of their albums, but their most recent release, “Nine” just blew me away. Most of their set consisted of songs from “Nine” starting off with “Architect Of Fortune” “Namaste,” “I Am,” and “Reach Within,” before finally playing “The 1st Chapter,” which was the only song they played that wasn’t from “Nine.” “Game of Life,” “Burn After Reading,” and The Last Goodbye” rounded up the rest of their set. They sounded fantastic with Michael Eriksen’s vocals sounding spot on and Mats Haugen’s beautiful, tasteful guitar playing taking me to another place. There 70 minute set seemed way too short, and I really hope that they will come back to the US soon. Their set had a couple really fun moments beyond all the fantastic music they were playing. As a promotion for the festival Circus Maximus created a video where they dressed and played as a lounge act. Just prior to their playing “Reach Within” promoter Glenn Harvester came out dressed in a gold jacket with a lounge version of “Reach Within” playing. At the end of their set it appeared that they were ripping the keys off the keyboard and throwing them into the crowd. I’ve never seen that before.

After Circus Maximus, the rest of the bill was just the icing on an awesome cake. The next band up was Armored Saint. They took the stage playing “March of the Saint” right out of the gates. John Bush, always a great frontman, was with fine voice as he took control of the stage, circling the stage like a tiger in a cage and jumping off the stage into the pit. The band experienced some technical difficulties with Phil Sandoval’s guitar going silent at one point, but that didn’t slow them down at all. Instead of stopping the show to work things out they just steamed forward with Jeff Duncan taking over all guitar duties until everything was working properly once again. John Bush announced that this was the first time Armored Saint has played in Atlanta in 22 years, but I wonder what percentage of the crowd was actually from Atlanta since most of the crowd traveled to the show from throughout the country and even internationally. The intensity of the set continued to grow as they finished up their set with “Can U Deliver” and “Reign of Fire” and then returning to play an encore with “Nervous Man” and “Mad House.” One of the best set of the festival and certainly a crowd favorite.

Closing out the festival was Sabaton. I have seen Sabaton on several occasions and they just keep getting better and better. They delivered everything you could possibly want in a live set. High energy, crystal clear sound, and showmanship. They truly have evolved into one of the best live bands in the world today. The thing that stood out most at this show was that I never realized how funny Joakim Brodén was. He recalled how the last time they played ProgPower he split his pants and thought it was funny that everyone reminded him of that moment all day thinking that they must all have dirty minds. He would approach each guitarist and ask them what they wanted to play that wasn’t on the set list, and that song was then played. Later in the show when Joakim was talking to the crowd drummer Snowy Shaw started to beat his drum to interrupt. When Joakim asked Snowy if he was trying to get his attention, Snowy said that he didn’t think it was fair that all of the other members got to choose and song except him, Joakim asked him what he wanted to play. The answer was “Run to the Hills,” which he began to play (but the band didn’t). All of this was great fun in contrast to the serious nature to all of Sabaton’s songs. Sabaton also gave the crowd choices as to what to play. The crowd chose “Poltava” over “Midway,” “Carolean’s Prayer” (in Swedish) over “Lifetime of War,” “White Death” over “Talviosta,” and “Price of a Mile” over Uprising.” Joakim, noting that the crowd always chose the second one and said he was going to use “Jedi mind tricks” to predict what the crowd as going to choose for the next song. Finally the crowd chose the first song, which was “Lion of the North” over “Into the Fire.” The crowd ate all of this up. Sabaton finished up their main set with “Attero Dominus” before returning for an encore playing “Art of War,” “Primo Victoria,” and “Metal Crue.”

I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed ProgPower USA. The entire lineup for next year has already been announced, and in my mind it is one of the best lineups they’ve ever had. Next year’s lineup is as follows:

ProgPower USA XV Roster: September 10-13, 2014

WEDNESDAY roster: Pain of Salvation – details TBA

THURSDAY roster: Pagan’s Mind performing “Celestial Entrance” in its entirety (Norway) 21:00 – 23:30 DGM (Italy) 19:15 – 20:30 Draekon (US) 18:00 – 18:45

FRIDAY roster: Stratovarius – US EXCLUSIVE appearance (Finland) 22:30 – close Seventh Wonder – performing “Mercy Falls” in its entirety – WORLD EXCLUSIVE! (Sweden) 20:15 – 21:45 Overkill (US) 18:30 – 19:45 Leprous (Norway) 17:00 – 18:00 Orden Ogan (Germany) 15:30 – 16:30 Thought Chamber (U.S.) 14:00 – 15:00

SATURDAY roster: Jon Oliva’s Pain performing “Streets: A Rock Opera” in its entirety WORLD EXCLUSIVE! (US) 22:30 – close Pain of Salvation performing “Remedy Lane” in its entirety – WORLD EXCLUSIVE! (Sweden) 20:15 – 21:45 Masterplan (Germany) 18:30 – 19:45 Voodoo Circle (Germany) 17:00 – 18:00 Divided Multitude (Norway) 15:30 – 16:30 Withem (Norway) 14:00 – 15:00

Category: Live Reviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

Leave a Reply

Please verify you\'re a real person: * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

banner ad
banner ad