On September 5-7, 2013, I embarked on my annual journey to Atlanta for ProgPower USA.
I have been attending PPUSA since 2010, first as a rookie or “noob”, then the two following years as a sponsor for Sanctuary and Epica respectively, but this year was different. This year I was an official member of the ProgPower USA crew. My role for the past year has been as an administrator on the PPUSA official Facebook page assisting social media director Jennifer Harveston. My job during the festival was to post updates to the page and photos in real time of band members interacting with festival attendees.I had a blast taking candid photos of band members enjoying themselves throughout the 4 day weekend.
Day 1: I checked into The Artmore Hotel (after being greeted by half a dozen or so friends hanging out in the Courtyard outside) and went up to my room, where my three roommates and I had a few adult beverages to toast the start of ProgPower 2013. I then headed over to the venue (Center Stage/The Loft/Vinyl) for the crew dinner and an exclusive first look at the video for the PPUSA 2014 roster, but more on that later. After a delicious meal prepared by the caterer, it was on to the first event of the week, French progressive jazz rock trio Mörgibl and Texas based Queensryche tribute Mindcrime, who were performing the classic Ryche albums Rage for Order and OMC in their entirety. Mörgibl set was fun, quirky, and rocking, highlighted by a jazz rock cover of the AC/DC classic Highway to Hell. The band then posed for pictures with fans, signed CDs, posters, and even signed several ladies breasts!
Then it was time for Mindcrime to hit the stage. Lead vocalist Chris Salinas (Power of Omens, Zero Hour) delivered a powerful performance hitting notes that Geoff Tate hasn’t been able to replicate in 15 years. The band was spot on throughout the set with female vocalist Danäe Saree taking over the role of Sister Mary made famous by Pamela Moore. Once the performance was over, it was back to the Artmore Courtyard for a night of drinking and socializing with friends and various band members performing over the next 3 days. The following morning, yours truly woke up with a hangover. Caused by a few too many alcoholic beverages and not enough hydration. Let that be a lesson for ya kids! Drink your water!! A rookie mistake for sure, but undeterred, I met up with a group of friends for lunch at a local gastro pub called TAP. I recovered slowly throughout the day in time for Thursday evenings kick off show featuring Sacramento, CA progressive metal newcomers, In The Silence, a special performance of the Savatage classic Wake of Magellan by Circle II Circle, and headliners Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody.
In The Silence started things off with their dark, moody, and powerful brand of Prog metal, winning over the crowd easily. If the audience reaction is any indication, the future looks bright for this young band. Circle II Circle took the stage, returning to PPUSA after several years. The band ran through the entire Wake of Magellan album, followed by several cuts off the latest CIIC album Seasons Will Fall, the Savatage classic Edge of Thorns, and ended the night with a rousing cover of Iron Maiden’s The Trooper, with keyboardist Henning Wanner taking over lead vocals and Zak Stevens playing the drums. Then it was time for Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody to take the stage for the first time in the U.S. with a full cinematic stage show featuring a jumbo tron behind the band displaying images and special effects, a female dancer dressed as an angel with illuminated blue lights on her costume, and even a snow machine spraying the floor with fluffy white foam. The performance was a mix of classic Rhapsody material combined with several selections from Luca’s solo material. Vocalist Alessandro Conti did an amazing job singing the material originally performed by Rhapsody of Fire singer Fabio Lione. The band played for nearly 3 hours to the appreciation of the enthusiastic audience. Once the show was over, it was back to The Courtyard for more partying until the wee hours of the morning.
Woke up on Friday morning feeling back to my old Badger self, so I went for a 2 mile run with my fellow PPUSA hardcore friends Stephanie and Heather to get the toxins out of our systems…only to replenish those toxins on Friday night! On Friday afternoon the official festival began with the much-anticipated U.S. debut of UK symphonic power metal act Damnation Angels, fronted by the charismatic and talented frontman PelleK. Normally, Center Stage is half full for the opening band, but a good sized crowd showed up early to bang their heads and sing along with the bands performance of songs from their critically acclaimed album Bringer of Light, as well as a new track from their forthcoming new album.
The next band up was Myrath a progressive metal band from Tunisia. Unbeknownst to the majority of the audience, Myrath’s set was in jeopardy due to two members of the band who were en route to Atlanta. Luckily, the travel nightmare did not affect the bands performance as the remaining members arrived just 30 minutes before they were scheduled to go onstage. Whether it was pent up frustration, excitement, or just plain professionalism, Myrath took to the stage and delivered a mind blowing performance. The band received a standing ovation before their set was even over. In speaking to fellow attendees after their set, everyone I spoke with agreed that Myrath set the bar extremely high for all of the acts to follow on Friday as well as Saturday! As I told several friends, in my estimation, their show stealing performance was reminiscent of Australian Prog metallers Voyager appearance at PPUSA in 2012. Given the unenviable task of following Myrath’s jaw dropping set was German Symphonic metal band Xandria, fronted by the lovely and talented Manuela Kraller. The band was up to the challenge, performing selections from their latest album Neverworld’s End as well as older material. The newer songs went over extremely well with the crowd and Kraller’s upper register operatic vocals were stellar throughout the bands hour set. Up next, Swedish progressive metal band Wolverine brought a different vibe to the proceedings with a dark, somber, and emotionally charged performance. After the first three bands, it was a nice change of pace to sit back and let the bands music envelop you like a warm embrace growing stronger until it envelops the listener completely. The next band was a mystery to the majority of the audience.
Ashes of Ares featuring Matt Barlow (Iced Earth), Freddie Vidales (Iced Earth), and Van Williams (Nevermore) debut album had not even been recorded at the time that they were announced last year to perform at PPUSA XIV. Most of the audience had not even heard more than the bands first lyric video for the song Dead Man’s Plight. That didn’t stop Matt Barlow and company from delivering an intense and heavy dose of old school heavy metal to the ProgPower faithful. Barlow’s vocals were spot on, hitting his trademark high notes as well as his signature emotionally tinged vocals. The crowd loved every minute of what they heard, banging their heads and pumping their fists in unison. Apparently AoA’s set went over extremely well as advance copies that the band brought with them to sell before the street date sold out in record time! On to the first co-headliner of the night, Soilwork delivered a heavy and brutal set of modern metal. Truth be told, I chose halfway through their set to take a break and grab a quick bite to eat back at the hotel room, but all reports were that Soilwork put on a blistering set.
Next up was the roster announcement video for 2014. This is always a fun moment at PPUSA to hear the reactions of the crowd as each band is announced. So in case you missed it, here is the roster for ProgPower USA XV: FRIDAY roster: Stratovarius (Finland) USA exclusive appearance! 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 (US) 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 It goes without saying that those in attendance were extremely excited about next years line up! But there was still one more band to see their long awaited debut at PPUSA, progressive metal icons Shadow Gallery. The band has had an open invitation to play PPUSA for many years and finally accepted the offer, much to the delight of the Prog fans in attendance. The band ripped through their extensive back catalog with selections from Tyranny, Room V, and newer material from Digital Ghosts. About 45 minutes into their set, the band was joined on stage by Royal Hunt frontman DC Cooper for the song New World Order. The band showed no rust from their long hiatus from playing in front of a live audience as they showed off their musicianship and mighty chops. The fans in attendance sang along to every word for the bands extended headlining set. As is the custom, the Artmore after party once again ran into the wee hours of the morning with fans socializing with band members and friends.
One of the perks of being a PPUSA Gold Badge holder are the exclusive special events that are not open to the general public. In years past, Seventh Wonder performed acoustically and last year, Jon Oliva held a songwriting workshop. This year, Wolverine performed in an acoustic VH1 style Storytellers performance. As great as Wolverine sounded the previous night, they were truly in their element in the unplugged format. The setlist, which was entirely different from the previous night was as follows: Echoes Poison Ivy Pulse What Remains Embrace Hiding In the Quiet of Dawn Nothing More Post Life Lead vocalist Stefan Zell joked that PPUSA promoter Glenn Harveston once called the music of Wolverine was “music to slit your wrists to”. High praise indeed! In fact, attendee Jaime Kimpton even brought a box of tissues..which were used by several teary eyed audience members who were touched by the beauty of the bands music.
The Final Redemption Saturday’s line up began with Chicago’s Divinity Compromised. The band was a last minute replacement for Swedish power metallers Reinxeed, who cancelled their appearance for undisclosed reasons a couple of months before the festival. The band was solid metal with some modern influences and although the majority of the crowd was unfamiliar with their music, the band won them over. As a special bonus, Divinity Compromised performed a cover of the Savatage classic Hall of the Mountain King, and the audience roared in appreciation. Next up was Canadian proggers Heaven’s Cry. The band was tight and performed the songs from their newest album Wheels of Impermanence as well as their first two albums. The audience was certainly appreciative of the bands musicianship, however the band suffered from some high end sound issues throughout their set that made it difficult to ignore even with the use of ear plugs. The band persevered and had an excellent set.
Next it was time for the roster announcement video for the ProgPower USA XV Thursday night kick-off. In case you missed it, here it is: THURSDAY roster: Pagan’s Mind performing “Celestial Entrance” in its entirety- WORLD EXCLUSIVE! (Norway) 21:00 – 23:30 DGM (Italy) 19:15 – 20:30 Draekon (US) 18:00 – 18:45 Tickets on sale November 1, 2013 Sweden’s Wolf may not fit the mold of Prog or Power Metal, but what they were was headbanging old school metal fun! I was not overly familiar with a lot of Wolf’s material but they won me over with the sheer energy of their performance and catchy heavy riffs. Their set was another crowd favorite as Center Stage was packed during their performance.
Next up was the return of PPUSA veterans Circus Maximus. This was my very first opportunity to see CM live and let me tell you they didn’t disappoint! Playing a majority of material from their latest album Nine as well as tracks from Isolate and The 1st Chapter, the band brought melody, energy, and fun to their brand of melodic Prog metal. One of the highlights of their set was the appearance of promoter Glenn Harveston appearing in stage wearing the gold lounge jacket worn by the band in their hilarious PPUSA announcement video from 2012. The crowd laughed and roared its approval and as Harveston danced around with lead vocalist Michael Eriksen. Speaking of Eriksen, he was the consummate frontman commanding the stage and impressing the fans with his golden vocal pipes. My only regret was that I had not attended PPUSA sooner so I could have witnessed CM’s previous appearances, but better late than never!
Next up were L.A. Metal legends Armored Saint who injected a lethal dose of old school heavy metal on the audience. The last time I saw the Saint live was on the Symbol of Salvation tour and I can tell you that they haven’t lost a step. Singer John Bush‘s voice was as great as I had remembered as he ran around the stage with the energy of someone half his age. The band ripped through Saint classics like March of the Saint, Can U Deliver, Tribal Dance, Last Train Home and Reign of Fire. Finally the time had come for the evening’s headliners Sabaton.
This was another first for me as I had never seen the band live and to add to my excitement, Snowy Shaw (King Diamond, Therion) was on the drums for the band. From the opening salvo the bands energy was a sight to behold. Playing a terrific set of Sabaton staples such as 40 to 1, Metal Crüe, and Primo Victoria, the fans sang along and jumped around to the point of exhaustion. The band had previously performed at PPUSA but they proved that the headliner position was truly where they belong. So as the crowd made their way back to The Courtyard for the final after party of the weekend. Everyone was abuzz about what they had witnessed as well as the anticipation of 2014’s stacked line up including four World Exclusives.
For those who missed out this year, I urge you not to miss out on next year’s festival. Tickets are set to go on sale on October 1st through Ticketmaster (November 1st for the kick off show). If the buzz I am hearing from a majority of fans on the official PPUSA Facebook page is any indication, I would recommend getting your tickets as early as possible to avoid a sellout. Yes, the line up for next year is THAT great! Now comes the hard part…waiting a whole year to experience ProgPower USA all over again!