ProgPower USA is the premier US festival for progressive and power metal, bringing together a dozen and from all over the world. It takes place every year on a Friday and Saturday in mid-September at the Center Stage Theater in Atlanta, Georgia. It should be noted that while the main festival is on Friday and Saturday, they have started to seriously expand into a four day festival, with Blind Guardian and Dragonforce being the headliners for the opening days. That is why this, and the previous, review will be listed as ‘Day 3,’ and ‘Day 4,’ rather than 1 and 2.
The second day of a festival always feels special. There is something very nice about waking up after an amazing show and going “I get to do that all over again.” Amplify that with the fact that the second day here had the bands that I was most excited to be seeing. Do not get me wrong, obviously Friday was an amazing spectacle, but the biggest draws for me this was seeing the Devin Townsend Project, Haken, and :green carnation.
2 4 started off pretty strong. I dropped my last $50 at the merch tables, and took my seat for Savage Messiah. Everything was pointing towards it being a great day, but there were going to need to be some decisions made, and some things were going to need to be sacrificed.
First up for today was the UK power thrash band Savage Messiah. They took a break in recording their upcoming album to travel across the Atlantic ocean and riff out for us for a little bit. Just like with Ascendia, it had me thinking “If this is what we’re getting as an opener, today will be great.” I just didn’t know how true that statement was actually going to be.
Unfortunately since I was pretty unfamiliar with the band going into it, I spent most of the time watching in awe of watching what seemed like a mix of the speed and aggression of Kill ‘Em All-era Metallica with the melodies of Judas Priest. They certain have earned a place on my radar as I wait for their next release.
There was going to be overlapping of things that I wanted to do. The Gentle Storm and Haken both had signing sessions going on at 3:00, immediately following Savage Messiah’s set. After Friday’s performance, The Gentle Storm’s line was going to be very long, that’s a given. Haken was one of the top billed spots, their line was going to be long. Unfortunately some of Savage Messiah’s set was going to have to be skipped, and there wasn’t going to be enough time to meet both bands.
By the time we got through the signing line for Haken, we encountered a problem. The line for Devin Townsend was already forming. Now this is around 3:15-3:20, and their session wasn’t scheduled to start until 4:30. It was also announced earlier in the day that the session would be 1 item, no photos, and 30 minutes long. A decision needed to be made, and I got myself in the already growing line. We’ve journeyed this far, we’re in too deep to be taking the risk of missing this opportunity, so unfortunately I did not get to see Serious Black’s set. On the positive side, the DTP was a very pleasant group to interact with for the brief moments that I did.
Now there was one more factor that went into my decision to hit Devin’s line sooner than later. I wanted to be absolute certain that by the time I got through that line, I could get a good seat before the next band took the stage. Norway’s :green carnation traveled all this way from Kristiansand, Norway to Atlanta, Georgia to play just one song. That song being the title track of their 2001 album Light of Day, Day of Darkness, which happens to contain exactly one song. One singular 60 minute song.
This. This right here is why people travel to ProgPower. This right here is why people uproot their lives for a week to travel to Atlanta to see these bands. This was absolutely breathtaking to watch. It’s a feat in itself to play an hour long song, but to do it in such a way that so far surpassed what was original put to recording was nothing short of amazing. That will easily go down as one of the best individual band performances that I have ever seen.
In the interview with vocalist Kjetil Nordhus inside the show program, he says:
“We are going to film the last concert in Norway in the Opera House in Norway with a multi-camera and multi-track production and we are looking now to maybe launch a crowdfunding campaign for that DVD king of thing in a few weeks actually.”
If that’s true, I’m already on board. I know that it’s not much of a consolation, but an 18 minute segment from their set emerged on YouTube, and I suppose that will have to do until more comes of that live DVD.
Their set ended, it was time to grab some food and hit the Freedom Call signing. One of the great things the festival did this year as opposed to last was the addition of another food vendor. This time there was the choice between pizza or BBQ. Now I’m currently in the pizza industry myself, so obviously I have a love for the stuff, but we were in the south. If there is one thing that the southern part of the US does well, it’s barbecue. Obvious choice, it was good, and the extra option worked out well in the festival’s favor.
If you read the review on Day 3, which you totally should, you would know that I really enjoyed my introduction to Freedom Call. So we hit their signing, and jumped right in line for the band that was going to follow them up… 90 minutes later. The line for :green carnation started forming about around the same time Freedom Call’s signing started. I mentioned decisions earlier, and I meant that there was going to be a few tough ones. After that set, I knew I wasn’t the only one who was blown away by their set. They got the same kind of reaction that The Gentle Storm did the day before, and their signing line was sure reflection of that. Easy enough to say, they weren’t returning to Norway with any copies of LoD,DoD left. I am sad to say that to ensure our position in line, our crew had to sit out from seeing Refuge.
“It’s pronounced Hay-Ken, like bacon.”
This was another big pull for me to make the journey. I was not much familiar with them at the time of the announcement last year, but after the reaction they received I knew I had to dig deeper. It didn’t take much digging as their newest album Affinity, released earlier this year, has easily been one of the best that I have heard this year.
Progressive metal is known for it’s over the top technicality, weird melodies, and crazy time signatures. These are facts that I go into a show understanding. Seeing Haken perform the ridiculous, and I mean that in a very good way, music is like watching the Blue Angels’ air show. There are so many difficult moving parts all working together with such a small margin for error. Haken is the modern progressive metal band to be watching right now if you have any love for classic prog bands like King Crimson, Yes, Rush, and think that it would be a good idea to blend that all up with a healthy dose of Dream Theater. Somehow, through years of practice, and what I’m assuming was a pact from the devil, they developed the ability to perform . They also had the best light show of the day. Just like Freedom Call, they used the brightest and boldest colors, and it suit the music perfectly.
Oh yeah, and Mike Portnoy was there.
Devin Townsend Project ft. Anneke Van Giersbergen
“He debuted his solo project to the U.S. 12 years ago at ProgPower USA III. He started the set with a Bryan Adams cover. He showed you his progressive nipples. He told you to stick it in your c***s. He’s back to kick your ass.” – PPUSA XVI line-up announcement video
It was a bittersweet moment. After all the waiting, all the traveling, and all of the time back with the ProgPower family, it was time for the final band of the festival. And, in true Devin Townsend fashion, he kicked off his set with Bryan Adam’s 1985 hit “Summer of ’69.”
Seeing Devin Townsend on stage is always entertaining. From the music to his zany personality and stage interactions, he puts on an amazing show. However, this set was to be a special one. For the very first time in the United States, the Devin Townsend Project would be performing with the very special guest Anneke van Giersbergen. For those who do not know, Anekke is the female lead on many of Devin’s recent albums, including Addicted, Epicloud, and Sky Blue. During the announcement for this year’s show, when The Gentle Storm’s name came up on the screen a rush of anticipation came over the crowd, murmurs flying, “could this possibly mean that Devin is playing too?” It was soon answered with a resounding “yes,” and the venue went wild.
From what it seemed, he catered his set for two things, 1. support his newest album Trancendence, which dropped the right before the festival, and 2. showcase the music he created with the lovely Anneke van Giersbergen. It was a great collection of songs from his recent career, debuting live a his brand new one “Offer Your Light,” as well as my favorite from Ziltoid the Omnicient “By Your Command.”
Dev even made a vlog about the day, so if you want to see some of the shenanigans he pulled on stage then it’s the perfect video for you. Upon closer inspection, my chin can be seen for a brief second through the crowd at 4:44 exactly, so you could say I’m pretty famous.
“That was probably my favorite show I’ve played in years.” – Devin Townsend
I stand pretty firm when I say that ProgPower USA is the best niche music festival that the U.S. has to offer, if not the best yearly show in general. Bringing together bands that otherwise will not come to the U.S., and many other doing special sets not performed anywhere else. A friend recently described it perfectly, calling it “a once in a lifetime event, that happens every year.” The PPUSA crew really pull of miracles. Production wise, the show is top notch, and they kind of have to be. Prog snobs are and always will be prog snobs. You can book their favorite bands, but they won’t stand for anything less than stellar, and that it what gets delivered.
If you look through any of the photos posted from the festival, you will notice that the stage is very minimalist for every set. It is the band, their instruments, amps, and maybe some banners on stage, and that is all. This is not the time for big video walls, or pyro. This show is truly about the music. There is music and there is a very basic, but tasteful light show to go along with it all.
Center Stage has easily become a favorite venue of mine. With only a capacity of 1,050, you get to see acts that can play to European crowds 100,000 deep (Devin Townsend, Sabaton, etc.) in an intimate setting where you can almost touch them (Disclaimer: Please do not poke the musicians). This is a show where every seat is a good seat, where everything set sounds great, and where the bands themselves can be found hanging around the bar, mingling with all the fans.
They also rent out one of the side stages in the venue to serve as their merch room. They don’t just do one table, they fill an entire room. Here you’ll find music that you might only be able to get online, new, used, the bands playing that week, the bands that played in the past, and if you’re good with hints you might even be able to predict some of the next year’s bands by the merchandise for sale.
Now all that was left was the drive home…