Concert Review Archive

 

Progpower Europe 2010

Friday 1st, 2nd & 3rd October 2010
Sjiwa, Baarlo, The Netherlands

Klone, Haken, Love De-Vice; Sacrum, Proghma-C, The Dust Connection, Xerath, Leprous, Darkwater, Day Six, Oceans of Sadness, Myrath, Serenity, Jon Oliva's Pain, Shadow Gallery.

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

Now in its 12th year, this little festival has long established its reputation as Europe’s leading gathering for fans of progressive music of a heavier disposition.

That reputation was a key factor in American progressive legends Shadow Gallery deciding to make Baarlo the setting for their first ever European concert. Little surprise when this became the first time the festival was able to put up the ‘Sold Out’ posters.

Dries and I have been attending for the past nine years. Our DPRP reviews have always stressed what a great event it is – both for the music and the social sides. We spoke to many people who were visiting for the first time this year. Without exception everyone said they couldn’t understand why they hadn’t been before – and would certainly come again. Fantastic!

This year's line-up was so very varied that almost everyone we spoke to had a different list of favourite performances. There really was something for all (Prog) tastes and there wasn't a dud performance to be seen or heard. If you weren’t able to make it, this is what you missed.

Day One

~ Klone ~

Andy: Hailing from Poitiers, slap bang in the middle of France, Klone have been around for over a decade in which time three albums have fermented from their creative juices. This show was the start of a 16-date tour to promote their current full-length offering Black Days.

Mixing growls and clean vocals, Klone has a solid repertoire of emotional and intense tunes. Think Tool meets Porcupine Tree with a bit of Pantera. It sounded interesting for the first two songs but then the format and presentation became a bit repetitive. Compared to the high-energy stage assault of other bands from the genre, Klone was rather static, with too much of a stoner, grungy vibe for my liking. A solid if unspectacular start.

~ Leprous ~

Andy: Bow ties and waistcoats may not be the usual ProgPower attire but it certainly set the avant garde tone for this Norwegian band’s eye-catchingly eccentric take on progressive rock/metal.

A heavy leaning towards their acclaimed second album, Tall Poppy Syndrome, was tempered with a couple of new songs which sounded very promising. I’ve rather struggled to get into Tall Poppy’s constant genre-hopping. Superb in places. Prone to distractions in others. However after witnessing the songs played live, it made much better sense.

Musically Leprous is a chaotic hybrid of classic prog, tech metal, death metal, dark prog and jazz. Having lead singer Einar Solberg stuck behind his synths may limit their live presence a little, but his manic, dreadlocked head-banging certainly got the energy levels rising. Considering their ages range from just 18-23, this was a fantastic performance from a band with a very bright future ahead.

Just three hours in, and many people’s favourite band of the weekend had already played. A European tour supporting Therion is next. Get there early.

~ Serenity ~

Andy: I loved the first album from these Austrian melodic ProgPower metallers. As I listened to their second release, their sound had become a little too familiar. I loved the first half of this show. As we went into the second hour, it too was becoming a little familiar.

Currently writing their upcoming album, Death and Legacy, the band had been out of live action for four months. However new bassist Fabio D'Amore (Pathosray/Fairyland) slotted in perfectly and the band was slick and polished and sounded great. Vocalist Georg Neuhauser has a bit of a Klaus Meine accent but moves around the whole stage and engages well with a crowd. Musically, this was heaven for anyone who likes their power metal well-polished. It’s a bit like The Scorpions meeting Kamelot on a songwriting course run by Freedom Call. Every song bursts with catchy melodies and riffs.

Serenity will be supporting Delain around Europe next year. At the moment I feel that is where they work best. A couple of duets with a female singer broke up the set nicely, but their music and show just lacks the variety and cutting edge to sustain my whole-hearted enthusiasm throughout a headline set.

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Day Two

~ Haken ~

Andy: Haken are the new kids on the UK Prog block and have been tearing up venues across their London homeland to critical acclaim. This was their first chance to impress abroad, and boy did they deliver. In a similar way to Leprous, I’ve struggled to fully embrace their debut album, Aquarius. But in a live setting every song worked a treat.

It helps that the whole band has a great stage presence. Not often does a keyboardist steal the show, but Diego Tejeida was so into it!! There was plenty of humour mixed in with the various musical vibes. The only negative point I can make it that the charismatic Ross Jennings needs to do something about this lower range. Too often these passages were painfully out of tune. His upper ranges were delicious though. Haken kept the whole hall hooked from beginning to end. Possibly the best band ever to open a day at this festival.

~ Proghma-C ~

Andy: Always a festival full of contrasts. This time the leap from the unbridled energy and showmanship of Haken to the introspective navel hating of Proghma-C was a little too immediate.

Not your usual Polish Prog band. Promoting their debut effort, Bar-do Travel, this was music to slit your wrist too. The singer was glued to his mic' stand. There was little interaction with the crowd or even a recognition that there was a crowd. The guitarist recovered well when a cymbal crashed over and split his lead in the middle of one track. That was as visually exciting as it got. The repetitive looping riffs and bass lines had an addictive intensity and the mix of clean and growly vocals was well executed. It was just that after Haken, my head just wasn't anywhere near this low a space. Those at the front seemed to love it and they won a good reaction from the crowd. If ambient death metal floats your boat, then this is a band worth investigating.

~ Xerath ~

Andy: From the UK, Xerath were by far the heaviest band of the weekend. Someone said they sounded like Textures, so that was my dinner break sorted. They apparently played a blinder. Seven ProgPower attendees were apparently taken to hospital searching for a neck brace after the show!

Dries: With little to no expectations of what was to come, I went up front to the stage to get a sample of Xerath. Within 2 minutes I understood that Xerath is just the kind of band that I like. And then it helps tremendously that Xerath is a band that knows how to behave on stage. With a smile and an easygoing way about him, the singer, slowly won people over. However the music was by no definition easy. Complex rhytms and riffs together with a good grunting voice is what this band dished up for it's audience. Think Meshuggah, Strapping Young Lad and one has an idea of what Xerath sounds like.

Because of the pumping rhythms there was only one way to enjoy this band: head banging! So that's what most of the audience did. I was told they had some problems with their sound but to be honest: I was too busy banging my head to notice.... Once the show was over and people were massaging their necks, it became clear that Xerath had performed an awesome and stunning set.

~ Darkwater ~

Andy: I absolutely loved this! One of the best sounds from the weekend allowed this classy, melodic ProgMetal act to sparkle. Sitting somewhere between fellow Swedes Seventh Wonder and Andromeda, there is also a sense of Vanden Plas in the down-trodden riffing. Henrik Bath is a phenomenal singer and amiable frontman. He nailed every single note.

Some have judged the band as being too smooth and familiar. I disagree. If you enjoy classic ProgMetal which floods your melodic senses, then few bands deliver this well - in a live setting or on record. Amid my four favourite songs from the debut album, Calling The Earth To Witness, they played two songs from the eagerly-awaited When Stories End. The new songs sounded more streamlined. The ‘old’ songs were among the highlights of my weekend.

~ Myrath ~

Andy: There are not too many bands from North Africa in my record collection. However this Tunisian quintet have raised a fair few eyebrows with their unique blend of traditional, high-powered, symphonic Prog Metal with a heavy layer of influences and styles from their homeland. There is a certain amount of Symphony X worship, but the ethnic chants, Arabian rhythms and even a belly dancer gave Myrath an identity of their own.

This was easily the best 'show' of the weekend. They were the one band that really engaged with the crowd to great effect. Singer Zaher was a veritable spiceball of energy. His colleagues displayed endless enthusiasm but not at expense of the performance. There was a great mix of tracks from their two albums. Even when the drummer’s endless pounding sent his laptop (and their backing tracks) crashing to the floor, they hardly missed a beat. The only complaint was that it went too quickly. Very impressive!

~ Shadow Gallery ~

Andy: A very special show on very many levels. Shadow Gallery fully deserved to be the first band to bring 'sold out' status to ProgPower Europe. After 20 years of producing some of the most acclaimed and admired albums in the progressive world, this was the band’s first ever concert in Europe. Their only other gig was a warm-up show in their US hometown a few weeks before. There was so much energy and desire on stage, the only puzzle was how they ever managed NOT to play live before.

This was a real ‘best of’ show with something from each of the band’s six albums getting a showcase. Sure there were some sound problems. A lack of stamina was probably the cause of the vocals going AWOL in the middle. The desire to replicate their trademark complex layers of sound in a live setting also needs some reconsideration. Changing the instrumental line up for every song - and sometimes twice in a song – meant at times it became a bit like a game of musical chairs on stage. But those are just natural teething problems.

The simple opportunity to enjoy watching a band you never thought you’d get to see play live, and to see them so clearly enjoying the experience, made this a very memorable show.

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Day Three

~ Love De Vice ~

Andy: ProgPower Europe offers such a very varied line-up. Not every band will appeal to everyone. Two songs into their set, I knew that this new Polish band did not appeal to me. The mosh pit that was growing around the brass band orchestra playing in the nearby town square proved more appealing.

However in a smart piece of pro-active marketing their mid-paced amalgam of classic rock bands of the 70s and 80s came across much better on the four-track EP they gave away to the first fans through the door. Possibly a band that works better through the hi-fi than onstage?

~ Sacrum ~

Andy: I do love this crossover ProgMetal stuff. The first ever Argentinian band to appear at the festival, this was a real opportunity to raise their profile and showcase their fabulous new album Days of Quarantine. In a recent interview with DPRP, guitarist Martin Guererro promised: “People can expect four hot-blooded and energetic young guys trying to blow their heads off with our music!” On that they more than delivered.

All dressed in futuristic black costumes, they were one of the most visually entertaining bands of the weekend. Frontman Talo Silveyra started-off hidden behind thick goggles and was highly animated throughout. He committed a spectacular, straight-jacketed suicide halfway through. Was I the only one to laugh that the next song was Keeping Me Alive?

Their modern crossover style mixes a heavy dose of electronica and ensured the best groove of the weekend. However they showed the breadth of their repertoire with one song in their native tongue (‘there will be more of these on our next album’) and a couple of almost pop ballads. We even had two songs from their debut album, Cognition.

Talo needs to find a balance between voice control and onstage energy to avoid too many bum notes. The rest of the band could help meet any shortfalls in stage activity. Travelling halfway across the world is expensive but a live keyboardist and maybe a second live guitarist would boost their live show. And definitely ditch the annoying onstage photographer.

In reviewing Days of Quarantine, I suggested Sacrum could be one of the surprises of the festival. From the warm applause at the end, I know they impressed a lot of people.

~ The Dust Connection ~

Andy:From what I remembered from their appearance here in 2004, this wasn’t a band I had high hopes for. However last year’s debut album Trails garnered strong reviews. Based on this performance, this Dutch quintet has grown and developed well in the last six years.

Guitarist Martijn Balsters particularly impressed with some inventive riffage and soloing and vocal harmonies. They are a tight band with some very mature arrangements. It was much heavier than I expected. I’m not convinced they've got the right frontman. Jeroen Voogd is a good singer, but leans on the metal side. I just sense someone with a bit more warmth and soul would work better with the music. Still, this set has prompted me to revisit Trails. So I guess that was a job well done?

~ Day Six ~

Andy: The Band Of The Weekend for me and one of the best live performances by a progressive metal band I’ve ever witnessed. This Dutch quartet were last minute additions after the withdrawal of Aspera whose singer was too busy giving his all to the X Factor Norway judges. With just two albums in 11 years they’re hardly prolific. I’ve seen them twice before. Then they were good. This was on a different level.

Chief entertainer is singer/guitarist/frontman Robbie van Stiphout. A superb showman for the whole 58 minutes with an amazing range of facial expressions and bodily angles perfectly synced to the music. Musically and vocally this was flawless stuff from a band with their own style and some superbly crafted songs. Their new album, The Grand Design, was superbly translated with some clever live re-arrangements and the songs coming across as more intense and heavier. Their sound was the best of the weekend.

They opened with Massive Glacial Wall. We had a couple from their debut. Lost Identity and Inside from the new album were awesome and Age of Technology was even more awesome. The only band that really took me to another place all weekend. Day Six is a band deserving much wider attention. Awesome.

~ Oceans of Sadness ~

Dries: Oceans of Sadness returned to the Progpower stage for a second time. As their first performance in 2007 was very impressive, many were anticipating their return. Starting promptly, right after the lunch break, only a small audience saw the beginning of the gig. But that changed quickly. The enthusiasm, the great sound and the airtight performance of this band must have drawn many more in. If the music drew people in, it must have been the singer's performance that kept them spellbound. In all honesty, I cannot tell how the other band members acted on stage. I know their music was excellent but their singer has a stage presence that only a few come close to. Gazing into the audience, catching their attention. Full of energy, but confident enough to stand still and take some rest. Impossible not to get involved.

As Oceans of Sadness's music is bit on the heavier side of ProgMetal it might not be everyone's cup of tea. But for me, this was one of the highlights of the festival, topping every expectation I had for this band. Their set list contained a range of songs from their complete back catalogue, with an emphasis (of course) on the new album. And luckily they played Pride and Shame , one of their best tracks.

In an almost perfect ProgPower weekend, Oceans of Sadness were not just good, they were brilliant!

~ Jon Oliva's Pain ~

Andy: The former Savatage mainman must have upset the Good Lord earlier in the tour, as this is unlikely to go down as one of his favourite live experiences. Speaking before the show he clearly had a bad throat. From the start there were sound problems on stage and off. Halfway through he pledged to stamp his $950 ear monitors into 'a thousand tiny pieces'. Then some idiot threw a glass of beer at his piano.

However, as he had promised his mum to never let a few technical problems ruin a show, it will go down as a triumph of perseverance over performance. It was still a blast. A man weighing 140 plus kilograms, delivering a powerful trio of Gutter Ballet, Hall of the Mountain King and When The Crowds Are Gone while smoking a very generous stick of aromatic herb will be an enduring memory of the weekend.

The forthcoming DVD will hopefully bear a closer resemblance to his memorable show here three years ago.

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Conclusion

Andy: Musically this was easily among the best ProgPower Europe festivals. After a few years offering a stronger emphasis on the heavier end of the spectrum, I felt the balance of bands and styles was spot on. One really has to raise a glass to everyone involved in putting this event on. The organisation as ever was faultless and the friendly atmosphere pervades throughout the weekend.

Compiling such a line-up can be no mean feat. But the rewards of actually getting to see much-loved bands play live, continues to attract fans from all corners of the globe. How else would you ever get to see the likes of Myrath (Tunisia), Darkwater (Sweden), Leprous (Norway) and Sacrum (Argentina)?

Highlights of the weekend for me were (in this order) Day Six, Myrath, Darkwater, Leprous, Shadow Gallery, Haken and Sacrum. Roll on next October!

Dries: Even if I were to dislike all the bands playing in 2011 I would still come back to ProgPower Europe. And I will keep coming back because over the years the people at ProgPower have become kind of a metal family. Enjoying themselves during what has become the weekend of the year to most of them.

However: the line-up of ProgPower has never been disappointing, with a surprise in there almost every year. This year Leprous, Xerath and Myrath were the surprises of the weekend. Shadow Gallery & Jon Oliva's Pain very enjoyable main acts and a memorable return for Oceans of Saddness.

It's all in a ProgPower weekend.


Links
ProgPower Europe - Official Website

 


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