JAM Magazine Concert Reviews

September 9, 2015
Center Stage
Atlanta, GA USA
Review by Andy Laudano
Photos by Andy Laudano

ProgPower USA

Summer Camp For Metalheads

On September 11-12, America's premier metal festival, promoter Glenn Harveston's ProgPower USA returned to the historic Center Stage Theater in Atlanta, Georgia for it's sixteenth edition. The festival sold out in weeks after tickets went on sale. Wednesday's Mid Week Mayhem pre-show, held in the connecting upstairs venue, The Loft was also sold out and Thursday Night's Kick Off show, back in Center Stage was near capacity. Due to U.S. visa constraints, not every band that was originally announced for the festival got to play, but some amazing substitutions stepped up to make it an even more memorable weekend.

For those unfamiliar with the fest, ProgPower USA features mostly progressive and power metal bands from around the world, many of whom have never played in the U.S. before. Just to keep things fresh, there's usually an oddball or two that are neither power or prog. Bands will perform special sets, whole albums and even an extra acoustic performance in addition to the fest. There is a very fan friendly atmosphere as all the bands usually do autograph signings and many will hang out with fans at the bar and/or the huge aftershow parties in the Artmore Hotel courtyard. Patrons receive a free swag bag when entering containing a program and a CD sampler. The adjoining bar, The Vinyl is filled with metal music dealers and labels where you can find all kinds of CDs, t-shirts and merchandise. This is basically Summer Camp for Metalheads!

If one thing was clear about this year's Mid Week Mayhem, it's that it has outgrown it's home in The Loft. The venue was already packed when openers, Atlanta's own Halcyon Way took the stage for a fun set and only got fuller as the night went on. Next up was Ashes of Aries, featuring former Iced Earth frontman Matt Barlow and former Nevermore drummer Van Williams. Barlow was in top form as he belted out the emotional "On Warriors Wings," dedicated to his fallen Police brethren and "Punishment," a song about Marvel Comics character The Punisher.

Crowd favorites, Australia's Voyager played the first of two very special sets that weekend when they played their entire 2009 album, I Am The Revolution. This allowed fans to not only enjoy favorites like "Lost" and "The Devil In Me," but to also hear songs from the album that had never been played live before.

Sweden's Evergrey has played ProgPower USA more than any other band. They're more than just another band on the bill, they're family and Atlanta is their second home. The band received a hero's welcome as they opened with "King of Errors" from their recent album, Hymns For The Broken. Vocalist Tom Englund sounded amazing and it was nice to welcome guitarist Henrik Danhage back into the band. Other highlights included "The Masterplan" and "Mark of the Triangle."

If that wasn't enough Evergrey for you, the next day the band did a very special acoustic set before the Kick Off show, once again in The Loft. The band got to relax and have some fun with the fans while playing incredible acoustic versions of "I'm Sorry," "Recreation Day," "Blinded" and even an awesome cover of Iron Maiden's "Wasted Years."

The ProgPower USA Kick Off show officially followed as fans filled Center Stage to see Brazil's Almah, led by former Angra frontman Edu Falaschi make their U.S. debut. Edu had played ProgPower USA previously with Angra (who was headlining the main fest this year) and was excited to return with his new band. Their set included favorites from Edu's time in both bands. Sweden's Dragonland, featuring Amaranthe guitarist Olof Morck also made their U.S. debut next. Their high energy set surely won them some new fans, Highlights included frontman Jonas Heidgert's duet with special guest Brittney Slayes from Unleash The Archers on "Cassiopeia" and a great cover of "The Neverending Story."

Armored Saint returned to ProgPower USA with a vengeance! Opening hard and fast with the title track to their killer new album, "Win Hands Down" and following up with traditional opener "March of the Saint," it became obvious that they were taking no prisoners tonight! John Bush was a madman, going out into the crowd and even climbing on top of the speakers without ever missing a note! Other favorites included "Left Hook From Right Field," "Last Train Home" and their biggest hit, "Can U Deliver."

Another band might have had a hard time following a performance like that. Not the mighty Saxon! The Warriors of the World tour slammed into Center Stage like a "Battering Ram." Saxon unleashed a barrage of hits on the crowd, including "Broken Heroes," "Dallas 1 PM," "Crusader" and "Denim And Leather." Best of all, vocalist Biff Byford said the show was being recorded for a live album!

Day one of the official fest opened with perhaps the most progressive band on the bill, Berklee College of Music alumni, Native Construct. They moved into the day's opening slot after Hibria's last minute cancellation. Hard Rock legend, Jeff Scott Soto graciously stepped up and played an extra long career spanning set with his new solo band. This retrospective included everything from his most recent solo material to W.E.T, Talisman, Yngwie Malmsteen and even Steel Dragon! Yes, Jeff can still hit even the highest notes on "I'll See The Light Tonight" to perfection. This was also recorded for a future live album.

Voyager returned to the big stage, this time to play a set picked entirely by the fans online. No other band has as much fun playing together as they seem to. They're so much fun to watch you cant help but get caught up in it. At one point bassist Alex Canion was handed and quickly put on a pink wig from a man in a banana suit! (I can't make this up!) The fun continued with a hilarious medley that included the theme from "Game of Thrones/Ghostbusters/Backstreet's Back/What Is Love?/I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)/America! Fuck Yeah!" Another big moment came when Royal Hunt vocalist D.C. Cooper joined them to sing "Fire Of The Times." This band is ready to headline the fest next time they return.

Like an emotional roller coaster ride, the fun filled highs of the previous act were quickly scattered by the deep, atmospheric, emotionally charged music of Great Britain's Anathema. The band opened with the song "Anathema" before going into "Untouchable, Part 1" and "Untouchable, Part 2," which featured the breathtakingly beautiful voice of Lee Douglas. The soothing music seemed to put the audience in a hypnotic trance before bringing them back out of it with the more upbeat finish of "Lost Control." This was a truly special performance.

As day one came to a close, Sweden's Falconer played what was billed to be their final live performance. They were always more of a studio band who rarely toured anyways, mainly because of vocalist Mathias Blad's stage/acting career. They were determined to go out with a bang though, playing an ambitious career retrospective that included three acoustic songs and a few songs sung in Swedish. After the final encores, fan favorites "Mindtraveller" and "The Clarion Call," the band soaked in the applause one last time.

Day two started early for some with a special acoustic show in The Loft by Anathema for sponsors and gold badge holders. This was an intimate show with only the brothers Vincent and Daniel Cavanagh and Lee Douglas performing. Highlights included Douglas singing "Ariel" and a great cover of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick In The Wall Part 2."

Back inside Center Stage, Argentina's Helker nearly tore the house down! Vocalist Diego Valdez is a big man with a huge voice very reminiscent of the legendary Ronnie James Dio. It was obvious to everyone just how happy and grateful they were to be there and you couldn't help but get caught up in their excitement.

Another last minute cancellation due to visa issues occurred when three members of Sweden's Dynazty arrived in the U.S. only to find out that their other two members would not be joining them. Their fellow countrymen, Dragonland stepped up and played another set, including a few songs that had been cut from Thursday's performance. At one point they even pulled a couple of superfans onstage to sing a song with them. Canada's Unleash The Archers followed with a great set that was well received and won them some new fans. Poland's Riverside made their return to ProgPower USA next. They may not have been the heaviest band that night, but fans didn't mind at all.

Denmark's Royal Hunt took the stage to play their 1997 progressive metal masterpiece, Paradox in it's entirety. Charismatic frontman D.C. Cooper owned the stage as he belted out favorites "River Of Pain," "Message To God" and "Time Will Tell." This was an extra special show for D.C., to not only play in his home country, but to perform in front of his children for the first time.

It was a bittersweet moment as Brazil's Angra closed the show. Not just because the festival was ending, but because fans knew this would be one of guitarist Kiko Loureiro's last shows with the band before becoming the new guitarist for Megadeth. Current vocalist Fabio Lione (Rhapsody) proved once again that he can sing anything as he effortlessly performed the classic 1996 Andre Matos' era Angra album, Holy Land in its entirety. For their final encore, the band welcomed D.C. Cooper and Jeff Scott Soto back to the stage for an awesome cover of Van Halen's "You Really Got Me" to end another incredible festival.