Contributor Steven Stolper was on point enjoying the findings at the annual ProgPower USA Festival that takes place in Atlanta, Georgia at the Center Stage Atlanta theater and as already noted in one of the earlier chapters, PiercingMetal has NEVER been to the event despite the occasional interest. Fortunately, Agent Stolper was sending a final transmission to the Metal High Command from the field about this mission. Here now are his transcribed views bout the fourth and final day of ProgPowerUSA XVIII.
ProgPowerUSA XVIII Day 4: 3 days of nonstop music and parties take a toll on the body and the mind, so difficult choices had to be made and some sets were skipped. Pain and Amaranthe namely. All of the Day 4 bands except the opener were from Sweden, a testament to the country’s great contribution to the genre and popular music in general.
Seven Spires (USA):
Australia’s Teramaze was originally scheduled to perform in the opening timeslot, but unfortunately had to cancel a few days before due to health issues. That was upsetting because Teramaze was one of the bands I was looking forward to the most. Their latest album, Her Halo, was a really tasty slab of melodic prog metal. Boston’s SevenSpires answered the call and rushed to Georgia to bring their brand of metal to the masses. Seven Spires play aggressively melodic euro power metal with a female singer named Adrienne Cowan, who does both clean and extreme vocals equally well. Their video single, Cabaret of Dreams, sounded true to its name live, like a metallized groovy cabaret number. Other songs were more traditional, with many pounding harsh voiced numbers. The band had a very energetic stage presence and did a good job whipping the somewhat sleepy audience back into fighting shape.
Although I do try to familiarize myself with all the bands playing the fest, every year there is a band that manages to surprise me. Dynazty is that band this year. I remember checking out their material when they were last scheduled to play ProgPower a few years ago. For some reason, it struck as average Scandinavian Power Metal. Unfortunately, they had to cancel that year because of visa issues. I didn’t bother revisiting their discography before the festival so I went in not expecting much and was pleasantly surprised. From the moment the band took the stage and announced, “We came to rock”, it was nonstop melodic metal bliss. Dynazty apparently started out playing melodic rock/AOR and later switched to power metal. The pop metal element was still very much on display though, in slick choruses and smooth singing from Nils Molin. As a big fan of lighter melodic rock from bands like Lillian Axe and Harem Scarem, I was not complaining. The set list was mainly composed of songs from the last two albums. I understand earlier albums were less heavy and more pop rock. In any case, the band’s current sound is an irresistible fusion of that kind of catchy and somewhat sleazy rock with the galloping rhythms of Helloween type bands. The guitars are sharp but not so heavy as to lose that good-natured groove reminiscent of bands like Skid Row. It all sounded so great, one has to wonder why more bands are not attempting the same fusion. Excellent backing vocals also helped make for a very smooth sound. All in all, an excellent American debut from yet another Swedish prodigy. A thorough reexamination of Dynazty’s entire catalog is now in order as soon as I recover from this live musical binge.
Snowy Shaw (Sweden):
I was only vaguely familiar with Snowy Shaw as the drummer on some great Swedish metal albums from King Diamond, Memento Mori, Dream Evil, and others. Turns out he’s also a great singer who already played ProgPower back in 2011 as part of Therion touring troupe. This ProgPower set was another special appearance, a career retrospective of sorts with Shaw performing songs from many of the bands he’s been involved with and some solo material. The creepy cemetery styled stage backdrop listed all of Shaw’s projects as gravestones. The band was clad in black monk robes with high pointy hats, faces completely covered. Not sure how they were able to see what they were doing. I assume the face masks were made of some sort of semitransparent material. Whatever it was, the effect was quite eerie. The band clearly put a lot of effort into the design of their stage show. Snowy Shaw himself was a sight to behold. Shirtless, in corpse paint, roaming around the stage wailing into the microphone. The variety of material was quite remarkable, from straight up heavy metal of Dream Evil and Merciful Fate, to the more epic stylings of Therion, to blistering black metal of Dimmu Borgir. Shaw and his band handled the transitions with ease. Very impressive, especially in case of the demanding vocal parts, from screechy Black Metal screaming to more melodic Epic Metal singing. I would have liked to hear something from Memento Mori as well but it was not to be. I suspect taking on Messiah Marcolin’s material was too daunting even for a vocal chameleon like Snowy Shaw. This was one of the more oddball bookings for ProgPower but I’d say it paid off handsomely. I’ll have to look into some of the more obscure bands Shaw’s been involved with, like Notre Dame, as they sounded really great as part of this set.
By the time the Saturday headliner (and the last band of the festival) was ready to take the stage the crowd began to thin out a bit from sheer exhaustion. Of course, it’s also possible Katatonia’s brand of moody heavy metal was not to everyone’s liking. That’s understandable. That kind of thinking led to me to skip Amaranthe and Pain sets. In a perfect world, I would have liked to check put every single performer, but real-world issues like hunger, lack of sleep, and just random socializing with interesting fellow attendees force one to make difficult choices. Katatonia was a band I wanted to check out for a long time, ever since I first heard their album Viva Emptiness many years ago. I was finally able to see them at NYC’s Irving Plaza earlier this year and was very impressed, making their ProgPower set a must see for me. The spring tour long over, Katatonia flew in just to play the festival. Yet another special appearance to add to ProgPower mystique.
The set had a nice mix of songs from the band’s catalog. Latest album, The Fall of Hearts, had a large share, but, interestingly, so did a much older disc, The Great Cold Distance. I was happy to see several songs from the Viva Emptiness album, a personal favorite.
Tired feet notwithstanding, this was a show that needed to be taken in up close and personal, so I made my way to the front of stage and watched the band spin their sad doomy tales from a few feet away. Singer Jonas Renkse was in fine form, his voice full of vulnerable longing conveying the melancholy vibes of the music very effectively. Also adding to the gothic feel was the light show which drenched the band in smoky darkness. I heard some complaints after the show from people who would have preferred a more traditional lighting setup where musicians can be seen more clearly. While I understand that desire, I must say the lighting fit the music perfectly and I would not change a thing. Besides, if you were close enough to the stage like me, the individual musicians could still be seen quite clearly. The sound mix was great for Katatonia’s set. I assume they brought their own sound engineer with them from Sweden. The moody almost shoegaze yet still very heavy guitars anchored the sound. Both guitarists were quite skillful with the solos which seemed a bit more prominent in the mix compared to the studio versions. Renkse’s gloomy singing was masterfully layered on top of the instruments. Katatonia’s brand of self-described melancholic rocknroll could only be played by a band that was once a more extreme purveyor of death doom. It seems like the best bands in the genre, such as Anathema, Paradise Lost, and Opeth follow that sonic path.
After the last note was played and crowds started trickling out into the streets, the night was not even close to over though, as both musicians and their ardent fans made their way to the infamous courtyard parties nearby. Despite an early flight out next morning, this intrepid reviewer joined in the revelry. Exchanging thoughts on music with friendly Proggers from around the world over some beers is an integral part of the fest. Some of the people can turn out to be long time fellow participants of various internet forums. Meeting up in real life and putting a face to a name or an avatar is always exciting. Also on hand were members of Myrath, Evergrey, Amaranthe, Dynazty, SevenSpires, and other bands who were happy to participate and have drink or two. All the musicians were happy to pose for photos and chat with the fans. Watching Zaher Zorgati of Myrath do various accents including a hilarious Robert De Niro was priceless. Anyone who attends ProgPower should try to make it down to the courtyard after party. It’s a huge part of the festival experience.
So that will wrap up these transmissions from the Metal Fields of Battle regarding this years ProgPowerUSA XVIII. The High Command nods in approval of Agent Stolper’s valiant efforts (even if he did miss two bands that we like very much here at Control). Next years festival seems like something that I might need to attend. You should consider the same.
Snowy Shaw Setlist:
1. Tape[Opera Diabolicus]
4. The Book of Heavy Metal
6. Come to the Sabbath
7. Blacksmith and Co.
9. Twilight Symphony
10. Barnroom Medley
11. Progenies of the Great Apocalypse
12. Whether With or Without
14. Black Funeral
Katatonia Set List:
1. Last Song Before the Fade
4. Dead Letters
7. Old Heart Falls
10. Ghost of the Sun
11. Soil’s Song
12. In the White
16. My Twin
ProgPower USA: http://www.progpowerusa.com
Seven Spires: https://www.sevenspiresband.com/
Snowy Shaw: http://www.snowyshaw.net/