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. Historically speaking, PiercingMetal has NEVER been to the event but we’ve occasionally had interest in going based on the lineup for the year. I asked for a quick briefing of the acts that he saw and here are his transmissions to the High Command from the field about Day Three
ProgPowerUSA XVIII Day 3: Day 3 (or “Day 1” as it used to be known as until a couple of years ago) is when the ProgPower machine really revs into high gear. There are more bands (six versus four), longer sets performed, more autograph signing sessions, more merch and a whole lot more Prog. This year, almost all of the “Day 3” bands were heavy on the Progressive side with one notable exception being the visitors from Spain, Lords of Black. I assumed that this is due to different musical tastes of the booking teams of Days 1-2 vs 3-4. Although, as mentioned before, this seems to vary recently, probably based on touring schedules of non-exclusive bands. Speaking of exclusivity, all of the bands playing Friday, except Mike Portnoy’s Shattered Fortress, are flying in specifically for the ProgPower event and are NOT doing standard tours of the regions around the country. This is what makes this festival so unique and attractive to fans of the genre living in the Americas. It is often the only opportunity to see these bands live.
Daydream XI (Brazil):
Brazilian newcomers opened the main event on Friday in a very impressive fashion. Smooth progressive metal with thick dual guitars and nice vox is a recipe that has very broad appeal for the ProgPower crowd. I was not familiar with the band’s material beforehand. I suppose that was true for most attendees, but the band’s music was easy to connect with. A friend described it as a more mellow and sexy Symphony X. Sounds about right. No one really wants to have to be too analytical about music at 2PM on a Friday anyway, especially after 2 days of the festival. Most impressively, singer Tiago Masseti also handled the second guitar duties, including many of the solos. Highlight of the set was a beautiful piano and vocals only ballad, which really showcased singer’s lovely voice.
Distorted Harmony (Israel):
Second band from the Holy Land at this year’s festival, Distorted Harmony was fairly well known to the prog crowd. They did their best to win over the rest of the concert goers. Unlike their countrymen Orphaned Land, there are no ethnic music elements in Distorted Harmony’s music. Just hard-hitting guitars, expressive keyboards and earnest vocals wailing in some complex but melodic direction. Familiar formula, but when it’s done so well, I am not complaining. Singer Misha Soukhinin’s confident performance was particularly impressive. No dedicated guitar solo in the setlist but we did get a keyboard solo, which is a little unusual. The band closed out the set with Natural Selection, one of my favorite tracks from their latest album, Chain Reaction. Fans of Dream Theater, Haken, and Vanden Plas will find much to like in Distorted Harmony’s music. Someone pointed out to me that the band’s name apparently doesn’t make sense musically. I don’t know how true that is. Cool name in any case, and definitely one to watch in the future.
Lords of Black (Spain):
One of very few metal/rock bands out of Spain to become famous internationally lately, Lords of Black US debut was hotly anticipated. Singer Ronnie Romero, now also in reformed Rainbow, was the main attraction. He certainly demonstrated pretty quickly why he is widely considered one of the best hard rock vocalists to emerge in recent years. Big voice with lots of grit immediately reminds of legends like Ronnie James Dio and David Coverdale. Guitarist Tony Hernando provided a nonstop supply of melodic riffs for Romero to soar over. Very impressive guitar skills from this veteran musician who apparently has quite a few albums under his belt from his other projects. Definitely something to look into. Lords of Black had great sound mix that was very complimentary. Sounded good even when I went to the front of the stage to get a better look. Watching Hernando firing off rapid riffs and intricate solos with ease was worth giving up a comfy seat. Romero is certainly a powerhouse vocalist, but I could use some respite from the grit. Just a little too harsh of a delivery sometimes. Some more warmth would have made for a more well-rounded set. The band finished with a great cover of Black Sabbath classic Neon Knights.
For those who managed to wake up early enough the next day, Lords of Black played a special set of covers at noon. Normally, this sort of thing is an exclusive event, limited to Gold Badge holders, an elite group who keep supporting the festival year after year by paying a bit more. But this year, in a first, commoners were said to be allowed in. Unfortunately, I could not make it. Those who did were very happy with the band’s set. The set list was said to include songs from the obvious influences, with tracks from Rainbow, Deep Purple, and Dio, and some from less obvious sources like Queensryche, Journey, and amazingly Heal the Waters from the more obscure Ark, the much missed Jorn Lande progressive hard rock project.
Angel Dust (Germany):
For a band that was active for a relatively short time in the late 90s/early 2000s, Angel Dust sure left a lasting impression in the progpower scene. Perhaps, because the band’s sound really embodied the meaning of the term, combining aggressive thrashy riffs and techno sounding keyboards into great songs. The band has not been active for quite a few years though, so it was a great surprise when their appearance was first announced. Angel Dust was probably the band the veteran attendees looked forward to the most. They did not disappoint. The band sounded very tight, playing the old “hits” to an adoring crowd. I will confess that I have not listened to Angel Dust in years, so I was surprised to realize just how many of those songs I recognized, especially from the mid period Bleed and Enlighten the Darkness albums. That really speaks to the song quality. Dirk Thurisch is still in fine form on the vocals and rhythm guitar, and he was ably supported by Bernd Aufermann on lead guitar. The band seemed really touched by the crowd response, considering how long it’s been since their last album. Hopefully, this will inspire them to record some new material.
The last Myrath ProgPower appearance a few years ago is legendary, the band having rushed the stage straight from the airport, borrowing instruments along the way to replace their own lost by the airline. They still managed to put on a stunning show, truly one of the best I’ve ever witnessed. The ProgPower fans have been waiting for them to return ever since. The band recently released another album, “Legacy”, further developing their meld of Symphony X style prog metal with traditional Arabic music, something they call Oriental metal. Most of the set came from the last two albums, their strongest. Looking around I could see that Myrath drew one of the biggest crowds of the festival. Normally some people step out to get some food or buy some merch, but it seemed like everyone rushed back inside for Myrath set. The band sounded even better than last time, more confident and unafraid to improvise on the already great material. The singer, Zaher Zorgati, was dancing around on stage dressed like an Arab prince and had the crowd obeying his every command. At one point he jumped off stage, walked into the center of the pit and had everyone sit down around him while he played the role of the ancient singing storyteller. I’ve never seen anything quite like that. Last time around the keyboardist could not make it and their producer filled in. The whole band was in attendance this time. Elyes, the keyboardist was very active with orchestrations that are a big part of the band’s symphonic sound, and helped with backing vocals. But the biggest surprise was the bass. Anis Jouini was way higher in the mix live, giving the songs unbelievable grooves that just didn’t seem to be there on the record. Also, seemingly improvised were numerous Arab musical interludes, sung in Arabic of course. I was hoping Orphaned Land would jump on stage at some point to guest on a song or two, but I guess they had to continue their regular tour. That would’ve been something to behold though. Apparently, the bands did tour together in Europe.
Mike Portnoy’s Shattered Fortress (USA):
I must confess that I stopped following Dream Theater a while ago, sometime after Scenes from a Memory album came out. My interests just gravitated toward more adventurous fare, though ironically much of probably at least somewhat influenced by Dream Theater, as most prog metal is. So, the announcement that Mike Portnoy would be performing bunch of Dream Theater songs he originally wrote, with some guest musicians initially drew a big “meh” from me. I didn’t even bother looking up who the other musicians would be, and penciled in that time slot in as a possible dinner. Imagine my surprise when members of Haken walked onto the stage one by one. My interest was piqued and dinner plans shelved. Thankfully, the pizzeria next door stays open until 2AM and serves pretty good pies and great fried mozzarella. But, I digress. With Haken as backing band I knew I was assured of quality performance.
Haken boasts two brilliant guitar players, so I a little surprised to see another one on stage playing most of Petrucci’s solos. I later learned it was Eric Gillette, Neil Morse band’s guitarist. He handled the complicated guitar leads with frightening ease. It’s not often that I am impressed by a new (to me) guitar player. Gillette is an elite musician. On a few songs, the 3 guitarists engaged in some high speed 3-way shred duels. Gillette also handled vocals on some songs. What a talent! Ross Jennings sounded great on vocals, singing in much the same way he does with Haken. Portnoy jumped out from behind the kit and took the mic for a few songs, letting Haken’s drummer take over. Frankly, he is not the world’s greatest singer, but I get the urge to be the front man. Singers get all the glory. He even teamed up with both Jennings and Gillette for a bit. It must be said that the sound was amazing for Portnoy’s Shattered Fortress. He must have brought his own sound engineer. Everything was punchy but clear. Gillette, in particular, had the best guitar sound of the fest. His lead guitar tone was magnificent. It just cut thru the mix and was heard loud and clear in all its full-bodied glory. The floor was packed with people for this set. I think even casual Dream Theater fans like me were won over by the masterful performance and the songs. This band deserved its headliner status despite some early complaints that it was really a glorified cover band looking to cash in. Looks like I need to explore Dream Theater’s back catalog some more because those songs were great. This project is still on tour and is highly recommended if it hits your area.
With that, ProgPower USA Day 3 would end. Some people only attend Days 3 and 4. This explains why the seating situation was a bit tighter than on Days 1 and 2. There are more bands playing on those days so it feels like a better value. Also, the bands playing Days 3 and 4 are usually of a higher caliber, though that seems to be changing. Day 3 is also a chance to pick up the free festival program, a rather lavishly printed affair containing interviews with all the bands playing and a sampler CD. Before the headlining set, bands playing the next year’s festival are announced. Watching the reactions to this presentation is one of the more interesting parts of the festival. One of the biggest surprises was the departure of Fates Warning Singer Ray Alder from the Redemption project and his replacement by Evergrey’s Tom Englund. The cries of despair were quickly replaced by gasps of astonishment.
What a day this sounded like from the briefs above. I hope that some of these bands map out some larger scale touring over here so more people can get out to support their cause. I can hardly wait to read the final chapter from this adventures. Stay tuned.
Mike Portnoy’s Shattered Fortress Set List:
1. Prelude @Tape
2. Regression @Tape
3. Overture 1928
4. Strange Déjà Vu
5. The Mirror
6. The Glass Prison
7. This Dying Soul
8. The Root of All Evil
10. The Shattered Fortress
12. The Dance of Eternity
13. Finally Free
Official Website: http://progpowerusa.com/
Official Website: http://www.mikeportnoy.com
Official Website: http://www.hakenmusic.com/
Official Website: https://www.distortedharmony.com/
Official Website: http://www.myrath.com/
Official Website: https://www.facebook.com/DaydreamXI/
Official Website: http://www.lordsofblack.com/
Official Website: https://www.facebook.com/AngelDusttheband/