What I heard was a mess. What I saw was a six piece band including a bemused-looking woman in a pure white robe who stuck out like a sore thumb from the others. The band in question was Until Rain from Greece. The emotional outpourings I heard were soft and unfathomable, a prog version of the Wailing Wall. The strange thing was was that whilst the singer’s vocals were all over the place during the songs, during one of his inter-song presentations, he amazed everyone with his vocal control. Where did it all go? Back on stage, there was too much conflicting noise, and the vocals, even with two of them, couldn’t match it and weren’t of great quality anyway. All I heard was a mess, and I promise I wasn’t hungover. On the plus side, the singer looked like he was having a nice time with himself, but the statuesque lady in white looked increasingly fidgety and uncomfortable as the set went on. The singer announced a song from the band’s ep, and after a dark start and some growls, it somehow degenerated into a dual-sung chorus, which sounded like a Eurovision entry. Or maybe it was another of their songs and I wasn’t concentrating properly but I don’t think so. I was losing the will to live here. This was supposed to be soft and delicate but it wasn’t. The lady in white, who presumably wears something more practical in daily life (actually she does, because I saw her outside the club afterwards), served no apparent purpose. I’m told the band’s album “Anthem to Creation” (2013) is good. I should hope so, because for me this performance pointed neither to clarity nor co-ordination.
After spending two days in a van to reach Baarlo, Belarus’s Serdce started to make an impression by setting the scene with impregnable Eastern European melancholy, set to a grey backdrop on the screen behind. The melancholy returned but this did not define this most interesting of acts. What I heard and witnessed was harsh growls, jingling bells and a style of technical progressive death metal, which had symphonic suggestions and even a structure akin to classical music. And that was just some of it. Serdce’s cerebral style of music ran in sections, each building upon the last, but in an irregular way. Highly technical sections, of which there was an abundance, could make way for carousel tunes, Floydian dreams or violent death metal. There was so much movement that the band managed to fool us all by ending a track when we weren’t expecting it, causing audience hesitation, myself included, and depriving the band of our immediate appreciation and applause. The developments were compelling. A keyboard-driven classical piece led to a section filled with fury and intensity, and a high-pitched vocal line. Not speaking any English, the band were at a disadvantage as their lead man couldn’t explain what we were listening to, confining his script to “we have no time, we just continue”, which may have been a reference to a slightly late start. This was not music to be rushed. Whether it was sublimely executed technical patterns, frantic intensity, devastating sadness or delicacy, Serdce always took interesting directions and seemed very surprised at the spontaneous and enthusiastic response they received to their intense and multi-layered rendition of heavy progressive metal. The only disappointment, which a number of spectators expressed afterwards, was that Serdce did not bring any merchandise with them on the bus from Belarus. There were many spectators wanting to buy their material, and the band could no doubt at the same time have recouped some of the cost of their journey across Europe. But I will leave the final word with the lovely band members of Serdce, who may not have had merchandise but overcame our linguistic communication difficulties afterwards by handing me a card which outlines their vision: “Serdce means ‘Heart’ in English, the engine that runs life as well as feelings, emotions and blood. That’s what we do, just interpreting feelings in words of music”. I really hope to hear more of Serdce.
When I checked out Animations prior to coming to ProgPower, I was attracted to their energetic melodic metal style. The song, which was promoted the most, was “Morality Failed”, which is what the performance started with. The muscular tattoo’ed singer, who looked like a body builder, took us through a vigorous workout during the set. Harsh and brutal, catchy and thrashy, Animations would appear to be Poland’s answer to Soilwork. Harsh and brutal, catchy and thrashy, the groove lines were impressive. Mr Muscle was well supported by his drummer and guitarists, who provided energy and melody aplenty. It was Mr Muscle who caught the eye, bouncing and pacing up and down, breaking each section up by putting one finger up (in a nice way) to indicate he was going to head into a clean chorus. Combining growls and clean vocals and doing it well is not easy but Mr Muscle did it well. I liked Mr Muscle – he did his thing in a metalcore way and didn’t crowd round instrumentalists or make silly gestures. The non-stop energy and headbanging was broken up by a long-winded instrumental, which was competently played, but added no value other than to fill in fifteen minutes or so. Then it was back to the workout, rumbling thunder, aggression and movement. If this had been a metalcore gig and not ProgPower, I’m sure there would have been plenty of crowd action, and looking round me, the spectators seemed divided between those who really got into it and those who were there for something else. There was plenty of animation here, and for me it was of the sort that I like.
Massive sounds and frenetic movements filled the stage. This was Obsidian Kingdom from Barcelona, Spain which is where Exxasens who played the previous day are from. Of the two, Obsidian Kingdom were altogether more extreme and close to the edge. “Melancholic tunes about fucked up stuff”, was how the band’s lead singer helpfully described it. In fact it was so extreme that the second song had a similarity to Phil Collins’s “In the Air Tonight”. Images of barbed wire appeared on the screen. Very heavy post metal was on the menu, building to a level of extreme intensity. The guitarist, bassist and keyboard player threw themselves about. They believed in it. The crowd was duly infected. Some of it was measured, repetitive maybe, and some was frenzied but big moments were never far away. Creating big atmospheres is what Obsidian Kingdom do. The set came to a great end when the two guitarists and the bassist started shoving each other and finished up in a mock fight on the floor. The mayhem continued regardless. With their powerful music and great attitude to entertainment, Obsidian Kingdom won the crowd over.
Enchant have been around since the early 90s and have released umpteen albums, so there was always going to be plenty of material and experience to draw on. To be honest, they’re not really my cup of tea but nevertheless I spent an enjoyable hour listening to them. The songs are melodic and unchallenging but supported by good technique and presentation. Good guitar solos were woven into the songs, which spanned the course of their career, not that I have enough knowledge or could really tell which was an old and which was a newer one. One thing I really liked is that there’s no bombast or overstatement with Enchant. “Under Fire” contains some interesting shapes and sounds but the range isn’t vast. They’re just good at what they do. Although the lead singer had a good and witty line of presentation, there wasn’t much interaction but on balance I prefer this to the false and superficial crowd incitement, which does happen with other less self-confident bands, so I guess I can’t have it all ways. As a show, it wasn’t clinical but it wasn’t particularly warm either. This was like a sorbet after a hot curry – refreshing and pleasant, but on its own not an earth-shattering experience.
“Leprous – I’ve never heard of them” commented my friend Mike when I told him about ProgPower and he asked who was playing. He suggested that it would be nearer and cheaper instead if I went to see The Happy Mondays in Cambridge. I am familiar with The Happy Mondays, but … well … they’re not Leprous. I am a big fan of Leprous, whose psychologically orientated and catchy brand of progressive metal appeals to me greatly, so for a long time I had been really looking forward to their headlining show at ProgPower Europe.
Well, if Leprous’s songs are about the human brain and its uncertainties, the stage here tonight was the nerve centre, and the keyboard player and vocalist was the mad professor in charge. For ninety minutes, Leprous played great songs from a range of albums, but this was more than just playing songs. This was a complete experience. “The Flood” was an obvious start with its throbbing sound and got us in the right or maybe wrong frame of mind. It also signalled the start of a spectacular visual display. The band, all dressed smartly in black and looking a touch militaristic, stood statuesque as their shadowy silhouettes faded in and out of the gloom which was enveloped by alternating sharp red, blue and white beams. Four horizontal white bars rose on either side. There were four screens but I never looked at them as there was so much else going on. The military precision and colours reminded me of a Kraftwerk concert I attended some years ago. Soft images were off the menu. The vocalist, who had the advantage of being tall, stood angularly across his keyboard, and as “The Flood” exploded, waved his arms wildly and mechanically as if he had no control over himself and at defined moments bent the upper part of his frame to headbang violently. Almost unseen were his cohorts, the guitarists and bass player, who positioned themselves precisely and yet joined in the mayhem. The danger with all this is that it could detract from the musical performance, but it didn’t. Gripping the transfixed audience with their unusual and unique take on metal music, Leprous’s complex and electronically and mechanically heavy pieces were performed with razor-sharp timing and precision, yet there was no risk of alienation as the mad professor guided us through catchy and sing-a-long songs like “Rewind”. Always sinister, sometimes frantic, sometimes more measured and always dynamic, Leprous placed their interpretations on their songs to heighten our anticipation. “Slave”, a personal favourite of mine, was typically epic and disturbed. Apart from one short break, which was punctuated by the throbbing sounds of an inhuman machine, Leprous’s electrifying performance was uninterrupted. I do not know how such irregular music can be so addictive but Leprous have found the formula. “Forced Entry” was the final proof of this. The drum and guitar lines added customary power and purpose. The lyrics are typically fearsome and sinister. The display was spellbinding. Leprous specialise in the unexpected, but the only thing that wasn’t so unexpected was the ending where after a big build-up, the whole band went completely berserk. “Thank you, ProgPower. You have been completely amazing”, announced the mad professor. No, you were absolutely amazing, Leprous. Forget the Happy Mondays. This was Happy Sunday. Leprous had provided a fitting climax to another magnificently organised and staged ProgPower Europe.
Review Andrew Doherty
Photos Håkan Lundbom