Saturday 5th October

A highlight at this festival for me is the exposure of bands from the host country. Saturday’s line-up started with one such in Golden Caves. There wasn’t a full house yet but 70 or 80 isn’t a bad number for 1.30 in the afternoon. I moved to one side as a typically 9 foot tall Dutchman stood in front of me. What I saw was a woman vocalist with warpaint over her left eye. The bassist looked rather intense but the rest of the band and in particular the keyboard player looked delightfully happy. The singer made mysterious gestures but the instrumentals, while packing a punch, drowned her vocals and made her hand-signals oblique.

This had the making of a frustrating experience until the band played “Mother”. This now was the perfect vehicle for the singer, whose tones had the air of Stevie Nicks about them. Slower and moodier, “Mother” was hypnotising and hypnotic. The singer who had struggled on the higher notes now paraded her vocal skill. The pattern became clear. The power was always there but the vocalist strained. Now and again, we were treated to a hooky chorus line. Golden Caves are good musicians but I felt they didn’t entirely capitalise on their talent. At times they concentrated on being too prog instead of raising the bar by taking our minds and imaginations to the next logical and simpler step. The sound was always strong and powerful. The band was at its best as a whole in the quieter moments and did most justice to the singer’s qualities when building up the picture gradually, as they did for the last song, which had a nicely defined image. Unfortunately the song titles were not announced so I don’t what they played apart from “Mother”. It clearly wasn’t a language barrier as the singer expressed her appreciation at the end in perfect English and in doing so, reflected the endearing personalities of the band. From what I saw, Golden Caves have a lot to offer.

The Thirteenth Sun had come from Romania to be here at ProgPower Europe. The theme was space. Stars passed by. Accordingly it was necessary to have a keyboard player and they had one. The serious scientific looking gentleman – it must be the beard and glasses which give this impression – played his part in recreating the galaxy in musical form. Meanwhile the rest of the crew pumped out desultory tunes with a few Opeth-like blasts and the odd aggressive outburst. The band themselves however were static like the Cambridge United defence. The vocalist sung his narrative about matters pertaining to the universe in a Floydian sort of way. The constancy was numbing and does tend to go with post rock of course. But I did not find myself dreaming of space. As I was dreaming off in a different way, I was grateful to the lady in front of me for reacting to a rare upbeat passage by swinging her hair, thus allowing me to benefit from some welcome breeze. For something as three dimensional as space, this was disappointingly one-dimensional. The set ended with what I believe was “The Fabric of Time”. The waves of galactic sound were there, as was the popping post rock beat. A bit of aggression failed to save the day. Ambient music doesn’t have to be as limited or as mechanical as this. The Thirteenth Sun are clearly dedicated musicians but I feel on the strength of this show that they’re playing it too narrow and too safe.

I’d not heard anything previously by Italian band Adimiron but I did know they have a healthy back catalogue of releases. Right from the start an exotic and electrifying rhythm came from this quintet. It was very heavy. All was one. The vocalist impressively matched the rhythmic world of noise with his aggressive and even clean vocals. The guitar solos were built in and added to the excitement. All the band members looked cool but it was the grimacing scantily clad bassist in splashings of leather and chains who stood out. Her body language was ferocious and menacing. She reflected the aggressive mood and along with the guitarists and drummer provided the instrumental skill, expression and personality that characterised this band. The technicality never stopped. The band’s movement was slick. Adimiron have attitude. Their performance was one of non-stop energy, bordering on extremity.

There was a bit of Darkane about this. In any case it was like stepping up six notches from the previous bands. I heard death metal djent on “State of Persistence”. The noise resounded and lingered. The becapped vocalist added a hard core to the death metal melodies. Strangely he took an age between songs to announce the next one, as if he wasn’t sure about it. But musically Adimiron didn’t hold back. “As Long As It Takes” added more brutality with cleaner vocals. “Joshua Tree 37” was typically fast and featured another sublime breakneck guitar solo, before the set ended with “Ayahuasca”. Tribal at its core, it featured more strong bass playing from the lady, who figuratively could lay claim to wearing the trousers here, and more superlative guitar work. Song introductions aside, there was not a single weak link in this band. Adimiron’s performance was refreshing.

Ramage Inc performed at ProgPower Europe in 2013. I wasn’t surprised to see them back. Such was their popularity. Straightaway Mr Ramage and co launched into the breezy melodic heavy rock n roll style that I remembered. The songs are slick and there’s no messing about. Bryan Ramage has a clear and powerful voice. There’s a purity about this band’s brand of metal. The sound mix was good, allowing his voice to reverberate through the room. Bryan announced “Rain” – “all the way from Scotland”.  Good humour prevailed between these substantial songs. The heavy melodies were part of djenty style songs which twisted and turned in a most pleasingly prog way. Ramage Inc songs have a definite trademark sound about them. There was a brief change of tack with an emotive solo at one point. I found this a bit wishy-washy but we were soon back to the rampant, epic, marching, chunky and thunderous Ramage Inc that we know and love. This was another great performance from Bryan and his mates.

Major Parkinson was a band I looked forward to experiencing. I very much enjoyed their 2017 album “Blackbox”, which had the uniqueness and a weirdness factor, which some Norwegian bands are so adept at creating and reproducing live. I wasn’t alone in having a sense of anticipation. I wasn’t disappointed. Seven people played their part in what ended up as a colourful and entertaining party. The classical tone of the violin, played by a petite lady in a white and red robe, set the scene and gave way to a cavalcade of sound. A very tall Norwegian of John Cleese proportions took to the stage wearing a suit and tie.

This gentleman, who was the narrator-singer, such is the style, waved his arms frantically. The tales that he told were clearly bizarre, but they shadowed into insignificance as the music worked through metal, folk dance, playground, disco, rave and often everything at the same time as the man with the flailing arms and the violinist – an odd couple, given their disparate sizes – jitterbugged around the stage. I can’t imagine what Craig Revel-Horwood on Strictly Come Dancing would make of all this. Maybe the Odd Couple have started off a new dance craze – Major Parkinson’s Shapes, perhaps. And the crowd joined in the party by crazy dancing too. It was frantic and infectious. It was also sheer lunacy and riotous but totally brilliant as entertainment. In terms of fun, this reminded me of seeing Diablo Swing Orchestra. It’s theatre, it’s vaudeville, breathless and living in the here and now but musically it’s also very sophisticated. As the Swedish spectator next to me analytically commented afterwards: “when they get in the zone, they can do anything”.

Evergrey seem to have been around for hundreds of years. I think I’m right in saying that they have released ten albums. Strangely I’ve never got close to any of them but I do have “Hymns for the Broken” and I was rather hoping to hear my favourite from that one. The progressive metal stalwarts set about their work. It wasn’t as cheesy as I expected. In fact the music was crunchy in that Loch Vostok / Masterplan type of way, although in fairness Evergrey must have doing their thing longer than both. This was solid stuff but herein lay the problem. After about three songs of almost identical structure, I wondered if I was going to hear anything different. An explosion happened here and there and I did appreciate the lack of gimmicks but the pattern was the same: big sound, big chorus line and the odd guitar solo. Mr Englund and co did it well. His vocals are strong and the instrumentalists are clinically good. I recognised the songs but apart from “My Allied Ocean” whose chorus struck me as particularly banal, I found most of it indistinguishable. “Broken Wings”, the epitome of power metal, stood slightly above the pack. As a presenter, Mr Englund was shocking. He just rambled on and might as well have been talking to himself. The nadir came with the clumsy introduction to”Missing You”, which was beset by a problem with the keyboards. At least Mr Englund sang it well. Then came the song I had been hoping and waiting for: “The Grand Collapse”. I don’t know how you can suck the drama out of this one, but they almost managed to do it. The heavier sections were well orchestrated but like the performance as a whole the delivery of the song was flat and uninspiring. The band went off and came back to finish things off. Again Evergrey continued to go through the motions and lose sight of these potentially anthemic songs. The flow was disrupted with a long guitar solo, a strange thing to insert at this late juncture, before Evergrey lifted themselves finally and finished with a flourish. Maybe it was because everyone was hot and tired, including the band, but this was all very lacklustre and there really wasn’t anything to write home about here.

Review: Andrew Doherty

Photos: Håkan Lundbom & Alex Blokdijk 

Part 3