Sunday 6th October
The UK dominated the afternoon with three representatives of the not-always-so-united kingdom appearing in the afternoon. The first of them was Temples on Mars from London. Energy was in the air as Temples on Mars started with some faintly eastern-sounding strong rock, with space for vocal emotion. The chorus line was nice and hooky. I’d noticed beforehand that the band had acknowledged Muse and I felt an element of structural similarity here. In one of those bizarre flash past moments the singer’s higher end voice also led me to think of REM’s “Shiny Happy People”. As we moved on, I felt there was an element of the guitarist-vocalist trying out his impressive vocal repertoire at the expense of the instrumentals, which seemed to be sidelined. One dark instrumental passage showed promise but was cut out too quickly. This restriction on the instrumental development was in evidence again on “How Far Will You Go” where the vocals were not as haunting as I suspect was the intention. And then it all changed. Temples on Mars found the balance that had been missing.
“Make No Bones” was forward driving with a punchy beat, and now the singer’s plaintive and vulnerable tones came out. Win-win, and it got better. “Dining With the Devil” hit the perfect combination of haunting vocals and hard-hitting instrumentals. So too the full flavour came out in the commercially emotive “So In Love With Your Own Drug”. It’s a moody song with a very catchy chorus. Temples on Mars seemed most comfortable when moody and vulnerable as on “When Gods Collide” but the band equally exuded rock energy and plenty of twisty technical combinations on “Black Mirror”, the final song. I actually think that Temples on Mars would have served themselves better if they’d stuck closer to the sound structures of their impressive self-titled album and the haunting echoey type of crispness that Ramage Inc had demonstrated so effectively the previous day. Normally interpretations are more interesting but I’m guessing that most spectators didn’t know their material anyway. It was still a good show though, and it was clear to see that there’s plenty in the armoury cupboard here. With the ideas and talent they have, I can see a bright future for Temples on Mars.
Now it was the turn of Dvne from Scotland. Here was a case of proof that musical attraction is indefinable. On paper I should like the music of Dvne. It’s dark, it’s heavy and it’s atmospheric. Mystical signs pointed to mystical worlds. Dvne’s music was deeply heavy from the off, and so it stayed. Stoner metal was the vehicle for these apocalyptic shenanigans. The vocalist screamed a bit but frankly didn’t add anything. The music ploughed on remorselessly, energetically and stormily. But I didn’t like it any more than I like standing in a street in the middle of a violent thunderstorm. The room was dark with darkened images. The music was unremittingly in your face heavy, and the playing quality was certainly ok to match the intensity but it wasn’t infiltrating my mind in any way.
I left the room to regroup, and came back. I saw the classic motion of people throwing themselves around in a violently stoner sort of way. There was plenty of ferocity and there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that of course, but I wasn’t getting it. A fellow spectator did tell me later that they felt the experience of Dvne, and it didn’t sound painful. I didn’t feel anything at all. From my perspective, I think I made the right choice in going outside, having a nice chat with some people and getting a bit of Vitamin D. There wasn’t any of that in Dvne’s world.
Voices came with a good reputation. It was good to see the Londoners out here. I hadn’t realised until someone told me that they partly arose from members of Akercocke. There’s no single category that can be attributed to this band, and they’re all the better for it. I suspect most people don’t agree with that one, as a number had decided to go for an early dinner and many of those who remained couldn’t cope with it, judging by the way the room emptied so quickly. I presume they couldn’t deal with the dirty instrumentals, a man screaming and the heavy sounds of twisted and distorted metal. Welcome to the Baarlo house of pain – no salvation here. It was uncompromising and edgy, but also full of motion and indie-type energy. It was extreme and complex and experimental, but personally I found I could access it. This to be fair was more suited to the grimy streets of London town than the chocolate box environment of Baarlo, and it would be more fearsome still in a small, pitch black bar late at night than in a large space like this.
The suitably downtrodden vocalist matched the tightly played instrumental patterns with his desperate cries, reinforcing this vision of a decaying and chaotic world. It was like being exposed to an extreme, warped experience amid ferocious gunfire. There were elements of black metal hymns and Burzumesque screams. This was as impenetrable as wading through industrial waste. One song was introduced as “a bit weird”, as if any of the rest of it wasn’t. The vocalist screamed like a werewolf. It was obscure, provocative and of course extreme. The styles varied. I heard punk, a lot of hard rock and on the final track “Footsteps”, thrash metal. “Footsteps” had surprising sensitivity but then nothing should have surprised me by this stage. Perhaps the biggest surprise was seeing images of a youthful Bryan Ferry on the screen behind. Now that’s mysterious. I can’t explain that one but then I can’t explain very much of what I witnessed from Voices. What I can say is that it was a very interesting experience.
Australia has contributed several bands to ProgPower Europe over the years. Circles is another one. Their opener “Breaker” is for the prog purist. It has a bit of everything. Circles evidently like their technical djent and play it well but that was as much as I took from this set. It’s true that it didn’t stand still but such was the progression and rapid transformation that I found there was no opportunity to settle into it. The vocalist has a fairly high-pitched wail, thus rendering the lyrics inaudible, and in the absence of introductions there was no attempt at any stage to contextualise the songs in any way. I recognised some of the 2018 album “The Last One” but I didn’t like that for the same reason that I couldn’t find continuity in the songs now. This was accentuated in this live setting, and so it became a blur. It’s a shame because instrumentally Circles proved on all levels they are tight and well co-ordinated, but for me the material just doesn’t hang together. Circles played 13 songs. I was so unconnected to what I heard that I couldn’t identify a single highlight.
Like Ramage Inc, my first encounter with Subsignal was at this festival in 2011. While there I bought their albums “Beautiful and Monstrous” (2009) and “Touchstones” (2011). I found “Beautiful and Monstrous” more subtle and sophisticated, and have played it over and over. I was delighted to see them back here. Subsignal immediately created the silky ambience for which I know them. In fact this set was heavier than I remembered, and there was new material to showcase following an album release this year. The first thing was sorting out the sound, which duly happened. There was calmness in the heavy setting. Arno’s voice was as sweet as ever. From him “Someone must be out there” isn’t just a statement. It’s an expressive heartfelt plea without ever being soapy. This guy could make reading a tax return sound great. On the sartorial front, his was the second flat cap of the weekend (the first being the guitarist of Major Parkinson, for those of an inquisitive disposition). It’s an Arno trademark, along with that clarity of tone and expression. The guitar work meanwhile was accomplished but stood in the way of the desire to sway calmly. To my delight, Arno introduced “The Sea”. The drum set the pace. This was more than just the Arno show, as he himself was very keen to point out. The tall stand-in bassist was quietly mobile and happy.
The ambience was sophisticated as “The Sea” was presented in a strong, powerful and sensitive way. Arno then introduced “Echoes in Eternity” with good humour. Here was a bit of rock and roll. The bassist joined in the fun but I was silently glad to get back to the world of “Beautiful and Monstrous” as “Walking With Ghosts” followed. Arno had free rein and took us into dreamland, ably assisted by the top quality musicians around him. It ended with a chillingly dark and shadowy passage. “Even Though The Stars Don’t Shine” is a bit of a pop song but we did get to experience some impressive drumming. In fact the songs on the new album “La Muerta” seem to be more pop orientated as a whole, judging by this show, and lack the depth of ”The Sea”, “Walking with Ghosts” or “Paradigm”, which Subsignal also played. So the atmosphere changed, and as Subsignal played “La Muerta”, we flipped balloons around the room. The band had moved to the upbeat end of their musical range, reflecting the newer material. Arno in particular engaged with the audience while the guitarist looked grumpy as a balloon threatened to interrupt his artful mastery. Stuff him. The audience was happy. This was a good show but different from the band’s previous ProgPower appearance in approach and content. The heavier twists were great, and it was fun but the highlights for me were the songs from the “Beautiful and Monstrous” album. There was some harrumphing afterwards from some audience members of the younger generation about the use of backing tracks. I’d agree that it defeats the object somewhat of a live concert, but what I prefer to remember are the top quality interpretations of the songs and the fun that poured out of Subsignal’s performance.
I picked up some time ago on the fuss about Caligula’s Horse, well in prog circles anyway. I liked their 2017 album “In Contact” and have it in my collection. It was great therefore that Rene had managed to get the Australians to come over and be the headliners here. I’ve never found there’s anything controversial about Caligula’s Horse, or unusual like say Major Parkinson, but live shows can reveal new dimensions, if done in the right way of course. Sure enough Caligula’s Horse were remarkable. They proved there is no need for overboard showmanship or artificially injected sections to please the crowd. The quality of the material, already good, was enhanced by the live performance and the delivery. The hirsute lead singer made much of being an Aussie and engaged us with his geniality and humour between songs. He probably wouldn’t thank me for saying that he sounded like George Michael on “Dream the Dead”, the opening song, but he does and this is a compliment. His voice is immaculate. Classically powerful and full of emotional depth, the magic started early. As the band built up the heaviness like master craftsmen, the realisation dawned on me that quietness is an art form. Not all live bands seem to see this. Caligula’s Horse then went hard and heavy with a high octane gallop, before Oz introduced us to some of their back catalogue, including the dreamy “Dragonfly”, with chunky prog vibes of course. Every ounce (gram to those of a non imperial persuasion) was eked out of every note.
Sometimes it was Opethian, sometimes explosive but it was always controlled and fluid. Again I realised this was all very natural, whether it’s atmospheric, delicate or conducive to extreme headbanging. Gimmicks were unnecessary and accordingly absent in the music. Caligula’s Horse give the impression of being very comfortable, which helps to make it audience-friendly too. We share your comfort. The songs are free-flowing. The audience purred with pleasure, lapping it all up and interacting enthusiastically. Oz gave us a choice of song, likening this choice to “killing babies”. “The Hands Are The Hardest” or “Turntail”? We chose “Turntail” – “the Australian national anthem it is then”, summarised Oz. More mobility and feeling followed. And then we flew high into the sky. Oh my word. “Songs for No-One” is just awesome. It’s happy, feel good music. And the chorus is wedged in my brain on a constant loop a day later. Up and down it went in finely crafted waves. There was even a lads’ hardcore chorus. Another lesson bands can learn is not trying to be “prog”. The subtle progressions are carefully thought out for sure but Caligula’s Horse made it all seem like a natural process. And we even got a lesson in speaking Strine too as Oz put us through our paces. “The Cannon’s Mouth” was another fine song with its build-up and a huge djenty section. “Who’s up for a harrowing but ultimately cathartic journey” pronounced Oz, as he introduced the 15 minute epic “Graves”. Again we reached to the sky or rather the earth. “Graves” is in part like a hymn, but is typically blanketed in technical twists before finishing furiously. In style, it reminds me in some respects of Haken. To finish, Oz offered a song about hope. The song was “Marigold”. Not a kitchen glove or pack of butter was in sight however as Caligula’s Horse served up another mystical experience, in which Oz’s sensitive vocals shone through. Softness and harshness came together, and once again we had a rousing finish. This show had been spectacular. It was massively entertaining and audience-friendly in every possible way. Caligula’s Horse lived up to their billing and were the perfect choice as the main headliners.
It’s such a good laugh and so friendly. The bands, the organisation, the place and the people were great. A group of spectators had got together beforehand and produced a spoof festival t-shirt with made up made band names. This just sums up the fun of ProgPower Europe.
Review: Andrew Doherty
Photos: Håkan Lundbom & Alex Blokdijk