Saturday 5th October
Saturday came, and the first band on was Scarlet Stories from the host country. Experiencing these prog bands from the Netherlands, of whom there are many and really good ones at that, is for me one of the annual highlights at ProgPower. Haunting words and a haunting voice came from the lady with the military gothic look. Soothing melancholy was about right for a band starting at 1.30pm, I thought, and then it exploded. There was a bit of rock n roll but this was mainly about atmospheric, misty gloom as far as I could make out. Book Scarlet Stories for your Halloween treat seemed to be the message. There was a gothic aura about them, or there might have been except that the guitarist to the lady’s right looked like he’d entered the stage by accident and wasn’t sure what he was doing there. In amongst the sadness and developing atmosphere the lady seemed to be having a one person “hold the note” competition. These hymns were broken up by occasional outbursts. The lady’s voice in these moments became screechy. All in all, this wavered between misty and haunting moods and a somewhat nondescript prog rock n roll ambience, accentuated by the lady’s vocal range. The scarlet stories won’t be my bedtime reading, I’m afraid.
Coming from further afield were Anima Tempo. Of all the bands here, this is the one who I felt won our hearts and minds before the event, expressing their excitement about being here and posting some videos for us to enjoy and get a flavour of this band out of Mexico. Here now in person was a happy bunch of guys, whose personality blended into their music. The lead man promised us a spicy set, and he wasn’t wrong. Here was whirlwind full-on prog metal. Heavy, vibrant prog djent invaded the room. The complex patterns were consummately delivered. The vocals switched between clean and harsh. There was a strong use of backing samples, which were integral to the vibe. The wall of sound was incessant and ever technical. The thunder reminded me of the first time I saw Persefone. I was being blown away by this technical explosion. Intensity was max rated. The band did show they are capable of quieter ballads but even that was backed by a wall of heavy sound. Anima Tempo then charged up ProgPower with an electrifying instrumental. The final song started with an unnecessarily long drawn out intro but this too developed into another set of powerful and impressive patterns. The performance wasn’t really epic as the style suggested it might be but was more noteworthy for its intensity and top quality technical skill. And the band members had such grace and personality. From the land of Mexico, Anima Tempo brought us riches.
In the notes that I prepared beforehand, I simply wrote “Northants” against Voices from the Fuselage. This doesn’t tell us a lot. It’s probably more relevant to know that the lead singer was once with TesseracT. What I saw was said man in a camouflage jacket and his instrumentalists who pumped out prog while the camouflaged man sung his heart out, and to be fair, did it very well. The guitarist and bass player, both with beards, didn’t move very much, so let’s forget about them. In fact no-one moved very much really. This was music to be absorbed rather than seen so I sat down and did that. I concluded on the spot that it was better listened to and not analysed. This however seemed to defeat the object as they clearly meant something to the singer. We were told that one song wasn’t “very me-al”. Evidently they don’t pronounce consonants in Northants. Not a crime, but all the presentations were just rambling and awful. The band had no stage presence. The applause from the dwindling crowd was muted. This was a pity because this was a collection of songs with good structure and well sung. I felt that Voices from the Fuselage were a band I could like but the camouflaged man and his mates didn’t invite me in.
One of the many nice elements about ProgPower is that between sets, we all get to stand outside and have conversations. Maybe one day, social media will lose its influence, and people will start having conversations. That would be nice.
I had high expectations of Kingcrow. I love all their albums, and gave “The Persistence” 10 out of 10. No pressure, then. The songs are so strong that it’s impossible not to recreate their personality, surely? Well yes, Kingcrow took us on an emotional journey. Heavy passages mixed with superb technicianship, sensitivity and above all flow. The band choreography was good, and they didn’t forget to engage with the audience. And here’s the thing. I reflected while listening that in their songs Kingcrow speak to us. They are very personal, like someone narrating a story and doing it in such a way lingering way that they allow us space to breathe. The song and album title track “The Persistence” was like leaves falling out of the sky on an autumn day. It was all one fluid construction. It cut through me like a knife. The instrumentals were in keeping with the emotional level. They did it again with the heart-rending “Father”. “Closer” was equally personal, with oceans of power behind the emotion, and featuring an epic, trademark Opeth-like passage. Kingcrow deviated into acoustic, then tribal and funky territory, demonstrating a different side but not really adding anything, before the quieter “Night Descending”. This is where a ballad becomes epic. Whatever they play, it’s done with sensitivity. The set ended with the staples: “The Moth”, the pulsating, massive and personal “In Crescendo” and finally the dreamy “If Only”. We were flying. It was all set up for one final frenzied attack. The gracious singer expressed his pleasure at seeing people screaming, clapping and horning. Yet in spite of all this emotional I didn’t have so many goosebump moments. I reflected on this, and have come to the conclusion that the overriding heaviness, which Kingcrow put into this live performance, took away the emotional edge. So not a 10 out of 10 this time for me, but not far off.
Four Norwegians in face paint – now there’s a thing. This was Ghost Ship Octavius. They came in as late replacements for Redemption and to their immense credit, this was their second gig of the day, so first prize for productivity. Unfortunately I’m not going to say wonderful things about their music. The seemed really great guys and their prog metal is technically as competent as you could want and it was tight, but I just got no spark from it. The lead guy ironically summed it up himself, describing “The Mills of the Gods” as “a nice song”. It was and so were the others. The style was essentially prog metal, but there were twists and it was direct, making me equate them in my mind to a prog version of Aeternus, but I found the songs aimless. I did like the solidity of “In Dreams” with its good punchy riff, but overall no. Another day, another day place maybe but tonight this passed me by like a ghost in the night.
Now this is where visionaries of the past met the present. Before Psychotic Waltz came on, my friend Erik gave a passionate speech on how they had put themselves about in the early 90s and shaped the future of prog metal. I did know about that but was listening to other things at the time, so for me this was always going to be a history lesson from today’s headliners. I was intrigued to find out what this band was going to cough up. Dark measured tones rumbled across the room, accompanied by the whistling of the flute. The singer’s voice had seen better days but that was ok. This was a band who weren’t in a hurry. They just played heavily and progressively. No crap here. What wasn’t ok was the loss of the backing track, causing a ten minute delay. The irony of this modern technology failure wasn’t lost on the old school singer, who adlibbed his way nicely through the glitch like an old pro. The delivery was rough and ready and dirty, and at the risk of sounding like an X Factor judge, real. This crusty old school stuff seemed like a cross between the psychedelic 70s and modern prog. The singer used his hands to express the mood of the song.
There was doom. My mind turned to Black Sabbath, but then the vibe changed and at one point I was half expecting “The Land of the Rising Sun”. The bassist was burning figurative holes in the floor. The groove lines were great. The singer squealed and provided the gestures like a mime artist. This was meaty fare. Not a sign or even possibility of a cucumber being thrown here. “Into the Everflow” was spooky and dark with its pounding beat and luxurious rhythm line. Then came a song from 1985 from their days as Asian. The flute provided the lingering atmosphere as they put out a mournful, bluesy ballad of old. But Psychotic Waltz played it fast and hard too with “… And The Devil Cried”. Psychotic Waltz could be bloody heavy. It was interesting to see the group of young Dutch people around me, who wouldn’t have been born when this stuff was released, hair flailing and enjoying the vibe. The band played a new song “Back to Black”, which was typically tight and had a thumping melody. All these songs had a certain aura, mystique even, about them, whether they were playing fast or slow, rock n roll or in an atmospheric style. They all had energy. After a quick encore, it was over. No band selfies here. No need. “They made this old man very happy”, commented one of my fellow spectators. It was a privilege to watch this band of ancient warriors.
Review Andrew Doherty
Photos Alex Blokdijk & Hakan Lundbom
Part 3 to Follow