Sunday 6th October
With torrential rain outside, the best place to be was the JC Sjiwa club where Lost in Thought opened up proceedings on the Sunday. The crowd clapped from the outset. The band chose to play their latest album from beginning to end, a good idea as I’d be surprised if many of us knew about this band from Wales. What I heard was generic prog metal, according to their cd for fans of Seventh Wonder, which I’m not. The songs were ok, and included one well delivered ballad, a couple of guitar solos, some nice keyboard work, momentary darkness and not much else. The singer held it together with his friendly personality, raising the energy bar in contrast to the gloomy bassist next to him. Someone needs to tell the singer not to announce songs with his back to the audience. Overall though he lifted spirits in the face of what I thought were unexceptional songs. It’s worth noting also that the crowd reaction was very positive, so I may well be in the minority with my view of Lost in Thought.
I very much enjoyed what I heard by Prehistoric Animals before coming, so I was looking forward to their show. Sure enough, the Swedes were straight out of the blocks with a fast and catchy melodic metal number. The keyboards rang out, the riff was rock solid and the singer, who resembled a cross between a young Gyles Brandreth and Frank Skinner, looked a bit insane, had a cheeky grin and more importantly, a clear resounding voice, a bit like the vocalist of Anubis Gate. The freshness of “Burn the Ground” was like a crystal blue sea. For added interest, behind the drummer was a video with a mock newsreel conveying such breaking news as “We have the winner of the spelling competition”, “Ban Jazz!!” and “Violence is good for you”.
”Run Stranger Run” was just as invigorating. After this the style changed. The heavy melodic songs with their catchy chorus remained, but in spite of the synthesiser touches there was a different vibe. “Welcome to My Shrinking Universe” had some lovely poetic and seemingly deep lyrics but I felt myself getting lost in the depth of song structures. It was a pity as there was an interesting off the wall element to Prehistoric Animals. This reminded me of the old days where a band would release a great single but nothing else that they did had the same character or qualities. Such material would be confined to B sides or take their place on anonymous albums. So after a strong start it went flat. There was good energy and power but in my eyes and ears momentum was lost on account of the attractiveness of the songs themselves. Prehistoric Animals did redeem themselves at the end with “Never Thought I Was a Monster”. There was something futuristic about this song which hinged on the message “we share love in everything”, but above all it was catchy. This was a likeable band, but I found something lacking in their communication of ideas at certain times, while at others they proved how good they are at writing infectious songs.
The next band was Rendezvous Point from Norway. I’d never heard anything by them before. Mist enveloped the stage, while a hooded man appeared to prophesy doom. The keys struck ominous sounds. The dark sophisticated ambience combined with an air of mystery. I was coming to realise there was something magic going on here. I loved the intergalactic keyboard insertions, reminding us that we were in another world. The build-up and structure of the songs were impressive. “The Takedown” was akin to an artistic experience, as the lead singer acted out the story and used his versatile vocal range to enhance it and draw emotional power. He was also the politest presenter I’ve ever witnessed. The backdrop could be threatening. Rendezvous Point were outstanding a capturing dark moods and doom-like atmospheres without weighing us down unduly. Emotion mixed with heavy passages. There were lingering moments, allowing time to imbibe and reflect. This was big without being overwhelming. These structures were always interesting and varied. While moody and intense, from time to time I tingled inside.
Rendezvous Point did heavy as well, as they proved when playing “Wasteland”. But the default was entering ethereal territory or combining the two. And the style bordered on extreme metal on occasions. I sensed no boundaries. Our courteous presenter introduced “Universal Chaos”. Initially it was more hard hitting than out there or up there, wherever “there” is. This was a world of meteor storms, certainly not a peaceful place. Always there was a technical vibe as Rendezvous Point presented a variety of soundscapes. An instrumental followed, which one of the band members later told me was “Apollo”. I haven’t much hair but what there is stood on end as I heard this. The bass player and guitarist stood in military passiveness as the keyboard player, drummer and vocalist built up irresistible tension. After the sheer power of “Universal Chaos” came the final song “Mirrors”. Reflecting the occasion and loosely their generic style, here was a piece of heavy prog metal but with all the sweet touches. The singer launched himself carefully into the crowd. This was a prelude to a frenetic ending. Rendezvous Point uplifted me, not that I was in any way sad to start with. Their show was a special experience and allowed me my discovery of the weekend. I bought their latest album “Universal Chaos” as a result and very much look forward to listening to it.
I had no idea what to expect from Kong. They haven’t done anything to my knowledge in a while. A couple of days before in a conversation, Tom de Wit had surmised that we might get something between Zappa and experimental extreme death metal hardcore. Actually it was a story of sorts. The set started with a calm ambience and a video of whales. The sound sharpened. The waters were now choppy and dangerous, as if a flock of birds were in flight. All the while, it was dark. The instrumentals had total authority. Forked lightening appeared on the screen. The music represented a driving force through its dark, heavy sounds. Subtly Kong infused an ever more disturbing aura into their instrumental heavy output. The background video gave us stories to reflect upon. The world was becoming a darker place. Asian sweat factories now juxtaposed modern city life and packed commuter trains. The soundtrack that Kong provided was awesome. No words were needed or spoken. I sensed that like Psychotic Waltz before them, this wasn’t a band who wanted selfies at the end. The dark, heavy music continued with the accompanying video to guide our imagination. Ants crawled in their thousands. The sound became more terrifying without losing its heartbeat.
Sampled shouting could be heard. Now we saw animals fighting. The sound became more abstract. It was always like a film score. The air became more grungy, and then weightier, reflecting the force of the lava flows on the screen. Then soundwaves signalled danger. Angry waves lurked. Kong captured the journey. The intensity increased. What looked and sounded like chaos was a steel factory press. Fires burned in the furnaces. The music was violent and industrial. Thousands of sheep were herded across a field. There are screams. Kong pumped out heavy and fluid noise but not without respite. The juggernaut continues. The wall of sound is immense. Back to the city. The view from a tower block on to a New York street at night. It looks and sounds as if something’s wrong. Sirens sound. Is there an emergency? Red vehicles tell us there is. The soundtrack confirms it. Finally, shooting stars and intergalactic warfare. The planet is burning. Fires burn, on the screen and musically. This is a planet, not a factory. There is chaos. This is as extreme as it has been – this is the music of global emergency. So, what to make of it all? Here were vivid representations through music of the normal and abnormal world, heightening in intensity towards ultimate destruction. I’m glad it wasn’t a weekend of this to be honest, but for an hour or so I appreciated seeing and hearing these technicians at work as they imperiously presented their cinematic and musical soundscapes.
I heard energetic power prog metal. The big sound reminded me of a number of US bands. Teramaze are in fact from Australia. The lead man introduced “Monsters”, or “M.O.N.S.T.E.R.S” as they have it. I was aurally blinded by all the guitar action. Then came “Are We Soldiers”. The singer has a vulnerable voice, a little along the lines of George Michael, when he’s singing normally. This helps with the impact. As the title might suggest, this song has a powerful marching element to it. I can’t say that I was finding a lot of originality in what I had heard to now from this band, but “Are We Soldiers” gave me hope. It was unfounded. The songs are similarly structured and the sound level was the same. There was more glitter than gold. Actually there was no gold. The band was more animated than the crowd, which is never a good thing. The songs were like a vigorous wind which stopped and then started. I was starting to miss the join, as it all washed over me like a tidal wave. The guitarists seemed to have a self-imposed space restriction and stayed in their limited zone. Teramaze looked like they were following the big band section of the power prog manual. The manual would say you have to have a ballad, so there was one.
The dreary epic came at the end. The drums pounded, the instrumental sound was the same and the singer screamed and wailed – what’s to like? Returning to the manual, the band took time to introduce and compliment themselves. Then deviating from the norm and in common with fellow Aussies Voyager, the lead singer made a reference to taxes during one of his intros. Why? Do they have issues with taxation in Australia? I could understand it if Diablo Swing Orchestra or Prehistoric Animals had done this, as taxes are notoriously high in Sweden. The final straw, which I thought I had already reached, was when the lead singer encouraged everyone to raise their lighters, or presumably in these days of health and safety, their mobile phones in the air and wave them. Now I was convinced they were taking the power prog manual and following it from cover to cover. The singer promised ominously that Teramaze was going to play a long song, but by now I’d lost all sense of length and time. Eventually the final non-drama began. At no stage was the tempo raised. This wasn’t the game plan. Teramazing? No. Maybe this was a post-Kong reaction but this set bored me witless. Frankly I’d have been better off spending my time filling in a tax return.
If ever a band earned the right to headline ProgPower Europe, it’s Persefone. I first saw them play live at a pre-party in the little basement of this venue a few years back, when they took the place over with their whirlwind brand of metal complexity. Since then, they’ve put the hard yards in, releasing albums and touring extensively. It was great to see them here again and they are to boot a great bunch of guys. Not impressed that they were charging 5 Euro for a patch – that seemed excessive. Surely they could given them out with each album sold or something, but that’s their commercial prerogative and maybe a sign of their perceived status. My real concern was whether I could survive an hour and a half of eagerly anticipated Persefone – my turn to put in the hard yards. Violent mists rose. Keyboardist and spiritual guide Miguel expressed his “tears of joy”. This was “Aathma pt1: Universal Oneness”. There was a mystical air as Persefone built up a massive wall of sound. Singer Marc came on and added his lion-like roars to the ongoing turbulence. His eyes were those of a crazed madman. No wonder he railed about losing his mind. There was an earthquake going on here. Twists and turns came forth from Carlos’s guitar. Six musicians created a monstrous world. It was all here. It was complex but Persefone guided us along. But we needed to be strong. “Great Reality” from my favourite Persefone album “Spiritual Migration” followed. Of course it was big. Marc jumped like an animal of prey onto the speaker equipment, growled and ran across the stage. Miguel was and is the voice of reason with his wise words. But there was no quiet space here. After the fury came momentary calm. Luxurious virtuosity came from Carlos but still it was like a war zone. But waves intervened, fanning the flames, and we were treated to a mellow and lush passage. Calm before the storm? For now here were the sounds of the ocean. For the spectator, it’s like mind gymnastics. After the instrumental interlude came “Living Waves”, one of Persefone’s most spiritually driven pieces. It’s an ode to spirituality and provided artistic variety. It ended thunderously. Persefone manage simultaneous intensity, subtlety and sophistication. “In Lak’Ech” featured more mind-boggling technicality. A guitar solo emerged from the violent fury. This metal opus hinged on a rich cavalcade of sounds. A stormy and turbulent piece from “Shin-ken” was next. Marc paced up and down like an angry man amid all the turbulence. Marc must be the fittest and most energetic singer in the world. Maybe they keep him in a box and release him at show time. Meanwhile our sage Miguel provided the wise words. The glue is the instrumentals. Although it was not all out assault, as the clouds open momentarily for spiritual reflection, the heart lies in the turmoil.
There were rich guitar solos and floods of headbanging. I perhaps appreciated more than I have done previously how Persefone juxtapose darkness and enlightenment, the storm and the calm, violence and subtlety. Each passage had power and purpose. Carlos supplied the rhythm of “Stillness is Timeless” but before long Marc had instigated the moshing and an audience version of the tornado which was upon us. And lurking behind it is sensitivity and even classical structures. Marc’s lung-bursting growls meanwhile counteracted the massive maelstrom of sound. At this point as we headed towards “Mind as Universe” and the second and third part of the “Aathma” trilogy, I stood back and absorbed the storm as it grew more and more intense. To my amazement a lady close to me in the crowd was mouthing the words. Being generally lyric-blind, I felt like the MP John Redwood that time when everyone was singing the Welsh National Anthem and he didn’t know the words. But it didn’t matter. We were all part of this magnificent world. Wave upon wave of furious technical prog death metal was heaped upon us. Skill abounded at all levels. A public library this was not. This was a riot of explosive and majestic metal, in which we celebrated the expanse and dangers of the universe in its totality. And a celebration it was. I should be used to this by now, having seen Persefone several times. But it is no less of an impressive spectacle, but this time thanks to the presentation I felt I was distinguishing more lucidly between the all-out assault and the spiritual side. Musically, Tom de Wit summed it up for me afterwards by commenting that in all this aggression, there’s more melody than is first apparent. It’s so true. It’s Yin and Yang. With Persefone it’s psychological, spiritual and physical. Above all it’s a celebration. What a way to end yet another great weekend at ProgPower Europe.
I congratulate the organisers of ProgPower Europe every year, but they deserve it. It’s more than just getting a great bunch of bands, which involves a lot of work. Once again the organisation was exemplary. This year they added extra little touches such as providing lockers for festival goes to use and store their cds, and an early check-in to avoid queues. And everyone was very happy, and like me, already looking forward to the next edition.
Review Andrew Doherty
Photos Alex Blokdijk & Hakan Lundbom