ProgPower Europe 2019: Sjiwa, Baarlo, Netherlands, 4 - 6 October 2019
Saturday 5 October 2019: Kingcrow, Psychotic Waltz
Sunday 6 October 2019: Lost In Thought, PreHistoric Animals, Rendezvous Point, Kong, Teramaze, Persefone
Now in its 21st year, the ProgPower Europe festival has long-established itself as one of Europe's most successful small festivals. Its reputation is unrivalled on two fronts. First, for offering ambitious line-ups that feature both established and new names from all corners of the progressive metal genre. Second, for its famously mega-friendly ambience, that every October creates a musical pilgrimage to the Dutch town of Baarlo for hundreds of music fans.
DPRP has supported this festival since we covered the very first edition back in 1999. For the 2019 edition, the line-up featured 15 very different bands from as far away as Mexico, Australia, and Wales!
Jan Buddenberg gives his take on all six of Sunday's performances, whilst Andy Read reflects on two very different outcomes from Saturday's sold-out schedule. Pictures by Jan Buddenberg.
Saturday 5 October
I have attended by far the majority of the 21 ProgPower Europes. When the time comes to make my final pilgrimage to Baarlo, my lasting thank you to the organisers will be that they have given me the opportunity to see many of my favourite bands perform live.
I live where few bands ever tred, and so am quite happy to once a year travel across Europe to see some of my all-time favourites play live and, more often than not, to share a few moments with the band afterwards. Add into that all of the other fans who make similar journeys and who I now count as good friends, then PPE has been the gift that keeps on giving. These are life-time memories that I shall treasure until my final breath.
None of these memories shall be stronger than finally having the chance to watch, to listen to, and to share a few moments with the guys that make up Kingcrow. I have shouted to anyone who could listen, how great this Italian band is, ever since being given a copy of their 2006 album Timetropia to review. You can catch-up via my review of their most recent album, The Persistence here.
I have corresponded with songwriter and guitarist Diego Cafolla for many years but never had the opportunity to get together and see the band play live. Step in once again ProgPower Europe.
Was it worth the wait? You bet. The hall was packed, and I think for many fans, Kingcrow were the day's secret headliner. Noticeably it stayed packed for the whole show, with the crowd's response getting louder song by song.
Some shows that I have been eagerly-awaiting at this venue, have been spoilt by a poor sound; usually just being too loud. Reports suggested that Kingcrow had the best sound of the weekend. Stood beside the mixing desk, I could hear every instrument clearly, especially the nuances of ever impressive singer Diego Marchesi. Yet the performance still carried a sonic punch.
The set was beautifully paced. Kingcrow are no prog-metal battering ram. Influences from progressive rock, ambient music, alternative rock and metal are all present in the music of Kingcrow. They know how to construct a song with varying dynamics, thus keeping their albums and live shows interesting and engaging. Highlights? Hard to choose, but the crowd favourite The Moth just edged it.
Speaking to people after the show the common comment was how much the band has improved as a live outfit since their previous appearance here in 2011. That's because they do two things really well. Firstly, their songs are packed with emotion; telling stories both musically and lyrically that one can really connect with.
Secondly, their enthusiasm and joy at being able to perform their music to an appreciative crowd is contagious. The more the crowd responds, the happier Kingcrow become and the more the crowd responds... It's not brain science, but it's amazing how few bands do it. There was a real connection between Kingcrow and the audience that just left me feeling happy.
And then to top it all, after the show the whole band came outside and allowed me to cook them a Food Truck dinner!
Memories. Their creation is what life is for. Grazie di tutto.
Whatever you think of the music from the four albums that they created during the 1990s (and for sure it is not for all tastes), there can be few fans of progressive music who can fail to credit the massive influence that these Americans have had on the evolution of the genre. Thanks to acquiring the twin box-set re-issues quite some years back (review here), I like to dip into their back catalogue now and then. On the back of some positive reviews of their post-reformation live shows, I felt lucky to have the chance to finally experience Psychotic Waltz in a live setting.
I wish I had not.
Occasionally you see a singer on stage who is having a bad night. Possibly due to illness or fatigue. Often you see a singer on stage who hits a fair share of bum notes. There are singers where I just do not enjoy the sound of their voice or their melodic selections. Most of the time you can put these issues to one side, and still enjoy the show.
In Baarlo, Devon Graves (A.K.A. Buddy Lackey) was not merely hitting some bum notes or singing out of key. His vocals were so unrecognisably bad that I could only stay for half a track, and most of that was instrumental. I gave it a second go halfway through, but the only change was the quickly thinning crowd.
The rest of the tour was cancelled following this show. Whatever the problem(s) is (are), I hope they can be sorted out. If not, then this could well have been their final show.
Sunday 6 October
While I did witness the very first ProgPower Europe Festival in Tilburg in 1999 I feel sadly obliged to say I never took the opportunity to go the distance. Ever since I saw the "goodbye" tour of Magnum in 1994 on a grim winter's night, Baarlo seemed like a rather lengthy travel, especially by public transport.
Circumstances have changed for the better, with a driver's license at hand, nowadays Baarlo feels just around the corner, and a welcome drive up to the venue was quickly done, aided by the stereo blasting some Darkwater alongside. Having just parked the car, several T-shirts convinced me I was at the right place, but I had to warm up first with a decent cup of coffee at the local pub.
And although the drive wasn't that far, I was already transported into a different cultural state within the Netherlands. The people were extremely relaxed with a Burgundy lifestyle, for while I was sipping my cup, special beers were already crossing my table. It still had to become midday, but the atmosphere was already one of homeliness. This became even more obvious when I entered the venue, where the staff were as friendly and easy-going as possible.
Gathering some tokens for the day at affordable prices, I hung my coat and had a quick look around the venue, which after all these years seemed smaller than I remembered it to be. The CD market, downstairs in the basement, wasn't open yet which meant I had some time to spare which was the perfect opportunity to meet fellow DPRP-er Andy Read working his way through the weekend with Debbie on their Pois Chic Food Truck. It didn't take long though, for the first band to come up. Probably a good time to mention that by I didn't know any of the bands performing that day. Or so I thought.
Lost In Thought
For whilst drinking my Oud Bruin (low alcohol brown beer), taking me back to my childhood days when I was 11 (sorry, mum), I suddenly realised that this was the band that released Opus Arise several years ago and I hadn't heard from them since. Moving a bit closer, for I actually like that record, they started with the promotion of their new CD Renascence. It proved to be the keyboard player's first gig with them, but in all honesty this didn't show one bit. His piano play was top notch, while the intertwining technical wizardry and dedicated performance looked as if he had been never away. Deane Lazenby's vocals where strong and pure and perfectly audible from the position where I was standing, which goes equally for the overall sound.
They performed Renascence from start to finish, which went down very well with the audience. The catchy melodies and superb melodic guitars by David Grey, backed up by a tight rhythm section flew by, showing elements of Seventh Wonder and Kamelot excelling in the bombastic Legacy, which incorporated a formidable bridge where keys and guitars rolled over each other in perfect harmony. With influences of Dream Theater and a guitar sound of Stephan Lill (Vanden Plas) this proved to be a strong set, delivered with a lot of energy and interaction, pushing the bar high for the bands that followed.
With rain falling down heavily outside, things we're slowly heating up inside with Prehistoric Animals immediately taking control with their opening song. Straight out of Sweden, they performed a solid set of song-structured rock, incorporating many influences and melodies whilst displaying an uncanny tightness of play. This became obvious in the opening song where they played alongside a video, with the vocals perfectly in sync. Their set entertained the willing audience, creating a groovy dance atmosphere (Muse) or supplying raw rocking energy. The occasional dual vocals with the second guitarist brought variety and depth.
With some pristine organ parts, solid riffs and the bluesy Pink Floyd-styled Welcome To My Shrinking Universe they won over the crowd, while with the last song Never Thought I Was A Monster they opened all registers one more time, ending the set with a bombastic, atmospheric, complex Porcupine Tree beast of a song. The only downside was the muddy sound at the back of the venue, but overall a good performance.
Because of this muddy sound I quickly turned towards my old spot, and after the performance of Rendezvous Point I was all the more thankful for my decision, for they proved to be the surprise and highlight of the day. Had the previous performances been super tight, Rendezvous Point upped the ante, presenting a brilliant and awesome performance. With a recent tour just finished, having teamed up with Vola and Arch Echo, their incredible tightness was beyond belief, and a sheer delight to witness. Especially in light of their instrumental control and sublime, complex music, which involves many breaks, counter rhythms and sudden, unsuspected changes in intensity, adding many layers of depth.
Geirmund Hansen's vocals were fantastically pure and absorbing, while his stage presence made him the main focus of attention for most people.
With opener Digital Waste hardly over, Pressure applied its name properly with Ice-queen bassist Gunn-Hilde Erstad, making you wish you were 20 years younger, laying down gorgeous slapping and plucking strides, founding the melodies on mood and feel instead of technical abilities, albeit during the gig she assuringly applied those as well. Excellent guitars by Petter Hallaråker seamlessly flowed graciously alongside, emphasising emotion rather than shredding; although an adventurous solo was to be found in the set later on. Keyboards by Nicolay Tangen Svennæs played an equally important role, broadening the band's sound, while on the intricate ambient passages the emotional intensity penetrated just as forcefully.
With Baard Kolstad (Leprous) constantly delivering diversified, virtuous, pounding drums the energy level of their performance felt like going through the roof. It brought an intense atmosphere, which they successfully kept throughout their set, enhanced by a visually attractive light show. To me it effectively ignited cherished memories of 20 years ago when I witnessed Pain Of Salvation successfully do the same in Uden. With a proverbial standing ovation it was all over too soon, with the audience wanting more. Needless to say my Christmas presents were quickly secured at the merchandise stand in the shape of their two albums, although it remains to be seen whether they will still be sealed by the time Santa arrives.
After some proper grub in form of the tasty and fierce "Teramaze-ing Curry" at Pois Chic, it was down to Kong to once again warm up the crowd (it was still cold and pouring with rain outside). They have been around since the early nineties and are most famous for playing in all four corners of the venue to replicate a quadrophonic sound, which was not the case today. Never having seen them, I chose the balcony to get a different perspective, which in the end proved to be a wrong decision, for the sound reverberated and proved to be too loud and sharp. The complex compositions, constructing immense soundscapes through an overwhelming array of riffs, shreds and industrial eclectic progressive metal didn't make it easy either.
On the first track, a laid back jazzy composition unfolded, slowly building to a majestic wall of sound, in alignment with the backdrop movie, followed by a pompous heavy rocker showing some Porcupine Tree influences with a raw edge attached to it. Switching to a sequencer (possibly) supplying the synth, the tight drums and forceful bass now provided a solid foundation on which both guitarists emphasised in building heavy-fuelled rock, coming straight out of the school of Rush. This on the whole proved to be a strong asset, although it took the audience some time to warm to it. Not being able to speak through a microphone, resulted in a crowd interaction next to none as well. Therefore a spark never really emerged. Despite their professionalism, out of the six bands featured today, i think Kong had the lowest, still reasonable, attendance.
Quite the opposite in Teramaze's case, for this was the band most people came for. Being their first ever concert in Europe, the place was packed with devoted fans and it didn't take Teramaze long to convince the crowd. Opening with From Saviour to Assassin they immediately took control, bursting with energy and a crystal clear sound. With no keyboard player present, it meant they played alongside tapes, and they did this most convincingly. Just like all the bands before, they were masters of their instruments, showcasing their individual strengths. Both guitarists excelled, producing some great twin guitar parts along the way, while the intertwining harmony vocals of main vocalist Nathan Peachey with vocalist/guitarist Dean Wells worked like a charm.
After the powerful metal start, spurred on by a solid rhythm section, Teramaze slowly shifted their set towards epic progressive metal filled with solid riffs, thundering rhythms, strong melody lines and prime solos, along the lines of Circus Maximus and Darkwater. The gorgeous breather Broken (first time played live) featured a spine chilling, melancholic guitar solo, while the incredibly catchy Her Halo easily kept the flow going. Ending their set with fan favourite Ordinary Dream, as confirmed by the many nodding reactions around me, they received a totally deserved, heart-warming applause from the audience. A solid performance which makes me wonder why this was the first time they were in Europe, for they went down like a storm.
As it turns out, Teramaze was only a little breeze compared to the day's headliners. Aware of their progressive trash/death metal mixing clean vocals with harsh growls, I picked a place at the back, which wasn't hard to do, for each and everyone went to the front in high anticipation. And they weren't disappointed to say the least. On the contrary, for what unfolded was a mind-boggling unlimited array of technical, complicated, fast paced melodic trashy progressive metal.
The live setting added an extra level of energy, which became very apparent once the initial builder, Aathma: Part I. Universal Oneness, spiralled into a full-on wall in No Faced Mindless. With the audience (and me) completely in awe of the impeccable individual control of their instruments, reminding me somewhat of Special Providence, a concrete foundation was then laid on which they built the gig.
The vocalist supplying the harsh vocals instantly claimed control, giving off further eruptions of energy. His microphone during announcements sounded rather strangely reverberated and sometimes was completely inaudible. The public couldn't care less, for the onslaught and near impossible, seemingly chaotic but controlled melodic compositions left the audience gasping for more. Because of the annoyingly far to bright flashes of stage lights and having exceeded my "harsh growl limit", I decided to let Persefone keep on testing Baarlo's Scale of Richter by themselves and call it a day. Saying short goodbyes I then travelled back home on the soothing ambient sounds of Queensryche, or at least that's how it felt like after witnessing Persefone's overwhelming Tour de Force.
Once I got home, I wondered why it had taken 20 years for me to relive the ProgPower Europe experience; for the relaxed atmosphere and casual nature of the event was admirable. Although not all music was to my liking, there are plenty of distractions like the basement pub, or the catering supplied outside to have a conversation or distraction. Add to this the delightful opportunity to meet and greet the artists afterwards, combined with the friendliness of the staff and I can honestly say this was a great day. Or as Pois Chic would say: "That's a Wrap!"