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Event: ProgPower X
Where: Center Stage, Atlanta, GA
When: Sept. 11 to Sept. 12, 2009
Written By: Raising Iron Who: (in order of appearance)
Friday: Cage
Diablo Swing Orchestra
Royal Hunt
Crimson Glory
Saturday: Circus Maximus
Orphaned Land
Pagan's Mind
Fates Warning

This writer's fourth trip to the annual ProgPower festival in Atlanta was a mixed bag, leaving me both a bit hollow and at the same time a bit fulfilled. Look, regardless of almost any lineup, about half the crowd are annual attendees and it's always a treat to catch up with friends that for the rest of the year are flung across the globe, so that in and of itself is worth the travel, but the real reason is to catch anywhere's of up to 17 or 18 of your favorite bands live depending on how many nights one wishes to attend. This year, yours truly, with my hair flinging wife in tow, opted for the Friday and Saturday night features, neglecting the Wednesday and Thursday warm-up shows (of which Primal Fear was the headliner!).

So this year was ProgPower X (number ten) and Friday began with San Diego's Cage, a speed-demon of power metal might fronted by the inimitable, floor-length leather coated, oil-lunged Sean Peck. "Planet Crusher" (off the band's latest opus, Science of Annihilation) opened the all-too-short 45 minute set; also representing the newest album were "Scarlet Witch", "Black River Falls", and the high-speed insanity of "Speed Kills". The previous album's showings were namesake "Hell Destroyer", and "I Am the King"; 2003's Darker Than Black album saw one song make it to the stage in "Kill The Devil" and nothing was afforded from the first pair of discs. A Savatage cover concluded their set ("Dungeon's Are Calling") and was one of only two cover songs to be performed either evening.

After Cage left the stage in tatters, Mindflow had the unenviable position of direct follow-up, but were an exceedingly nice surprise. Having not been familiarized with any of their material, other than knowing they are a progressive metal export from Brazil, I wasn't sure what to expect, but with a silky smooth vocal delivery via frontman Danilo Herbert, the band played a melodically seductive form of progressive metal that was one of the nicer surprises of the weekend.

Following Mindflow was Sweden's Diablo Swing Orchestra, a mind-boggling contraption of female operatic vocals, electric bass violin, keyboards, and heavy, rhythmic, uncultured guitars, all swirling in a maelstrom of contentious indifference to anything remotely mainstream, let alone genre-bordered. Having only heard of the band's wily ways, I've no idea what the setlist consisted of, but needless to say, opening with an authentic didgeridoo and closing with a twin kazoo harmony whilst in between the red and black garbed sextet jumped and hopped all over the stage and the violinist continually ripped broken strings from his bow, the band were a crowd-winning endeavor. Personally, I could never sit and listen to this bizarre troupe on disc, but it certainly was a joy to watch this circus-freak of an act live!

Sabaton entered the stage next completely decked out in camouflage pants, and they brought their brand of marching warfare straight into the heart of the crowd. Arguably the best show of the weekend, the highly enthusiastic Germans brought their A-game, pulling heavily from 2008's The Art of War. They were a true crowd-pleaser, initiating listeners with Ghost Division, followed later by favorites 40:1 and Cliffs of Gallipoli. Despite the bassist literally falling on his ass at the outset, and charismatic frontman Joakim Broden intermediately joking about his penis poking out of the crotch of his pants which he ripped during the set (probably amidst one of his several attempts to kick the guitarist in the ass!), the guys played through, smiling and enjoying themselves all the way. Show promoter Glen Harveston later remarked at the conclusion of Friday night's festivities that they would be back as a headliner, here's hoping!

Danish legends Royal Hunt unenviably followed, but to their credit, the long-running progsters put on a highly classy show. From founder Andre Andersen manipulating no less than five keyboards to the dulcet tones of the one and only Mark Boals (vocalist from Yngwie Malmsteen's legendary Trilogy album!) now fronting the band, the band gave a heart-warming performance, pulling a couple of tracks from their classic Paradox album in "River of Pain" and "Message to God" along with a pair from their latest Paradox II album released in 2008, those being "The First Rock" and the glorious "Tears of the Sun". A "band bow" concluded their set, leaving the evening with only one act left.

After an exceedingly long teardown/setup break (over an hour!), headliners Crimson Glory finally got underway. Breaking their set up into two separate appearances, things kicked off with the first five tracks off 1999's Astronomica, fronted by Wade Black, the renowned duo of guitarists Ben Jackson and Jon Drenning electrified club Center Stage, closing the curtains momentarily while the band reset to do what they were truly there for, and that was to pay tribute to the recently deceased founder/singer Midnight (John Patrick McDonald, age 47; RIP, July 8th, 2009). Re-entering the stage, the premise of the tribute was to have several guest singers take turns doing the vocals to several of the bands' classics. This was carried out by duets, quickly broken down as follows: From the S/T debut and in order of performance:

"Mayday" – sung by Kelly Sundown (Outworld, Beyond Twilight) & newfound Floridian Todd LaTorre
"Queen of the Masquerade" – same as above, accompanied by a Mardi-Gras masked and sultry dancing Danae Saree (current band backing vocalist & guitarist Jon Drenning's wife)
"Valhalla" – sung by Chris Salinas (Zero Hour, Power of Omens) & Clay Barton (Suspyre)
"Azrael" – sung by Clay Barton (Suspyre) & Andy B. Franck (Brainstorm)
"Dragon Lady" – sung by Andy B. Franck (Brainstorm) & Todd LaTorre.
From the second and cult album Transcendence, in order of performance:
"Where Dragons Rule" – sung by Chris Salinas (Zero Hour, Power of Omens) & Joakim Broden (Sabaton)
"Lady of Winter" – sung by Rob Rock (Impellitteri) & Lance King (Pyramaze, Balance of Power)
"Painted Skies" – sung by Danilo Herbert (Mindflow) & Danae Saree (Crimson Glory)
"Masque of the Red Death" – sung by Urban Breed (Tad Morose, Pyramaze) & Nils K. Rue (Pagan's Mind, Eidolon)
"Red Sharks" – sung by Nils K. Rue (Pagan's Mind, Eidolon) & Sean Peck (Cage)
"In Dark Places" – sung by Lance King (Pyramaze, Balance of Power) & Mark Boals (Royal Hunt, Yngwie J. Malmsteen)
"Lonely" – sung by Michael Eriksen (Circus Maximus) & Mark Boals (Royal Hunt, Yngwie J. Malmsteen)

A short video was then shown featuring old concert footage of the band performing "Lost Reflection" from the eponymous debut with Midnight singing (a slight malfunction occurring at the beginning allowed those of us in attendance only audio, but the video soon appeared), then one final encore occurred, again from Transcendence, "Eternal World", and this was performed by Wade Black and Todd LaTorre. Highlights from this set were the spectacularly moving "Painted Skies", the piercing duet of "Red Sharks" and Michael Eriksen from Circus Maximus absolutely nailing the always tough to perform "Lonely"; guitarist Jon Drenning even mentioning from the stage that though this was always a fan favorite (a video was even made for it back in the day), Midnight himself would rarely attempt it. Some performances were a bit weak, with little rehearsal and lyrics periodically being missed (this idea was more or less thrown together at the last minute with some singers only learning the songs the night of), but overall, it was a fitting and moving tribute to an unsung and unparalleled vocalist of the industry, thank you Midnight, for the always emotive outpouring in your music. In entirety, only 2 songs from each of the bands' first 2 albums weren't performed, so for us old-schoolers, this was quite a gift! The only album that wasn't represented was 1991's semi-weak and contentious Strange and Beautiful. Heading out into the clear and warm Atlanta evening at approximately quarter of three for some rest seemed merely incidental, as Friday night was filled with "newbies" to the fest, but Saturday was to be the true piece de resistance, with the return of classy and classic bands to ProgPower's fold.

Saturday evening kicked off with the return of a crowd favorite from ProgPower VI, Circus Maximus, and the place was packed from top to bottom for the progressive stalwarts. With only two albums under their belts, the Norwegians cut through their hour plus set with the likes of "A Darkened Mind", "Abyss", "Mouth of Madness" and "Ultimate Sacrifice", setting the bar high for the more cerebral side of heavy metal.

Orphaned Land came next, also returning from ProgPower VI, but this time out they just didn't quite feel up to snuff. With no keyboards or female vox, the Israelis experienced some technical tracking difficulties, even starting one song over, and they carried none of their unique middle-eastern instruments with them either. A band consisting of true genius and rare originality, this time things just fell flat, a sore disappointment from the through-the-roof performance of their previous appearance, but the guys still did their best, getting the floor crowd jumping, and playing through the Mabool monoliths "Birth of the Three", "Ocean Land", "Kiss of Babylon", and "Norra El Norra". Overall though, just not as impressive and memorable as their first appearance here on US soil, but with a new album rumored to be out in the not-too-distant future, the guys will hopefully experience a revival.

Pagan's Mind now entered the fray, and with a singer who can do no wrong in the eyes of the prog-faithful, the outfit did truly shine. Once again though, I personally felt a little hollow, without any new material since their last appearance at ProgPower, it was more or less a bit of rehash, although this time nippleless (inside prog joke for those in the know!) God's Equation was heavily represented, including the David Bowie cover of "Halo Spaceboy", of which the bassist commented on the wanking ease of playing the up-and-down-the-neck repetitiveness of the main riff due to personal experience (ha!). Still, they are seasoned vets, and the joy with which they play on stage is unparalleled. Also, it was nice to hear the now classic "Osiris' Eyes" still making it to the stage.

Up next was a personal fave, so, leaving my seat to head down to the front for Brainstorm, I eagerly awaited the Germanic powerhouse to take the stage. The band kicked things off with a new song from their upcoming Memorial Roots album called "Forsake What I Believe", then launched into several crowd favorites including "Worlds Are Coming Through", "Shiva's Tears", and "Hollow Hideaway". Despite the band (bedecked in matching front black button-up shirts with backs displaying personal band position) having an off-night (vocalist Andy B. Franck forgot some lyrics!), the affable boys still put on a good show, their 75% performance beating most bands playing at 100%, though nothing being played from any album before Metus Mortis was a bit of a letdown.

Finally, after twenty-plus years of fandom, I was finally getting my first shot at seeing the famed Fates Warning live. A nice sampling from their Ray Alder catalog ensued, with 3 tracks from the immortal Parallels album represented, those being "Life In Still Water", "The Eleventh Hour", and "Point of View", 3 tracks from A Pleasant Shade of Gray which were "3", "4" and "11", and a pair from Perfect Symmetry in "Nothing Left To Say" sidled with "Through Different Eyes". Although the band ended the evening with a bit of a hap-hazard but nonetheless satisfying attempt at No Exit's huge opus, "The Ivory Gate of Dreams", original guitarist Jim Matheos and long-time companion in six-string dynamics Frank Aresti were as tight as ever, buttressed by now longtime, point-on bassist Joey Vera (original Armored Saint alum!) and drummer Bobby Jarzombek (Halford, Riot). But, for this writer, having been weaned on the John Arch era consisting of Night On Brocken through Awaken the Guardian, it was more than a tough pill to swallow that not a single song was played from this legendary period, and the biggest personal disappointment of the entire weekend. Sure, Ray Alder may not be able to hit those highs (then sing in a lower octave dammit!) and Mr. Matheos may have more than once pronounced his disdain for his playing/writing of the time, the crowd was still filled with similar sentiments as myself; those looking for a bit of a bygone era (original vocalist John Arch has little to do with the band members anymore) to see the light of stage once more, however briefly and inimitably done, but it wasn't to be, and I left the venue that night a bit dejected, ruing time and it's toll on us all, yet ultimately joyous from a weekend filled with highs and lows, already looking forward to next year's lineup (see for full details!).

If you haven't had the opportunity to attend a ProgPower festival yet, make it a point to come down and join the familial atmosphere; bands hang out, sign autographs, there are plenty of vendors selling their rare wares on site, and its an all-around relaxed yet party-filled atmosphere. I certainly hope to see you there next year; I and Mrs. Iron will be there to share a toast with ya!

--Raising Iron

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