ProgPower USA XXII – Day 1 – September 6, 2023 – Center Stage Theater, Atlanta, GAThursday, 21st September 2023
If somehow you are unfamiliar with ProgPower USA, let me give you a quick rundown of this amazing festival. The United States is not really known for our metal festivals, but we do have some that are very special and even have international draw because of their excellent line ups and unique offerings. Maryland Deathfest, 70,000 Tons of Metal, Hell’s Heroes, and ProgPower USA (you might even consider these to be the big 4 of U.S. metal festivals). For fans of progressive and power metal, ProgPower USA is a must. Started in 2001 by Glenn Harveston, the festival takes place in Atlanta, Georgia at Center Stage (aside from the first one which took place in Lansing, Illinois). Harveston has focused on getting rare line-ups and special sets, something that has made this festival stand out all over the world. Now that you have some background, let’s dive into ProgPower USA XXII.
We are a glutton for punishment (and cheap) so we got up at 5 a.m. to start our drive to Atlanta. After hours on the road, we got to our hotel, checked in and headed right back out to start the fun. As usual, the process for picking up our Gold Badges was simple and seamless. I even got a badge with a sticker meaning I got to pick a CD from the box and happily found Avatarium’s latest offering, Death, Where Is Your Sting. Talk about a great way to kick things off!
To open the festival was North Carolina based progressive metal band, The Reticent. Lead vocalist and guitarist Chris Hathcock delivered a powerful and very emotional set. A screen displayed videos and images, including what looked like a documentary about Alzheimer’s disease which is the focus of their 2020 release The Oubliette. Playing alongside these powerful images were 2 tracks from said release as well as a new track titled “Those Who Don’t Wish To Wake (The Concealment),” “The Girl Broken” (On the Eve of a Goodbye) and a cover of Opeth’s “The Drapery Falls”.
Hathcock writes and produces everything for The Reticent and for the last 2 albums has taken inspiration from very hard hitting life events; the suicide of a friend and the suffering of a loved one with Alzheimer’s. The Oubliette goes through the stages of Alzheimer’s, specifically following a man named Henry and his struggles with this heartbreaking disease. Hathcock emotionally informed the audience the set was dedicated to his father and then ended the show playing a cover of “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M. stating it was his father’s favorite song. I don’t imagine there was a dry eye left in the audience by this point. Before the show on the band’s Facebook it was revealed the guitar Hathcock was playing was a guitar that his father never got to see completed and never got to play and reminded everyone not to take a second for granted. Having lost my own father at a young age and losing my grandmother (his mom) to Alzheimer’s, as well as being a suicide survivor myself, this thoroughly hit me on many levels. It’s impossible to put into words the emotions felt by all during this unforgettable performance.
I think everyone needed a pick-me-up after all those heavy emotions, and Elvenking was there to deliver just that! Having released Reader of the Runes – Rapture back in April, it was expected to have a setlist heavily weighted with those tracks, but with their full-length catalog officially going to eleven, it seems they opted to play a more varied set. No complaints from this scribe, as they selected my 3 favorite tracks off the latest and a mix of greats, including the much loved “Pagan Revolution” and “The Divided Heart.”
The crowd seemed to be in agreeance as fists were pumping and bodies jumping. While lead vocalist Damna can really get a crowd’s attention, I did often find my eyes drawn to Lethien and his Flying V-iolin (yes, I know it’s actually a Mark Wood Viper); what can I say, I’m a sucker for a beautiful violin!
The crowd was sufficiently warmed up from the folk/power metal legends and it was time for another legend, though of the progressive metal flavor, Cynic to take the stage. Playing their first full-length – arguably one of the most influential progressive metal albums – Focus in its entirety for the 30th Anniversary celebration (fitting that I’m typing this up on September 13th).
To celebrate this momentous occasion, the first pit of the festival (at least that I witnessed) took place and they really brought an immense energy that could be felt throughout. Partway through the set time was taken to honor Sean Malone and Sean Reinert, both of whom tragically passed in 2020; Paul Masvidal advised the crowd to take some time to contemplate existence and the band left the stage before returning to finish the set. Along with Focus, tracks from their other 3 releases were also played at the end; it is surreal to consider “In a Multiverse Where Atoms Sing” was the only track played that neither Malone or Reinert were involved with.
Swallow the Sun
Click here for more Swallow the Sun photos from ProgPower XXII
Clearly it was going to be an emotional day for me and several of my good friends there as next up was Swallow the Sun. That may sound strange, but a dear friend proposed, with the help of the band, during their pool deck set on 70,000 Tons of Metal in 2014, and sadly he passed away in 2017. Being someone who often attended ProgPower USA, he would have loved this show.
As always, Swallow the Sun was as heavy and they are haunting. They have that kind of atmosphere you can feel in your soul, but they are not without their jokes! A little over halfway through their performance, vocalist Mikko Kotamäki stated “let’s play something happier… ‘Woven Into Sorrow’” and ended with “Swallow (Horror, Part 1)” being introduced with the statement “as this is a prog festival, this song has a bass solo part.” Both of these got a good chuckle from the crowd and after some heart-wrenching moments already that day, this was much needed.
What better way to end the first day than with the magnificent Doro! Despite a long day of traveling, the energy was palpable and kept everyone rocking through the night. While the band Warlock is officially listed as “split-up” this is really more of a legal issue with the naming rights for the band and as such, many Warlock classics are usually played during Doro’s performances. This night being no exception, the crowd was treated to favorites such as “I Rule the Ruins,” “Burning the Witches,” and “Für immer” (this writer’s personal favorite Doro song).
Doro has a massive discography to select songs from, but since a new album is coming out on October 27th, 2023, it was fitting to get treated to a new track “Time for Justice.” If this track is any indication of the rest of the album, then it’s safe to say Conqueress – Forever Strong and Proud will be another strong release from the metal goddess. Doro is a staple in the metal world, even for those that lean to the more extreme side of metal, you cannot help, but just love Doro for her amazingly fun attitude and good nature. Whenever you see Doro on the bill, you know it’s going to be a great night, whether it’s a massive stage at Wacken or a more intimate setting at ProgPower USA. The audience could not ask for a more exceptional sign off to Day 1.
Stay tuned for Days 2, 3, and 4 (including the Green Carnation VIP/Gold Badge show) to follow shortly!