ProgPower USA XXII – Day 2 – September 7, 2023 – Center Stage Theater, Atlanta, GAThursday, 28th September 2023
If you’ve missed the Day 1 recap, please check it out here.
After a good night’s sleep, we felt rested and ready for another day of fun and metal (which is basically the same thing). Before the festival festivities began, we met up with a good friend for our favorite Atlanta based restaurant, The Vortex! If you’ve never had the pleasure of grabbing a delicious meal and/or drink here, I can’t recommend it enough. We’ve eaten here many times and have yet to try something we didn’t absolutely love. The atmosphere is amazing with plenty of rather metal decor, and if you’re at the Midtown location, there’s even a wooden carving up front you can rub for luck. What is the wooden carving of? Well, it’s called the Dick of Destiny, and I’ll just leave it at that.
With happily filled bellies we headed over to Center Stage to enjoy more burgers, but of the more plush variety. Confused? Well, if you’ve never seen Seven Kingdoms live, you may not know that vocalist Sabrina Cruz wears burger slippers and the stage is often adorned with plush (most appear to be Squishables, so they are all rather adorable). We’ve had the pleasure of seeing Seven Kingdoms on more than one occasion since they are from Florida as well; although the first time I recall seeing them live was in 2010 when they opened for Blind Guardian at Jaxx Nightclub. This is not their first time at ProgPower USA, as they played The Loft during the Mid-Week Mayhem in 2010, but this was the first time they were playing on this stage and the joy they felt was palpable.
Seven Kingdoms knows how to get a crowd going with not only their excellent stage presence, but masterfully crafted songs. Last year’s release of Zenith was very well received, and the setlist was of course heavily focused on continuing to promote what could be their magnum opus, but it was not devoid of beloved earlier works such as “After the Fall” and “In the Walls.” They are also some of the nicest and most approachable folks you will ever meet, so if you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing them live yet, definitely watch their touring schedule.
Next to take the stage for their 4th performance at ProgPower USA, starting with the fest’s inception in 2001, Zero Hour. I had not ever had the pleasure of seeing them live and thought that I wouldn’t, as the band split up in 2008, but thankfully reformed in 2020, albeit with some lineup changes. While the band is pretty stationary on stage, that doesn’t detract from their performance. They informed the crowd that bassist Andreas Blomqvist missed practice due to plane delays, but everyone still sounded excellent.
Vocalist Erik Rosvold seemed concerned about their performance and claimed they were improvising, but I did not notice and I spoke with several other festival goers that felt the same. The crowd also seemed to enjoy telling Jasun Tipton’s daughter “hello” on a video he took and one person shouted out “brush your teeth,” giving everyone a good laugh. Zero Hour was technically proficient and very impressive to watch live.
The Halo Effect
Click here for more The Halo Effect photos from ProgPower XXII
Some folks might be surprised to see The Halo Effect on the bill at a festival dedicated to progressive and power metal, but the audience was ecstatic. Legendary vocalist Mikael Stanne even commented that they weren’t sure how well they would fit into a prog fest, but this is a perfect example of how ProgPower USA has evolved over the years. Odds are we won’t be seeing any funeral doom, grindcore, black metal, etc. but I’m sure I wouldn’t be the only one that would be excited to see a rarity like Carpathian Forest or Virgin Black on the bill.
Back to The Halo Effect, they were able to play every song off their debut and 2 new ones from their upcoming 2024 release. Jesper Strömblad rarely plays live anymore, so Patrik Jensen (The Haunted) has been their live guitarist. One has to wonder what they put in the water in Gothenburg, considering just how many talented musicians come from there. That said, it’s no surprise that a band made up of former In Flames members and the lead vocalist of Dark Tranquillity (who also provided early guest vocals for In Flames) could put together an album with no weak tracks, but it’s still amazing to hear some of the pioneers of melodic death metal come together on this amazing collaboration.
VOLA was up next, making their long awaited ProgPower USA debut appearance. To say they did not disappoint would be the understatement of the festival. These Danes may be too djent for Metal Archives (don’t get me wrong, I love that website), but their particular flavor strikes my fancy and the crowd seemed to be very much so in agreement. Having released their third full-length Witness in 2021, the band has continued to evolve since their first record with an ever changing sound that always keeps the listener guessing.
Lead vocalist/guitarist Asger Mygind has said that Inmazes was written when he was struggling with finding happiness and really focused more on the djent sound, while Applause of a Distant Crowd was thankfully during a happier time and a lot more of a raw sound, similar to early 00s Opeth, but with a more progressive rock feeling. Now coming to Witness, a much heavier release that has continued their unstoppable momentum. The setlist included songs from all their releases, including their newest song “Paper Wolf” that was released just a little over a fortnight prior.
Mygind also had some fun with the crowd leading into “Freak” by informing he found an acoustic guitar backstage and wanted suggestions for what to play with it. “Free Bird” was shouted out – as is tradition – and then “Wonderwall” which Mygind actually started to play, but quickly stopped and made a “cut” kind of gesture, but commenting it is a great song. Based on the crowd reactions, this likely won’t be their last appearance at ProgPower USA and one wouldn’t be surprised to see them in the headlining slot in the future.
Speaking of headliners, it was time for Beast in Black! Back in April 2022, I was very excited to see Beast in Black on their first US tour, but Yannis Papadopoulos contracted COVID and the first 3 dates (Orlando, Tampa & Atlanta) were canceled. We did consider trying to fly out to another date, but unfortunately could not make it work. Finally getting to see them was very exciting, and the wait was absolutely worth it.
Their stage presence and energy was indescribable, with many visual elements including creepy android props on either side of the drum platform, brightly colored guitars, and bassist Máté Molnár’s unique devil making soup bass guitar. Papadopoulos is one of the best vocalists currently in the metal scene, with an extremely impressive range that has left more than one vocal coach speechless on YouTube, and seeing him show off his talents live was mind-blowing.
It’s ironic that day 3 would feature Anton Kabanen’s prior band Battle Beast, but while this Beast’s debut Berserker had some clear similarities, the latest offering, Dark Connection has continued to form a sound that is all their own and it makes perfect sense to see Battle Beast touring with Kamelot and Xandria, while Beast in Black is touring with darksynth masters, Dance with the Dead. The one disappointment with Beast in Black is their lack of a keyboard player for their live performances. This is not to knock backing tracks as for many bands it would be almost impossible to play live without them, but with a band that is so heavily synth oriented now, it would be a welcome addition. Overall though, Beast in Black gave a stellar performance and provided a very balanced setlist of their discography that left the festival goers hyped up and ready for day 3 of ProgPower USA.
Stay tuned for Days 3 and 4 (including the Green Carnation VIP/Gold Badge show) to follow!