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Saturday 6th Oct - Sunday 7th Oct 2007
Sjiwa in Baarlo, Netherlands
Opening ProgPower 2007 are fast rising Dutch band Non-Divine. I'd already seen them live once before in support of After Forever at Haarlem's Patronaat venue in Spring last year and, although they impressed me with their performance, I found their material to lack compositional diversity. However, since then, they've released debut album 'Asylum 45' to critical acclaim and awarded the prestigious honour of CD of the month in Holland's biggest metal magazine Aardshok earlier in the year, so I was curious, and pleased, to be able to see them again. Extending the conceptual themes of 'Asylum 45' to their live performance, Non-Divine are attired as patients from a mental institution which, with each band member clad in white uniform, conveys a striking image on stage. Commencing with the up tempo and catchy opening track from their debut release, 'One Man, One Soul', ProgPower 2007 springs into life as the smallish crowd gathered in the Sjiwa, although largely inanimate, seem quite taken by the band, and those still nursing hangovers from last night's pre-party are awakened by the barrage of Non-Divine's quasi-prog thrash discharge. Although today's performance affirms my original assertion of the Dutch metallers' homogeneous style of songwriting, I somehow find myself enjoying their set far more than the previous occasion of seeing them live. Concluding with a storming cover of Sepultura's 'Roots Bloody Roots', Non-Divine receive huge cheers and applause as they exit the stage, and provide a good, solid start to the festival.
2007 sees the annual Dutch ProgPower festival reach its ninth edition, and my fourth consecutive year of travelling to Southern Netherlands for another weekend of prog metal in its various generic forms. Put quite simply, and I know I speak for many others, one ProgPower and you're hooked, destined to return year after year regardless of what bands are playing! Beyond the music, it is also an occasion for socialising as the festival manages to perpetuate a laid-back, familial atmosphere and offers the chance to catch up with familiar faces and meet new people too. It takes place, once again, in Sjiwa's main hall, although there's also the now standard pre-party on Friday in the venue's smaller basement where Dutch band Picture of The Moon and Thessera from Brazil both play long-ish sets. On Saturday and Sunday, serving a marginally wider selection of food, the usual burger van parked outside the Sjiwa has been elevated to a food 'tent' this year, although there are also nearby restaurants in the village and a sizeable supermarket offering dining alternatives. All the other usual elements are present - a large merchandise stall run by German mail order company 'TWS - Source of Deluge'; very reasonable bar prices; incredibly good stage lighting and sound system; and lots of friendly Dutch people! It is, therefore, a genuine shame that with so much time, effort, and money spent putting on such a professionally run festival, the organisers gain no monetary profit from the event this year and, in fact, experience a big loss. However, with a special 3 day ProgPower planned for 2008 to celebrate its tenth anniversary, let's hope the festival continues for many years to come.
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Only three weeks before the festival, American band Aghora unfortunately cancelled for financial reasons, stating that an appearance at ProgPower in a self-funded trip to Europe would leave them 'out of pocket'. This was unfortunate as I'd been looking forward to seeing the Floridian progsters, although the announcement of their replacement was more than welcome - Oceans of Sadness. I first encountered the music of these Belgian metallers on the world wide web's ubiquitous online community, MySpace, and remember being incredibly impressed, so had high expectations for their live show. Taking to the stage just after 3pm, Oceans of Sadness aurally grab the ProgPower audience from the offset and bombard their senses for an hour with an infusion of original prog-metal and an equally impressive performance to match. Frontman Tijs Vanneste has to be one of the most dynamic frontmen ever to grace the Sjiwa stage, as he relentlessly and tirelessly leaps around, encouraging a previously static crowd into their first movement of the day. With influences ranging from Faith No More to Pain of Salvation, and even elements of Nevermore's dark prog-thrash, Oceans of Sadness also have an original sound which is uniquely their own, and genuinely progressive. A convincing cover of Alice In Chains' 1992 track 'Them Bones' provides a nod towards some of their retro-influences, though it is the band's own material which really shines. Mid-set, Vanneste amusingly states that the Belgians are less organised than the Dutch, so forgot their amps, and had to borrow Non-Divine's, for which he thanks them! Organised or not, Oceans of Sadness are a mightily impressive live band. Overwhelmingly stunning, and highly recommended.
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Originally due to headline the pre-party last night in Sjiwa's basement, Italians DGM were elevated up the bill to Saturday's main stage lineup after Russian band Mechanical Poet suddenly cancelled (yes, another cancellation!) just over a week before the festival. Apart from a couple of tracks I'd heard a while back, I wasn't that familiar with DGM before today, so I watch and listen with an open mind. Compositionally prog and power in equal parts, their music perhaps epitomises the 'progpower' label, though unlike Oceans of Sadness, DGM are generically prog-by-numbers rather than actually progressive, and less aurally challenging. Competently played and technically impressive, if a little cheesy, the music's effectiveness is abated slightly by frontman Titta Tani's vocals, which are sporadically flat and sharp during most songs [though, at the time of writing, DGM have announced they intend to "continue their career with another singer due to characterial differences with Titta"]. Guitarist Simone Mularoni impresses with much speedy fretboard widdling though, overall, DGM are largely unoriginal and fail to engage me emotionally in any way.
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First up after the hour long diner break are Spanish band Nahemah. Already a fan of their brilliant sophomore album, 'The Second Philosophy', which was released in January this year, I was looking forward to seeing how their brand of experimental metal would translate in a live context. However, fifteen minutes before they are due on stage, and it doesn't look good - the band's sound engineer is axiomatically struggling with the large mixing desk in the Sjiwa as he runs to the stage and back several times and members of the ProgPower crew assist him with the console. It brings to mind Throes of Dawn's appearance at the festival back in 2005 when their soundman single-handedly wrecked the Finnish dark metallers' performance with an abysmal mix and fundamental mistakes that resulted in the band playing a bar behind the keyboards on a backing track for their opening song! It is, therefore, a huge relief when Nahemah appear on stage and commence their set with a near perfect mix and generally excellent sound through the PA and, playing to a click, they're in perfect time with the backing tracks. With the majority of their set drawn from 'The Second Philosophy', tracks such as 'Siamese', 'Change' and 'Like a Butterfly in a Storm' sound awesome with their contrasting polarities of mellow/heavy and melancholic/uplifting creating diverse soundscapes of sublimity that ring through the Sjiwa with affective grandiosity. It is hard not to be moved by the emotive intensities of Nahemah's captivating music, particularly with the popular set inclusion of lengthy track 'Subterranean Airports' which oozes pure, organic musical emotions. Often compared in the media to Opeth, this is lazy journalism and an almost unfounded comparison as it doesn't begin to describe the diversity of Nahemah's compositions which also take in the heavy-chord infused melancholia of mid-era Katatonia, the post-rock experimentalism of Mogwai, and the death-doom of early Anathema. With so much of their music pertaining to mid-tempo rhythms, the Spaniards are surprisingly dynamic performers which also sustains visual interest in their live show. Charismatic frontman Pablo Egido casts an imposing figure on stage with his tall stature as he looms towards various sections of the audience in an attempt to engender some crowd movement. His vocals alternate with great ease between effective death growls and the smooth, stirring tones of his poignant clean voice, even utilising a megaphone during 'Today Sunshine Aint The Same' la Muse's Matt Bellamy. By the time Nahemah finish their set, an hour has passed by in no time at all. I can't remember the last time I found music this emotionally engaging. Stunning beyond words.
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Brought in to replace Canadian band Heaven's Cry who cancelled a few months ago, Orphaned Land are a welcome addition to the bill, particularly after their festival stealing set in Baarlo at ProgPower 2005. With the largest crowd of the day gathered in front of the stage just prior to the Israeli prog-metallers' appearance, and the large number of Orphaned Land t-shirts on show, it is evident many have turned up specifically to see them. As atmospheric intro music plays through the PA, band members appear on stage one at a time to loud cheers from eager fans. However, during their hour and a quarter set, Orphaned Land fail to even come close to the energetic flair and musical vivacity that made their 2005 appearance at the festival so enjoyable and memorable. Perhaps this is due to skilled drummer Avi Diamond's departure from the band only two months before today as the current sticksman, although a talented drummer himself, audibly struggles with some of the songs when he clearly misses particular patterns. Further, the absence of live keyboards also seems to quell the efficacy of their music, and frontman Kobi Farhi delivers an uncharacteristically subdued performance, looking fairly despondent throughout the entire set (I later discover he's suffering with a heavy cold which perhaps explains his somewhat dejected manner). With all that said, Orphaned Land are still an enjoyable live act with a plethora of skilled compositions seamlessly blending Western prog-metal idioms with Eastern flavoured scales and sounds. Their set also includes ProgPower's first onstage marriage proposal, as Farhi introduces a young girl mid-set, with her immediate declaration "I don't sing" to save confusion for those who think she might be some sort of guest vocalist, before proceeding to propose marriage to her startled looking boyfriend (who looks genuinely terrified!). Overall, not a bad set, but very disappointing as Orphaned Land are a band capable of so much more.
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First appearing at ProgPower back in 2004, Australian band Alchemist return in 2007 as Saturday headliners As the Antipodean metallers take to the stage and launch into 'First Contact', opening track from 2003 album 'Austral Alien', the Sjiwa audience has noticeably diminished in size compared to the large gathering who witnessed Orphaned Land's lacklustre performance. However, this fails to dampen Alchemist's enthusiasm as they work their way through a varied set, and sustain an entertainingly dynamic stage presence for an hour and a half as if playing to thousands. I admit to never having been a huge fan of Alchemist and, to be honest, don't recall enjoying them a great deal at ProgPower 2004, but three years on, I find myself connecting with their music a lot more. Their inimitable compositional style is characterised by a unique progressive fusion of thrash, death, electronica, and even 70s psychedelia, with each song comprised of interesting and original melodies. As a pre-encore surprise, they also play an inspired thrashed-up version of 'The Eve of the War' from Jeff Wayne's 1978 musical adaptation of 'War of the Worlds' (preceded by the spoken intro). Adam Agius is a charismatic frontman and skilled musician, playing guitar, occasional keyboards, and with a polyphonic vocal range. However, while I find his clean singing, and almost Dani Filth-esque screeches, to be effective, I'm less impressed by his low growled voice, but it's probably just not to my taste. Overall, though, a brilliant performance, and the Australians prove themselves worthy headliners.
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Reviews & Photography by Mark Holmes
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