within%20temptation%20-%20tivoli%20april%2005%20frame%20home.jpg about%20-%20jpg.jpg reviews%20-%20jpg.jpg interviews%20-%20jpg.jpg gigs%20-%20jpg.jpg headway2007_fri001002.jpg
Second on stage are UK dark prog-metallers To-Mera. Having been impressed by a couple of their tracks I'd already heard previous to this evening, I was looking forward to seeing them live. Further, To-Mera features ex-Without Face frontwoman Julie Kiss on vocals, and being a big fan of the Hungarian band's impressive 'Astronomicon' album from a few years ago, was curious as to her latest musical venture. Also in To-Mera is the legendary Lee Barrett on bass who, apart from playing with previous bands Extreme Noise Terror, Disgust and Mussolini Headkick, was the founder/owner of Candlelight Records and responsible for 'discovering' and signing, amongst others, Emperor and Opeth. Playing for just over 40 minutes, To-Mera's set of largely original and varied compositions go down well with the Headway audience. With discernible influences including Pain of Salvation, Meshuggah and Evergrey, their music is also refreshingly innovative on its own terms. This is largely helped by guitarist Tom MacLean's inventive playing style with Petrucci-inspired technical leads, polyrhythmic palm-muted riffs, occasionally interposed with passages of clean jazz. With these jazz interludes To-Mera, at times, sound almost like an aurally euphonic and more accessible version of Ephel Duath (ironically another Barrett discovery during his time running Elitist Records as a sub-division Earache). Since leaving Without Face, Kiss has evolved into a more powerful singer, although her strong vocal performance is occasionally lost in the mix during some of the heavier passages. While I find it hard to fault To-Mera musically, they don't look entirely comfortable in their collective performance. MacClean, easily the most animated member of the band, comes across very relaxed and seems to enjoy every moment, although his bandmates convey a more serious attitude in their individual performances and don't interact well with each other on stage. Having said that, To-Mera deliver a musically captivating performance and are impressively tight. Over time and with further performances they will, I'm sure, evolve into a more polished live act, and have the potential to become a dominant force in the prog-metal scene.
First held back in 2003, this year saw Headway reach its 5th edition. The annual Dutch progressive rock and metal festival was plagued by band cancellations in the weeks leading up to the event: Into Eternity pulled out in favour of touring the States for a month with The Haunted, Dark Tranquility and Scar Symmetry; Mind's Eye cancelled due to Johan Niemann's commitments with Therion; and Last Crack, who first played the festival back in 2003 shortly after reforming, also bowed out. However, replacements were found and the bill still had enough diversity to engender my interest.

Having regularly attended the perpetually enjoyable ProgPower in the south of Holland the past few years, I'd never made it over from the UK for Headway, so was curious as to how this 'rival' prog-metal festival in the north of the country would compare. In fact, 2 of the organisers from ProgPower were in attendance for the first time too so I guess curiosity also got the better of them! While Headway lacks the family-like atmosphere of ProgPower, there was still a friendly, laid-back vibe to the festival, and it was nice to see so many familiar faces in attendance.

I'd previously been to the P60 in January this year while in Holland to see The Gathering so was already aware of what a great venue it is. Located just south of Amsterdam (around a 20 minute tram journey from the centre) in a town called Amstelveen, the clean and modern P60 houses an eetcafé serving various hot snacks and more substantial meals; an upstairs bar; and then above that, the concert hall (also containing a bar). With a capacity of only 650 (including the balcony), there is a good sized stage for a venue this small, an excellent in-house PA system, and good lighting. There are several screens located around the entire venue which broadcast live video feeds of all the bands as they played which was a nice touch as it enabled people to perhaps go for some food, or have a general wander, and still keep an eye on what was happening on stage.

On Saturday, and in between band's sets, there were various short performances to demo guitars made by Dutch company Bo~el, and these proved very popular throughout the day. Based in the bar beneath the main hall, racks were set up over to one side and held around 15 very nice looking Bo~el guitars. Those gathered in the bar were treated to virtuosic displays of lead playing by Frank Schiphorst (Control Human Delete, ex-Symmetry, ex-Enraged), joOp Wolters (Lalu, Shadrane, ex-Arabesque) and Marcel Coenen (Sun Caged, ex-Lemur Voice). I even saw Christophe Godin from Mörglbl entertaining the crowd with an impromptu jam at one point as I wandered through the room.

Overall, Headway is a very well organised and friendly festival with a diverse bill of bands playing various styles of progressive rock and metal. It provides people with a great opportunity to see established acts and also discover some new music in the intimate setting of a very nice venue indeed. Highly recommended!
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Amsterdam-based Dutch band Obsidian open the festival around 8.00pm and are already on stage performing as the doors open, although the audience slowly builds to a respectable size throughout the duration of their half hour set. These young looking, though highly skilled, musicians play progressive death metal that lies somewhere between Opeth and Meshuggah with passages of technical riff-based intensity reminiscent of the latter infused with heavy-prog melodies of the former. They also sound similar to Textures during a couple of songs, although with more variety and depth in their songwriting, I prefer Obsidian. They receive a well balanced mix and strong sound through the PA, and deliver a very tight, enjoyable performance that is well received by the moderate sized gathering in the P60. A great opening band.
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Hailing from Maasbracht in southern Holland, Sun Caged are next up. With critically acclaimed new album 'Artemisia' recently released, only guitarist Marcel Coenen remains from the original lineup. They come from the Dream Theater school of prog, also with compositional leanings towards Fates Warning and Threshold to name but a few influences. Most of their lengthy numbers contrapose up-tempo, heavy, technical prog riffs with slower melodious passages to good effect, and Sun Caged have a fairly original sound. In contrast to the 'seriousness' of To-Mera, they have a more laid-back, fun stage presence, reciprocating well with each other and the audience. Coenen's virtuoso playing is thoroughly mesmerising as he demonstrates his wide repertoire of guitar styles in each of the songs, as he does his repertoire of amusing facial expressions too as he plays (as any good guitarist should do!). American vocalist Paul Adrian Villarreal is the perfect frontman with his remarkably strong voice, and likeable stage persona. Collectively, Sun Caged look and sound like they've been playing together for years. They are a phenomenally good live band, and deliver one of the performances of the festival through their dynamic stage presence, skilled musicianship, and array of strong material. Awesome!
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Bringing the first evening of Headway 2007 to a close are Friday headliners Zero Hour from the States. I admit to not being too familiar with their music prior to this evening, though have always heard positive feedback about their brand of technical prog metal. As they appear on stage and launch into the opening number I am blown away by the uncompromising and relentless wall of sound produced by these musicians. Guitarist Jasun Tipton and bassist Troy Tipton, who are twin brothers, are astoundingly technical players and pull off complicated riffs, leads and basslines with apparent ease. Most songs are loaded with mind-blowing complexities and raw heaviness, but sometimes infused with, and broken up by, slower, less intense jazz-inspired passages reminiscent of technical death metal pioneers Atheist. One of the things that sets Zero Hour apart from other bands playing this style of music is vocalist Chris Salinas who has a more traditional, high-pitched metal voice. It occasionally brings to mind Alan Tecchio of Watchtower who also sang similar style vocals over heavy, technical playing, although Zero Hour have a sound and style that is unique to them. My only minor criticism is that Salinas' singing doesn't always fit the more cacophonic sections of certain songs though, at other times, the dissonant music coupled with melodic vocals works very well. Overall, very impressive.
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Friday 6th April - Saturday 7th April 2007
P60 in Amstelveen, Netherlands
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