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Saturday 30th Sept - Sunday 1st Oct 2006
Sjiwa in Baarlo, Netherlands
Opening up the Sunday are Dutch band Sphere of Souls, a late in the day replacement for Pantomind who pulled out of the festival due to various members leaving. Having not previously heard anything by Sphere of Souls, I was quite intrigued by the pre-festival announcement that Joost van den Broek, keyboard player from After Forever, was joining them today for this performance. However, when they appear on stage there's no sign of him - it later transpires he couldn't appear due to touring and recording commitments with After Forever. Featuring ex-members of both Sun Caged and Imperium, Sphere of Souls play fairly nondescript prog metal and although they are clearly talented musicians and perform well, their songs are largely unoriginal and start sounding like prog-by-numbers after a while. On the plus side, André Vuurboom delivers a powerful vocal performance and guitarist Anand Mahangoe's solo playing is impressive (as are his vocal harmonies with Vuurboom). Overall, a sound performance but not very memorable.
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Nova Art are next on stage, the first Russian band to appear at Progpower Europe. They are virtually unknown outside of their home country as today marks their first appearance abroad. Clad in Nova Art t-shirts, the young looking band have little stage presence...until they start performing. Vocalist Andrey Nova, although slight in stature, is a charismatic frontman with boundless energy and combined with his extraordinarily powerful vocals, gives one of the most memorable performances of the weekend. He has a wide vocal range and the long note sustained at the end of 'Memories' is nothing short of stunning. Aleksey Chekalin is also a very talented guitarist although he'd be better off exchanging his BC Rich for an Ibanez, or any guitar that gives him a better sound to do his intricate playing justice (BC Rich guitars are generally not very nice). They also include a cover of System Of A Down's 'Toxicity' in the middle of their set which, although strange to hear at Progpower and somewhat misplaced, proves very popular with the mainly animated crowd. It seems the majority of people are very taken with Nova Art, and even join in a singalong when invited to do so. After entertaining the crowd for around 40 minutes, Nova asks which song they should play again, lists numbers 1 to 5 and when 3 gets the biggest cheer, this is played as an encore. Nova Art are, perhaps, the biggest surprise of the weekend and they epitomise the essence of Progpower Europe - discovering stunning new bands. Very impressive indeed.
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Voyager are thrid on stage and hailing from Perth, Australia, they've travelled a fair distance to be here today. It appears they're proud of their heritage with a large Australian flag clearly visible above the drum riser and a scattering of other Antipodean references around the stage. However, band members are later introduced by keyboardist/vocalist Daniel Estrin as an Italian bassist; an Italian guitarist; a Scottish guitarist; and a Dutch drummer! In fact, I believe Estrin himself has Estonian/German parents. I was already familiar with Voyager's music through their DVS released album 'Element V' and although patchy in places, generally impressed me when I first heard it. They play 80s inspired melodic metal with plenty of twin guitar harmonies and neo-classical influences but also with a contemporary progressive edge. So were they any good live?

Opening with the first track from 'Element V', the shortish instrumental 'Sic Transit Gloria Mundi', most of the set is derived from that album - 'To The Morning Light'; 'The Eleventh Meridian'; 'This Bitter Land' etc are all aired this afternoon and they even verge into power metal territory with the Helloween-esque 'The Ancient Labyrinth'. The empasis of their performance is on fun which peaks when the audience is invited to 'guess the song' in a lengthy and varied medley consisting of excerpts from such tunes as 'I Got You (I Feel Good)'; 'Smoke on the Water'; 'Eye of the Tiger'; 'Killing in the Name'; and 'Highway to Hell' to name but a few. Voyager are also individually very accomplished musicians and collectively very tight. While Simone Dow and Mark De Vattimo are equally competent guitarists, the former has a much better sound. Perhaps this is down to the fact that Dow plays a 'proper' Ibanez Jem, while DeVattimo only has a budget Jem. Bassist Melissa Fiocco is a dynamic performer and the subject of much photographic attention for those gathered near the front of the stage. Estrin's expressive clean vocals are very likeable and oozing impassioned emotions, though his sporadic death growls are sometimes a little weak but kind of fit the music. His technically proficient keyboard playing also impresses with many melodic neo-classical solo parts. Overall, Voyager are talented musicians and a great deal of fun. Just what the day needed at this point.
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German band Dark Suns, from Leipzig, take to the stage after the diner break. I heard their thrid album, 'Existence', earlier this year and, while not immediately impressed by the music, grew to like it a lot on subsequent listens. Their style of slow to mid-paced dark progressive metal has discernible elements of Anathema and Opeth, while simultneously sounding fairly original on its own terms. When the curtains pull back, my eyes are initially drawn towards their impressive, and sizeable, backdrop which I guess must have taken the entirety of the diner break to hang up! Before Dark Suns appear on stage, there is perhaps the largest crowd in the Sjiwa so far today which is indicative of their popularity. I wonder how much of this also has to do with an announcement a few weeks prior to today that Kristoffer Gildenlöw, the recently departed bassist from Pain of Salvation (and now residing in Utrecht, the Netherlands), will be playing on stage with them. Proclaimed by vocalist/drummer Niko Knappe early in their set as an "experiment" as Gildenlöw has apparently never played with Dark Suns before, I later discover he rehearsed the songs remotely and not with the band. You would never have noticed as the ex-POS bass player, together with the rest of Dark Suns, give a tight and musically excellent performance. My only real criticism is that, as good as the music sounds, they are perhaps not the best choice of band for this stage of the festival as the mainly long compositions somehow seem too drawn out. Further, with the 'frontman' also being the drummer, there's no real focal point visually as a spectator. Ideally, it would have been better if the drum kit had not been positioned right at the back of the stage, but I guess this would not be logistically possible as it would not be able to be repositioned in time for Communic. By the end of their set, I'm left thinking that Dark Suns are maybe not a good festival band or perhpas I just wasn't in the mood for them today. Whatever the case, I must be in a minority as most of the audience appear to enojoy their set. Not enough to sustain my interest, though, I'm afraid.
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Up next, and in stark contrast to the relative subduedness of Dark Suns, are the far more lively Norwegian band Communic. With two strong albums under their belts - 2005's 'Conspiracy In Mind' and the recently released 'Waves of Visual Decay' - I was looking forward to seeing them live for the first time, although I had heard their performances were marred by Oddleif Stensland's inability to simultaneously sing and play guitar. Whoever told me this must either have been mistaken or caught the band on a bad day as his vocal/guitar playing skills are flawless, sounding as good live as they do recorded and alongside bassist Erik Mortensen and drummer Tor Atle Andersen, Communic have an impressively full, resonant sound for only a 3 piece. Mortensen really pounds away at his bass guitar in a powerful display of stamina playing, so much so that he drops his pick during one song and is unable to retrieve it from the floor for 3 or 4 bars. Performing songs from both albums, their music encompasses a wide array of metal sub-genres including elements of thrash; power; and even perceivable 70s influences. In parts, particulary some of the more mellow passages and clean guitar arpeggios, Communic do remind me of Green Carnation with Stensland's powerful singing not too dissimilar to Kjetil Nordhus' voice. Overall, a fantastic performance and just what the evening needed after Dark Suns.
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And so as Progpower Europe approaches its climax, Poland's Riverside appear on stage around 15 minutes late. However, compared to 2005's Sunday headliners Pain Of Salvation's set commencing an hour and a half after it was supposed to, the delay is minor. Riverside's first appearance outside of their home country was at the Sjiwa at Progpower back in 2004 as a replacement for Sweden's Amaran - a fact which vocalist/bassist Mariusz Duda jokingly makes reference to, commenting "last time we were here, we were Amaran". Since then, their popularity in Holland has grown massively, with fans turning up in their hundreds wherever and whenever they play. Tonight actually marks the 5th occasion I've seen Riverside - and they still haven't played in the UK yet! Clearly pleased to be back at Progpower as headliners, Riverside's set of an hour and three quaters is stunning, although abated slightly by a badly mixed and generally imbalanced sound. The drums sound decidedly weak, particularly the snare which has no bite to it at all; Duda's bass and some of Michal Lapaj's keyboard sounds are sporadically too loud; and the volume from Piotr Grudzinski's guitar playing varies depending on the effect he uses. All in all, though, the strength of the songs carry the set and Riverside prove themselves as worthy headliners with the audience seeming to enjoy every single note played. Opening with an atmospheric intrumental piece (as they did when I saw them at the Boederij in Zoetemeer earlier this year) which seems to change into Pink Floyd's 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond' midway through, their lengthy set comprises most songs from their 2 albums, 'Out Of Myself' and 'Second Life Syndrome'. After they exit the stage individually during the outro of 'The Curtain Falls' (seemingly ritualistic at the end of a Riverside set) they return for 2 encores - 'The Same River' and a longer than usual version of 'Reality Dream II' which has never sounded better. Overall, Riverside are the perfect end to a totally amazing Progpower Europe.
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