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Saturday 31st March 2007
The Centaur in Cheltenham, UK
Appearing later than expected, Haggard apparently had a nightmare journey to The Centaur. They'd played a gig in Germany the previous night and, en route to the UK, got temporarily delayed at Calais by immigration because of an American member of the band that the PPUK organisers hadn't been aware of, and thus hadn't prepared the necessary paperwork for. Fortunately, the PPUK team managed to phone Haggard through contact details provided by fellow Germans Dreamscape, and were ensured that they had arrived in the UK, were currently in Oxford, and on their way to the venue. I believe it was at this point that Communic very kindly agreed to switch time slots, which made it possible for Haggard to perform when they eventually arrived at The Centaur. So a joint effort all round!

I'd heard of Haggard before PPUK, but wasn't aware of their music. Billed on the flyers/posters etc as a 17 piece German medieval metal orchestra, I was certainly intrigued - not only as to what they would sound like, but also how 17 musicians could get on stage and sound-checked at a festival with quick change over times! Inevitably, the sound-check did seem to take a while and overran by around 20 minutes, but were Haggard worth the wait? Oh yes, they most certainly were! Fusing a compelling blend of musical styles including folk; medieval; orchestral; thrash metal; with operatic and death vocals, the nearest, albeit lazy, comparison is perhaps Therion although this doesn't begin to describe the diversity of Haggard's music. Apart from 2 guitars and drums, other members' instruments range from a double bass and violins to a bass recorder and timpani. Haggard also prove to be an engrossing spectacle throughout their show as most band members are fairly animated performers, including the guy headbanging whilst pounding his kettledrums and then running out to the front with 2 large cymbals which he clashes together, engendering huge cheers from the PPUK audience. In fact, Haggard receive one of the best crowd reactions of the day and vocalist/guitarist Asis Nasseri announces the band are so happy to finally bring their show to the UK and would play for 3 hours if they could. Unfortunately, after all the delays, their set lasts only 25 minutes with most people in the audience shouting for more as they exit the stage. Haggard are entirely captivating in both their uniqueness and musical talent (an abundance of musical talent with so many band members!). Original, genuinely progressive, and totally awesome.
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Next up are German/Norwegian band Leaves' Eyes, featuring all members of Atrocity and ex-Theatre of Tragedy vocalist Liv Kristine Espenęs Krull. They loosely fit the goth metal sub-genre with female/male vocal interplay over anthemic, melodious, and occasionally epic sounding compositions sometimes reminiscent of 'Enter'-era Within Temptation, though also have a fairly original sound of their own. As Leaves' Eyes take to the stage, they launch into the title track from their second full length release, 'Vinland Saga', followed by the second track from that album, the catchy rock-metal number 'Farewell Proud Men'. Alexander Krull (Kristine's husband and Atrocity frontman) joins the band on stage for most of the set to add some growled death vocals on particular songs, and his dynamically energetic performance works as a good contrast with Kristine's graceful stage presence as she glides around in her flowing dress with a tranquil elegance. As good as Leaves' Eyes are, they are perhaps a slightly odd choice of band for a ProgPower festival as their music is neither that progressive nor power metal. Having said that, part of what constitutes the essence of ProgPower is a diversity in musical styles and, in that sense, Leaves' Eyes bring something different to the festival lineup. They close their set with the ever popular 'Elegy' and leave the stage to ubiquitous applause and cheers from the PPUK audience. Very impressive.
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I have to be honest and admit that I've never been a fan of Kamelot. The prolific American power metallers have a plethora of releases to their name, though their music has never particularly grabbed me emotionally. Their performance at ProgPower UK is no exception. Although they are all highly skilled musicians and deliver a lively, professional show, it really doesn't do it for me. Personally, I find their music to lack any real passion or soul, and is affectively uninspiring. However, I must be in a minority at The Centaur as the largest crowd of the day is gathered in the main auditorium to witness Kamelot's hour long set with every song as well received as the last. Not for me though, I'm afraid - I remain unconverted.
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There had been much hype surrounding Jon Oliva's appearance at ProgPower UK II as the legendary Savatage mainman promised a 'special' show for the UK. With only two JOP albums to date - 2004's 'Tage Mahal' and last year's sophomore release, 'Maniacal Renderings' - the Mountain King claimed his band's PPUK set would also incorporate many Savatage classics. A short delay preceded JOP's appearance on stage as there seemed to be a problem with the snare drum mic which produced unpleasant distortion through the PA speakers. Once extant sound problems had been rectified, JOP band members appear on stage to loud cheers from an evidently excited crowd, and then the Mountain King himself, hobbling and seemingly finding it uncomfortable to walk. Oliva announces a short way into the set that he fell out the tour bus and injured his ankle! As promised, the PPUK audience are treated to a combination of both JOP songs and old Savatage tracks including a storming rendition of the title track from latest release 'Maniacal Renderings' and virtually the entire 'Streets: A Rock Opera' album. The band have a pristine sound throughout the duration of their set, and Matt LaPorte's guitar leads and solos have a rich, warm tone - the best sounding Fender Telecasters I've ever heard! Jon Oliva is good humoured as he keeps the audience entertained with his between-song banter, and poignantly dedicates a few songs to the memory of his brother Criss who was tragically killed in a car accident back in 1993 by a drunk driver. The set culminates with the Savatage classic 'Hall of the Mountain King' and JOP were, quite simply, stunning and worthy headliners of PPUK II.
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