The 17th edition of ProgPower USA took place in Atlanta from September 7-10, 2016, and as usual, it was an amazing festival that didn’t disappoint on any level. Twenty bands from around the world descended upon the Center Stage venue for four days of music, fun, and some amazing times with what has become more of a family reunion than just a music festival.
Wednesday kicked off with Australia’s LORD. I was especially excited for this performance, as I’ve become friends with Andy Dowling (bass) and Mark Furtner (guitar) over the last year or so and I couldn’t wait for them to take the stage. They delivered a high powered set of both LORD and DUNGEON songs, and capped things off with an amazing cover of METALLICA’S “Creeping Death”.
They really kicked off the festival with a bang (I couldn’t stop from jumping up and down in the photo pit), and afterwards Laura and I went backstage and gave them some custom shirts that we had made, took some pictures, and even got a hug and a kiss on the cheek from Mark.
Next up was STREAM OF PASSION from the Netherlands. While I wasn’t a huge fan of theirs, they delivered a great set of symphonic metal, and I really enjoyed their time on the stage.
SPOCK’S BEARD (United States) followed soon after, and while I don’t normally enjoy a heavy progressive influence, their set was really good, even if I didn’t know any of their songs. Their fans really loved their performance – I haven’t seen that much air drumming since the last time I saw RUSH!
Capping off the night was the United Kingdom’s own DRAGONFORCE, and they delivered a blistering set full of some of the best songs in the band’s history, including “My Spirit Will Go On”, which has only been played live a handful of times since 2009. The band put on a high energy performance that fans of DRAGONFORCE have come to expect, and they really made the most of their ProgPower USA debut!
Thursday started off, not with live music, but with a listening party and autograph session with Tom Englund and Henrik Danhage for the new EVERGREY album, The Storm Within (which we at Amps and Green Screens LOVED!)
Eventually, everyone made their way to the venue for one of my most anticipated days of the festival. Unfortunately, GLORYHAMMER was a late scratch, but the replacement of GHOST SHIP OCTAVIUS did a great job starting things off, playing most of their debut album to a good reception from the crowd.
Next up was PYRAMAZE, one of the bands I was most amped to see, and they killed it! I loved 2015’s Disciples of the Sun, and the tracks that they played from it (with lead singer Terje Harøy on vocals) were flawless.
As an added bonus, former singers Matt Barlow and Lance King joined the band on stage for a few songs each to relive some classic PYRAMAZE tracks from the past, with all three vocalists coming together to close out their set with the title track of the last album. It was an amazing performance, which was recorded, so hopefully we’ll get a DVD release from it so I can relive it over and over!
Third band of the night? Festival alumni CIRCUS MAXIMUS from Sweden, and they put on a fantastic show, combining tracks from their new album Havoc with classics from their first three albums. They played my favorite song, “A Darkened Mind”, and I went insane! They had an amazing set, and I really didn’t want it to end, except for the fact that the headliner was up next…
BLIND GUARDIAN returned to the festival with their first U.S. performance of the entire Imaginations From the Other Side album, which they are also playing on tour this month and next across North America, and it was pure greatness. Besides the album, they also played some of my favorite BLIND GUARDIAN tracks, including “Nightfall”, “Time Stands Still (At the Iron Hill)”, and “Valhalla”. It was an amazing performance and a great way to cap off Day Two of the festival.
ASCENDIA from Canada kicked off the third day of the festivities to a packed house, and delivered some amazing tracks from their debut release, The Lion and the Jester, as well as a great rendition of DIO’s “Holy Diver”. I really enjoyed their performance and was surprised when they were suddenly introducing their last song.
Next up, VANISHING POINT from Australia. I’m really not a huge progressive metal fan, but they put on a great show and sounded awesome. We had chatted with some of the guys in the band on Tuesday night and they had just arrived from the other side of the world on a thirty hour trip, but they were still extremely gracious and friendly, and by the time they hit the stage, it was obvious that they had recovered fully, because they delivered some great music to the adoring crowd.
After the quick change over, the curtains opened for FREEDOM CALL! Being the huge power metal nerd that I am, I was going bananas from the first note all the way until they took their bows. They played a set of some of their greatest songs, including “Union of the Strong”, “Freedom Call”, “Power & Glory”, and even did their new single, “Hammer of the Gods”. I was extremely jealous of my friends who had pit access for their performance – Chris Bay’s infectious happiness really took over the show and made everyone jump around.
Up next was THE GENTLE STORM, but alas, so was the need to eat, so Laura and I went in search of food, making it back in time for the fifth band of the day, SCAR SYMMETRY. I’m not really a fan of death metal at all, but the performance was good, and there were some insane pits going on in the floor area of the venue.
The final set of Friday was the legendary FATES WARNING, reunited with former lead singer John Arch for a special 30th anniversary performance of the classic album, Awaken the Guardian! They sounded perfect – I could literally close my eyes and remember playing the album back in 1986, it sounded so true to the original. After they finished the album, they played a few more songs from the first two FATES WARNING records, and wrapped things up with the classic “Epitaph”, which was a fitting end to the night.
Anneke van Giersbergen played a special acoustic show for VIP and gold badge holders before things got started – we managed to sleep late and missed it, so we headed straight for the venue after some breakfast and coffee and got ready for the last day of the festival.
SAVAGE MESSIAH (United Kingdom) are a fantastic young thrash metal band, and I thought they were amazing – I’d really love to see them tour North America in the future so I can catch them again.
They have a great fresh sound and I really, really thought they were a great band to start the day off with.
SERIOUS BLACK was up next, and I was jacked – Laura, myself, and our friends Carl and David were sponsors of their performance, and I had spent the entire year winding myself up over their debut release. We had run into all of the members of the band during the previous several days and enjoyed some great conversations, and they were finally LIVE!
They played a selection of great songs from their debut As Daylight Breaks (I had hoped and even asked Urban breed if they could play the title track, but it wasn’t in the cards) and mixed in a couple of songs from their new album Mirrorworld, which I absolutely love, finishing with my favorite song by the band, “High and Low”.
I spent the entire hour jumping up and down with a huge smile on my face, and at the end of the show, Bob Katsionis handed me his guitar pick and Alex Holzwarth tossed me a well-used stick, which made me turn into a giddy teenager.
After they left the stage, we went back to their dressing room for pictures, autographs, and some great stories from Urban and the rest of the band about recording the albums and touring.
They were extremely gracious and hung out with us for as long as we wanted, and that’s got to be the highlight of the festival for me.
As it turns out, this was really the last of the time that we spent at the festival – the previous three days had definitely worn us out, and since the remaining bands (GREEN CARNATION, RAGE, HAKEN, and DEVIN TOWNSEND) had no major attraction for Laura and I, we decided to take it easy and get some good Atlanta cooking, do a little shopping, and then went back to the venue to hang out with friends and poke our noses in to see RAGE for a minute or two.
We then headed back to the hotel to rest up so we could spend a couple more hours in the courtyard with everyone before saying goodbye for another year. All in all, ProgPower USA XVII was amazing, and next year looks to be even better…
With the announcement of SUNBURST, LORDS OF BLACK, MIKE PORTNOY, DYNAZTY, ANGEL DUST, TWILIGHT FORCE, POWER QUEST, and ORPHANED LAND, just a few of the bands of the insane lineup for PPUSA XVIII, I’m already anxiously awaiting September of 2017, and I’m barely home from this year’s edition.
LIVE IMAGES AND WORDS: FRANK ZABER/IMAGES FROM THE DARK