outprogged42 wrote:POWER QUEST
Straight power metal is generally not my thing. That said, some acts in that genre really impressed me this year. This was one of those that didn't really enthrall me much, although I quite enjoyed the Neverworld album and having Alessio Garavello show up for some of the songs was a big and quite welcome surprise. Ashley Edison is a decent singer but not very distinctive. The same generally applies for the band.
Case in point. This isn't ordinary power metal as there are plenty of classical and orchestral parts (they're from Austria after all) and Georg Neuhauser is a much more interesting vocalist to my ears. The frequent use of choir vocals got the crowd involved and Neuhauser's stage presence, and also his distinctive outfits, gave their stage presence some unique charm and gravitas. Serenity was apparently the highlight band in 2012 and I can't fairly compare that, but I really enjoyed this set.
One of the several bucket list items on this year's bill and they did not disappoint in any way, excepting that only the rock band instruments were live, but this could be expected given the expense of shuttling live players overseas compared to more local shows. The sound and musicianship were outstanding and Kobi's stage presence and crowd interaction was top-notch. He was a lovely guy in person as well as I took the time to thank him for the "ORWarriOR" album helping me through a rough time of transition into college.
Having seen them last year, this performance was flawless on a technical level and packed a decent amount of energy for such incredibly complicated music. People who criticize Ross Jennings' live singing really have lost some of their credibility as he is perfectly in tune nowadays. Portnoy was definitely right when saying Haken are some of the best prog musicians around today.
NEXT TO NONE
I was sincerely expecting them to play a "typical" set of their typical material, which might turn off some of the crowd due to the metalcore vokills. However, they played only two songs in their short 30-minute set, one 10 and one 20 minutes. Overall their songwriting is a bit messy and Portnoy Jr. is clearly designed to be the highlight with the rest of the band overly restrained. However, the lead singer has a better voice than I remember and obviously Portnoy Jr. has some quite impressive skills. People might end up shocked when they bought "Phases" from the booths, though, not realizing what this band typically sounds like.
From a power metal standpoint, by far the highlight of the festival. This is one of those bands that I would never purchase albums from, but would still watch in concert. The silly costumes, over-the-top theatrics, and incredibly animated stage antics made this show a real riot, but the musical aspect was not lost either as the players showed a great amount of skill, thus eclipsing a set like Power Quest on every level. This is the sort of set that makes you feel happy no matter what, hence my quote in the Quote Thread: "Twilight Force makes everyone happy - even if you're Steven Wilson." And need it I would (see below...)
Unfortunately I would have to say this set was disappointing. Vanden Plas was the number one band I most wanted to see as I have a very close personal relationship with their The Seraphic Clockwork record, among others. Their chaotic sound issues were well-documented, but also Andy was missing a few notes and flubbed several lines of lyrics, even singing the same verse twice during "Holes in the Sky." The bassist has to be among the most bored-looking musicians I've ever seen on stage. The drummer was outstanding throughout and Andy was having a good time when he wasn't mad at the soundman. I hope I see these guys again when things go better for them.
BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME
Very, very few bands in PPUSA history will be able to equal the sheer mastery of musicianship seen in this set. This sort of band seems to generally not appear here anymore, as they are both ultra-proggy and somewhat "nerdy." Native Construct in 2015 seems to have busted down those doors for a band like BTBAM to be themselves. Playing the entirety of Colors is best accompanied by, really, nothing much at all, and thus the band mostly shut up and played, without interludes or downtime. Which just makes their set that much more intimidatingly awesome.
An act with this long of a history is often the breadwinner, especially when their current stage performance and vitality is basically like it was back in their heyday. Like Armored Saint in 2015, the Metal Church boys look, sound, and feel half their age. This was one of the only sets I missed some of, mostly because Andy Kuntz was chatting up fans outside and one of my chief goals was to talk to him in person. But eventually Metal Church got the Vanden Plas boys to step inside and watch world (i.e. Atlanta) domination happen.
Up and coming acts like Daydream XI are usually among my favorites, assuming their technical and performance skills are up to standard, as oftentimes they end up being the sort of folks you'd want to hang out with after the show due to absent egos and shorter lines to get to talk to them. Indeed their set was excellent, if somewhat static for such a heavy band, but the humility and realness of these guys on and off stage really stood out. I was quite tired out after Katatonia's set and just wanted to turn in and get ready to leave, like I did last year, but bumping into all of Daydream XI chatting up their fans would fortunately keep me in the Courtyard for another two hours. They were out talking to fans, watching the other sets (Myrath in particular), and being generally amazing people. The guys still talk to me now, even.
I wondered if these Israeli guys would ever come to the US, and fortunately PPUSA is the place where it happens. Also, this set brings one of the greatest joys I have at this festival: knowing the catalog of a very small band relatively speaking, and knowing that other people will not know the band at all and watching their reactions. In fact I was sitting next to a very eminent prog-metal journalist during this set who had never heard of this band before and was immensely satisfied that he was blown away by this set. The addition of a second guitarist has really amplified Distorted Harmony's metal credit and given them more on-stage energy. The musicianship was mind-boggling and Misha Soukhinin's voice has a surprising amount of power and range behind it, even able to tackle some weighty screams, while the drummer was just astonishing to watch and the sound (for once) was beautifully produced.
LORDS OF BLACK
This year was the first time I ever stayed in the venue the entire day on Friday or Saturday. Out of the six bands, though, Lords of Black were my least anticipated and this set confirmed it. While under no circumstance would I call this set anything less than great, Ronnie Romero's constantly scraping tone just wears on me after a while and the live set was better than the studio album, which eventually bored me. But I'm quite glad they played Ghost of You which is an outstanding piece.
Unlike previous years, I found I was unable to overhear the difference between a show and the loudspeakers from inside the vendor room, so I missed about the first 10 minutes of this set from inside the vendor room. I very quickly understood why this was a mistake, as the band sounded incredibly invigorated and among the most grateful bands to ever play here. Just a few weeks ago I had no idea what to expect musically, and three albums in I found myself absolutely enthralled by their music. And fortunately they played many of those tunes, including the incredibly touching "Follow Me" which is partially a love song, and they called up a woman from the front row and sang the song to her in what was one of the more emotional moments of the fest.
I had to sit way up top for this set because of how packed the venue was for Myrath, and anyone who was there in 2013 knows exactly why. I did not expect the guys to be able to top their previous set because the adverse circumstances that triggered that je ne sais quoi are basically impossible to replicate. However, their set was simply unimpeachable and the band and crowd energy and enthusiasm were second to none. And this time they actually had the entire band - Elyes Bouchoucha was not present last year, and his entrance was greeted with triple the enthusiasm as everyone else's. Meeting Bouchoucha later was an incredibly poignant moment for me, as he was the very first metal musician I ever made friends with, eight years ago on Facebook. I hadn't really spoken to him in six years, but he still recognized me on sight and gave me one of the biggest hugs I've ever had. We only spoke about 15 minutes, but it was one of those unforgettable moments that reminds you why PPUSA is a family.
MIKE PORTNOY'S SHATTERED FORTRESS
It was certainly unjust for Portnoy to never get the chance to play the 12 Steps Suite with DT as originally intended. But fortunately we have this, to bring closure to something I've longed for for eight years - nine years, if you also count me never having seen Portnoy in concert before. The 12 Steps Suite is basically sacred ground for me and watching it come to life on stage with beautiful visuals was simply a watershed moment in my musical lifetime. I took more footage of this show than many of the others put together, to preserve this forever. It's one of those moments where I feel immensely grateful that I was able to emerge from Houston a week after Harvey, to get to witness this. One of those moments where I felt blessed beyond measure.
Nothing these guys and gal could do could bring them out of the shadow of replacing Teramaze (which deserves a digression). It was a very tragic circumstance for me as Teramaze's singer and bassist were two of the people I spent the most time with that weekend, and felt welcomed the most by, and the moment Nathan (the singer) spotted me in the Courtyard wanting to ensure I got a picture with him, was the exact moment I read Teramaze would be unable to perform. I awkwardly took the picture, simply not knowing what to tell these guys, and instead of partying that night, went back to the hotel completely crushed, needing to spend the remaining evening and much of Thursday processing the news and slowly letting go of one of my dream sets. This was not like Anubis Gate where, despite being an enormous disappointment, it was two months in advance; (most of) Teramaze were literally there in the venue, becoming my friends, before they had to cancel. It took until Twilight Force's set to feel normal again.
Despite all that, though, Seven Spires put on a stellar set, sounding incredibly tight and skull-crushingly intense, incorporating Arch Enemy-styled growled passages into a Nevermore-inspired proggy classic metal framework. I eventually got tired of standing and exhausted by the intensity of the music and went outside to line up for Myrath's autographs. In any other circumstance I'd probably have stayed for longer.
Also unfortunately for these guys, the sound was very boomy and poorly mixed, which for a rough-sounding vocalist like Nils Molin is a serious defect, as I couldn't really hear what he was singing. The band performed well but their music blended together. They did mix it up by throwing in bass and drum solos, unexpectedly for a heavy/power outfit, in an attempt to break the mold. They did, to an extent, but if the mold itself is not operating at full potential then there is not much that can be done.
SNOWY SHAW I missed, to go get a large dinner at Sausalito's.
I would never pick up a Pain album due to his association with Hypocrisy, a type of band I stay away from with a six-foot pole. If Pain hadn't been touted as unique and experimental, I wouldn't watch this either. I did stay for about 25 minutes of the set and the constant hypnotic wall of sound and techno influences made for an odd but compelling style for the festival, including the bizarrely shaded lighting that may have amplified the hypnotic effect of the music. Think an industrial and extreme-tinged version of The Smashing Pumpkins and this is about what you get.
Very few bands have three lead vocalists on whom their music is almost completely dependent, but in that elite company one of the primary commandments is to make the singers audible and distinct. Unfortunately, the poor sound quality at this set made it difficult to follow several of the songs and distinguish one from another, and I gave up on trying to fill in the setlist near the end as a result. I have mixed opinions about Nils Molin as the male clean singer and this set confirmed it both ways. He has excellent range but his tone is not as clear as Jake E's, who had fit the pop-rock elements perfectly. I eventually nodded off during this set.
Many fans, even established Katatonia listeners, have said that the band are spotty live and can be either enormously captivating and haunting, or incredibly boring and lifeless. But on the PPUSA stage, they fell decidedly into the former category. Katatonia is one band whose sound must be utterly perfect, and the soundman delivered, bringing out all of the hauntingly atmospheric qualities that make Katatonia's music what it is while also putting enormous punch behind the drums and guitars. The constantly flashing strobe lights and nearly completely obscured band members were quite controversial, but for me they amplified the haunted mood of the set, the sort of feeling that someone is there even when you can't physically see them that scares the wits out of you. And for old-school Katatonia diehards, there was one song on which Anders Nystrom threw in a few screams!
Great write up. I know this took some time. Enjoyed reading it.
I also just had to add I attended PP in 2005 just after Katrina took nearly everything I own. I hope Harvey didn't do as much to you. Also a bit of Irony here in that Orphaned Land played that year as well. I will never forget it!
Kudos for making the trip, and best to you and the Houston area.