Coming Home! Not only the title of one of the better songs by this year's main headliner, also the feeling most regulars have when making their annual pilgrimage to Baarlo. Unbeatable in atmosphere this festival is an even split of music and people that makes it so special to many. Now even a book was released where visitors appear: Strange Kind of Epic Most people pictured for that book are staying at the Castle de Berckt. For us coming home is across the road at the Camping de Berckt. This year we were 10 for the weekend plus Yvon and Rene on the Saturday, so two packed trailers it was. Upon arrival during the Friday afternoon, the sun warmly welcomed us and the Bockbier was cold. Were we ready for a 20th anniversary party? yes we were! This weekend the competition of alternative shows was a bit crazy really. On Thursday either Sons of Apollo or Enslaved would be an option. Friday had Crippled Black Phoenix near home while Saturday had not only Haags Metaal, but also Toxik at Loud Noise festival. To top things of in Holland Baroeg decided to put a Progmetal package on with Soen and two good Dutch supports. Finally we shall never understand why Euroblast stubbornly blocks the same weekend as PPE, fishing in a very similar pond. Now this was only this weekend. In general also organizing a Prog festival in Holland seems to become the thing to do. Now as a fan I do think the more the better, but common sense should make you worried. I mean how many bands can carry a festival in our scene? And the feeling of embarrassement when a band you love plays for a handful of people comes lurking around the corner. No matter the competition PPE 2018 was sold out on the Friday and almost so on the other two days, so hurrah to that.
The last few years I skipped the Friday due to family preferences. This year the preferences did not change, but the musical program did. For me from all the bands I knew in advance the two I wanted to see most opened the festival on the Friday. So catching up quickly with some friends I was in time at Sjiwa to see my first long set by Need. As this was the 20th anniversary of the festival, some people who attended every year were allowed to suggest a band. In come: Ronald, Lia, Esther and Michel Holland's Need fanclub and the choice was obvious. Now last year Need toured Europe supporting Evergrey and on the day they played close to home it was Tiago's birthday so a no for me. A week later they played Diest in Belgium and a picture of a certain anniversary present made me drive to Diest to join the stalkers. Well Need were as good as I hoped for that night, so I was looking forward to a full set. At first I thought the sound was a bit unclear, but after some two songs that got solved and we had a great set passing their three albums. For me the set was building up to the two highlights ending their set Mother Madness and Hegaiamas. It was also very nice to see that I joined the majority, as for an opening band the response was rather overwhelming. How much that was due to the facial expressions by Ravaya throughout the set we shall never know.
Now we warmed up very well already the Friday headliner was from a level of band members not seen often on stage at Sjiwa. I mean all the guys in Sons of Apollo at one stage of their career would consider a crowd of 20.000 a poor turnout. Now they were at a sold out Sjiwa and they looked just as happy to play for us. This was one professional set by an impressive band. As I was not at Be Prog and they were not at Dynamo Metal Fest it was a debut to me and I loved it. With one album only the set had to be filled with some covers and I was pleased they picked the DT Falling Into Infinity album to give us some songs. Another highlight for me was when Jeff Scott Soto gave us some Queen songs to sing along to. Funnily enough he thereafter announced a long instrumental with the words, the moment you all have been waiting for. Well not all of us were, as I for one prefer their songs above too many instrumental masterclasses. Even that they kept under control and when they ended the set with Coming Home we knew we saw a band that can become a headliner of major summer festivals in the future, although they might be a bit too proggy for the masses. Very pleased with the Opening night we returned home for some knakworstjes and beer.
When I swapped on Friday my ticket for a wristband Christian asked me "which bands are you coming for this year?" Well I had not really given it much thought to be honest, but my not so deep research in advance made me very curious about the bands around the dinner break on Saturday. First band of the day was Golden Caves from Rotterdam. I saw them earlier this year at Progdreams and my feelings at that time were reconfirmed for me. This band can play and the girl can sing, yet the songs do not do much for me. So enjoyable enough and I will go see them if playing near home, but not overwhelmed. Next band of the day were The Thirteenth Sun from Romania. I knew nothing by them in advance and started blank. Well to be honest not fully my band either. They lacked some spice and decibels for my taste. Yet their set also did not annoy and I watched a fair deal of it. Hope they won over some fans as they drove up all the way from Romania. Next band was Adimiron from Italy and now we were talking. I was supposed to see them a few years ago, when they supported Swallow the Sun, but I had to cancel that gig at the last moment. At the time I already listened to some of their work, so when they were announced for PPE I was a happy man. This was not the first year things became louder and more interesting around the dinner break, so my hopes were high and well deserved so. It did not take long before the double guitars and their long looking shortly dressed female bassist got me into their set. Metal Archives describes their current music as progressive thrash/death metal and that seems right. What I liked most was the continuing stream of guitar riffs coming at us, even bringing Zero Hour to mind. The voice was harsher than ZH, but this was for me the first band I did not know in advance that got me to the Merch stand after their set. Pity the T-shirt were only made for Italian sized audiences, so it was their last CD for me.
Dinner Break and it became clear to me how much I would miss the Pois Chic food truck this year. Not only for the delicious food they have which is both fast available and healthy. Also Andy and Debbie are among the most sympathetic people I meet up with every year in Baarlo. So now it was a fast broodje kaas as the next band was also one not to miss: Ramage Inc. They played PPE a few years back as well, but that was one of the editions I had to miss due to work obligations abroad. So for me a new band really. Friends who saw them at the time already said they were good and so it was. They obviously must like Devin Townsend as well, but how Epic do you want to get it really. Great performance and a nice presentation as well, made this again one of the weekend highlights for me. Ramage Inc are from Edinburgh and I happened to be there two weeks ago as that is one of the two cities Tiago might start his study next year. I already informed him that with bands like this we have another big plus for Edinburgh. Next band of the evening was one that we all knew would divide opinions. Mattias as all-PPE-attender picked this band and their style is hard to describe. Now I love it when PPE sometimes goes out of the box and tries something different. Half of the times it works for me and the other half it does not. Unfortunately this time it became the latter category and I watched some 15 minutes before saying farewell to the band.The thought that at that very same moment I could have been watching Toxik on stage did cross my mind. By the reactions I saw I guess for several the best band of the festival, while others did not get it really. Headlining the Saturday were Evergrey. First time I saw them was also at PPE in 2000, when they were new to me. I remember being kind of blown away by their refreshing own style. Since then I don't think they really improved and the formula of Evergrey continued. In general we get a good metal show by them with some spoken word tapes and a dark mood. This year would be not any different and I say a good headliner. Surprises zero, show tight and volume too loud.
This day was supposed to be the day that rain would spoil the in between bands outside breaks. Well our gods must be progmetalheads as the sun was out again and slightly fresher we had another winner on the climate front. Musically four to me unknown bands would open the day and I was actually looking forward to a few of them. Temples on Mars was one of those bands I knew nothing about in advance and they were a pleasant surprise to me. Their metal was somewhat djenty and the voice high-ish, yet the total caught me. Not as much as Hans who run out to get their CD during the set already, but definitely one to travel for when back in Holland. DVNE were on next and they play a sort of post-rock. Luckily enough they tend to go to the heavier end in that spectrum. This resulted in a rather energetic set in spite of the long songs. Heads would bang on the slow haunting heaviness and Sunday kicked of with two pleasant surprises. Hereafter the stage was for Voices from London. This was the band I looked out to most on the Sunday, as I listened to some of their work in advance and the mix of Dark Rock with slight Black Metal hints from their past (Akercoke) made this an interesting mix to me. Well it seemed that maybe even unintentional this would be an out of the box band for the festival as well. Unfortunately many people did not regard Voices'bleak dark music as entertaining, while I thought them absolutely brilliant. Somehow I was also not surprised to see Andrew, Alex and Rune highly enjoying this set. which was partially watched over by a young Bryan Ferry. While definitely not for everyone I did run into Anko whom I met at a Fen gig in Eindhoven last year, who came down to Baarlo just for them. Also interesting enough within our group Dark Rock is not depressing as they were the band that sold most merch to us 10 and if they would have brought XXL shirts even more. I already played Frightened today and it only confirmed what I liked when seeing them: Great band.
Dinner at the snackbar meant we were almost in time back for Circles. This band is from Australia and play Djent Metal. Positives: very alive on stage, good guitars and catchy. Negatives to me: It remains djent and than it is hard to stand out. If next year a djent metal band should return, please let it be The Contortionist. But the set was good and the band seemed to enjoy walking around the venue and at the Afterparty, gaining over quite some fans I guess. They went down well though and when they asked people to jump along I recognized some Cork Hats from a distance jumping up and down Then the festival would end with bands I knew on CD or in the case of Subsignal also from some previous live shows. In advance I was somewhat worried that these two rather calm bands would end the festival like the candle burning down at night. Well I did not need to worry. First Subsignal played as I expected. To be honest I loved Sieges Even, liked Subsignal at first a lot, but slowly lost interest in their CD's. Live I saw them in the past very good at PPE and not so good in de Boerderij. So when I entered the hall a bit into their set I was not all that open minded and we old people tend to get tired on day three. So I watched a bit, but never gave it a fair chance. Sound and voice were good again, but I cannot give an opinion really. Hereafter Caligula's Horse would close the festival. Now I have their last CD, but never attended Be Prog or Midsummer prog. Well what a nice surprise to end the weekend I got. A very lively set of band and audience. It is not given to many at PPE to get the floor jumping up and down like that. The vocalist had good humor as well and I did not expect such a party from this band. Shall replay their album one of these days and see if that now also becomes more alive. So if I might have had any doubts of their headliner status, they proved me wrong. And then it was over, but some of us wanted more. So we went downstairs and joined the afterparty. What I was doing there on the picture below says it all really and is easy to understand by PPE attenders. For those in the unknown it is about a collision of certain bodily parts with structures that hold buildings or confine rooms, celebrated in a classic eighties metal song. A perfect way to end a weekend that is so uplifting many look forward to the next edition already. No matter how big the competition might become, I am pretty sure that PPE holds that special feeling, that none shall be able to copy. Thanks to all involved in the organization of this annual party and see you again next year.