Sunday, 21 October 2018

Amenra, Toner Low & Hemelbestormer - Gebr. de Nobel Leiden, 20 October

This Saturday night I decided to leave my comfort zone and step into a world heavier, darker and slower than most shows I attend. Actually this was more of a Roadburn event and a crowd to match it. Yet after reading several rave reviews on Amenra live I was looking forward to this evening. Actually it was a double event with the day before an acoustic set in a theater in Leiden. I skipped that and also did not spend all that much time at the Amenra art exposition next door. I was in for heavy music and earplugs would ever come in so handy. Upon arrival I entered the longest queue I ever saw at de Nobel, so that was a good start.

First band of the evening were Hemelbestormer from Belgium. Their last album is called A Ring of Blue Light. A Dutch band name and an English album title. Well if you play instrumental post metal, you can do whatever you want on that front. This show was in the small hall, but as I entered early enough I found a good spot to feel their music for 45 minutes. This is indeed all about feeling the music, as Heavy was used in the capital letter form. A band on stage in the dark, with on the background black and white nature movies playing. Maybe not the first time we see something like that, but this was a good band and their continued set without one word was impressive. A few times the guitarist started applauding to us as a sign that we were allowed to clap. First band down and I already felt my chest and stomach pulsing on the basses.

Fast hereafter to the main hall for Toner Low. Main reason I wanted to see this band is the fact that for a few years now I keep running into their drummer Jack at shows in the area. So far I always managed to be away or at other gigs when he was playing live, so that would be sorted tonight. Toner Low play Stoner Doom and when I entered the hall they were already giving us their slow and heavy tunes. Again this could go really slow and heavy and it was good to feel them live. When moving from the back to the bar at the right of the hall I noticed that in spite of the full house the bar was not that busy. I guess this music is more for smoking than drinking. Their music was slightly less metallic than Hemelbestormer, but as a plus the guitarist did sing at times and actually spoke to us in between songs, even if only a Thank you Leiden. For me music like this is good to see live, but won't work at home on CD all that well I'm afraid.

Now moving back to the small hall after seeing Toner Low until the end and getting a beer, turned out a mission impossible.  So instead of  Soul Grip I moved back to the main hall and got myself a good spot at the balconies. While Amenra exist for some 20 years now, they are a new band to me. Last year I read about them in Portugal, where Loud made them album of the month and I believe even album of the year. So that was the reason for me checking them out on the internet and I could see this might be interesting live. A few minutes before 21:45 the band came on and the vocalist sits on a cloth with symbol and his back towards us. He hits some steel pipes together and later the drummer joins him and the band starts playing. After some time we move back to the theme of the night Heavy and we get a full blow of heaviness upon us. The band were announced as Doom Post Metal Sludge, so I guess that is what it was. I must say the movies were good and the band impressive. The vocalists sung main part of the show towards the drummer showing us his back. Yet as this was a dark stage experience that did not disturb. Actually I had the feeling that Amenra is full of symbolism and their T-shirts and exposition made you believe the same. Now I don't know them really, so could not get the deeper meaning. The vocals were mainly desperate, haunting screaming, but at times fragile and vulnerable. The band was very good in building heaviness and the overall picture was beautiful. One nice view from the balconies was the crowd banging very synchronized along the heavier and faster parts. Yet I must admit I was not as overwhelmed as I was earlier this year at Bell Witch. Maybe that was also caused by the guy standing in front of smelling like a French Union sales rep after running a marathon, who  distracted the people behind him a bit. Yet in the end I was pleased with the spectacle Amenra gave us and the two nice opening shows by Toner Low and Hemelbestormer. Maybe I should keep an eye on Roadburn's program next year.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Saxon, FM & Raven - Ronda Tivoli Utrecht, 16 October 2018

Saxon in Utrecht on a Tuesday night? Why not. Thunderbolt was a good new album and nothing beats an evening of songs from your youth to shout along with. The supports were also far from bad and given their status it was even a bit strange they played in front of a Saxon banner and pretty short too. So on a surprisingly summer day mid October I was off to Utrecht to re-live parts of my younger years.

Opener Raven played Musicon only a month ago. So I knew what we would get, only not which songs remained in the set. That being only six songs was a bit weird given it was Raven, but an evening only has so many hours to fill. Starting at 19:00 hrs the hall was still filling up and the sound was not all that clear. Yet Destroy All Monsters was a good start and Raven always runs around the stage. With more meters to do so this night they must only have gotten more tired. Highlights for me in the middle Hung, Drawn & Quartered following All for One. Yet I must say that shouting along with On and On felt better in Musicon after an evening of metal, than tonight while only warming up. Still sympathy votes always go out to Raven as they just give us a good time.

Next band FM were the lightweight of the evening. Originally Y&T would be here, but they had to pull out. Looking around the audience it seemed that many people picked up their Y&T-tee as support. On the other hand I did not see one FM T-shirt. FM do not play metal, but AOR/hard rock. For a man with an open mind and wide range of musical taste like me this was no issue, but I had the idea that many did not join me. I do have their classic album Indiscreet on LP, so seeing for me for the first time songs like I Belong to the Night or  Other Side of Midnight being played live was a treat. Actually the band seemed to be in good shape and Steve Overland remains one of the best voices in AOR. In order to get some metal credibility they mentioned themselves that a certain band called Iron Maiden covered their biggest hit That Girl. For me their second point of metal credibility was bassist Merv Goldsworthy, whom I last saw on stage 35 years ago with Diamond Head. Interesting enough they did not end their set with their biggest hit, but with a new song Killed By Love. I highly enjoyed their (also too short) set of 40 minutes and in the end several people seemed to like their set as well.

Saxon live is not all that rare nowadays, as I think they return every year to Holland. However, I can stay that for me this was their best show of the last years. The band is in great form and at the same time the audience was in good old eighties fashion. Thunderbolt is their latest album and we got I believe no less than six songs of that album. Luckily that album is rather strong and slowly in the set we moved to more and more old Classics we all know so well. Funnily enough through the set Biff joked it was too early for Wheels of Steel. Now that is a great song, but not my favorite Saxon song really. To me the highlights came in Dallas 1 PM, 747, Crusader and Princess of the Night. In reality there were no lows in the set as the new and more recent songs blended in fine. In total we got over two hours of Saxon, which might explain the short time the openers were given. Well it was right like this and I enjoyed every minute of it. Now next year Saxon exists 40 years and that shall be celebrated. Biff announced that even the Eagle shall be back, so watch your tour announcements as I shall be there again. Saxon still holds the Power and the Glory.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Solitary, PPTA & Remain Untamed - Musicon The Hague 13 October 2018

16 months after their first tour of Holland Solitary returned for a long weekend with 4 shows in the country. I was glad being able to help out and receive them at home after the Musicon gig and curious at the same time how this visit of The Hague would go down. Due to a Threshold DVD filming gig in nearby Zoetermeer I could not pull a small crowd for one, but Magchiel joined me as he liked them last year as well. Still the evening promised to be Ok as the two supports sounded interesting. Openers of the evening were Remain Untamed, who played a thrash metal crossover style according to the FB event, I quite liked their set and especially instrumentally they appeared a strong unit. The voice for me could have been more thrashy and less core, but that is personal taste. Their covers of DRI and SOD sort of hinted to their direction in metal.
Next band PPTA opened this summer for two local bands on their CD release party. At the time I quite liked their show, but you can't comment on them without mentioning the wrestling ring. I still not figured out how much that adds, although it gives them something own. Further I believe that their decision to give the referee a smaller role paid off. Musically they play thrash metal and are one of the many newer Dutch bands doing so at a rather high level. Good songs and catchy melodies. My favorite is the Sumo Wrestler where the heaviness just pours out. This band definitely did warm us all up and got me ready for Solitary.

Solitary back in Musicon so the first thing one does is comparing. This year we had two supports so a shorter set. This mainly meant that the big four covers were dropped. To get more on their big four background read the book "I promise to thrash forever". This year there was the release of the 20th anniversary of their record Nothing Changes on Dutch label Doc Records. So we got some songs from that album, but also Requiem and The Diseased Heart of Society were visited. The cover that stayed in the set was Into The Pit, but that is no surprise as they recorded it on Requiem. Last year I mentioned to them missing Anthem of Regret in their set. This slower and heavier banger for me does wonders in an overall fast set. They did remember my comment and decided to include it tonight and even better dedicate the song to me. Thanks for that guys and yes it worked wonderfully well live I thought. Their one hour set flew by and before we knew it we were bringing  amps back to the black box. For me Solitary proved again to be one of the more exciting current thrash metal bands. Still there must be people around who prefer to pay EUR 2200 for a VIP package Metallica over an evening of excellent music in Musicon. Still the crowd more or less doubled from last year, so if we keep that pace one day they get what they deserve. For us it was a cooling down over some Hertog Jan and peanuts/knakworstjes. Finally it is great to see how the 3-0 smashing of Germany this same evening also can make English football fans happy.

Monday, 8 October 2018

ProgPowerEurope - Sjiwa Baarlo, 5-7 October 2018

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.