Monday, 7 October 2019

ProgPower Europe, Sjiwa - Baarlo 4-6 October 2019


PPE 2019, the rainy edition. In my memory we always have decent up to very nice weather. This year especially the Sunday was wet. As if organizers knew this in advance, they put together the best line-up in years. Unfortunately Redemption had to cancel, as they are one of my absolute favorites. Still the last minute substitutes found made me happy. This time I knew most bands in advance, before they were booked, but luckily several of them I never saw playing live before. So we were more than a bit keen to head down to Baarlo again. We this year was 11 of us, as Lida had to cancel due to a fever. I was struggling with cold and chills  myself over the past two weeks, so somehow I did need to seek time for rest and go light on the drinks. Not sure how far I succeeded, but in order to arrive fitter I did cancel the pre-party in my hometown by Emma Ruth Rundle and Gold, pity but wisdom comes with age. So arriving around 15:00 at camping de Berckt we could start our own traditions. In our case that means have a few bock beers who arrive in October as well and eat the delicious Roti prepared by Ron and Astrid. Renting a bicycle and down to Sjiwa hereafter meeting friends we see either once a year, or pretty often at gigs in the country.


Friday
While the program was for the weekend very strong, the start was in my case not overly exciting. Unfortunately Tweve Foot Ninja cancelled their European tour and a substitue was needed. This was found in Voyager, known to frequent visitors. To me Voyager falls in the category that I follow, but not closely. The first time I saw them live I was fully blown away by their show and style. Later on I saw them a few more times and without the surprise, they became just a nice band to watch. I have a few of their albums, but not their last and I go see them play only if close to home. Luckily this evening they were inspired and gave us a nice show. They were Hyperventilating at the start, which I did recognize and The Meaning of I was also still in the set. They were announced as a headliner opening, which was true as it is not every festival that gives the opening band 90 minutes. Then again PPE is not your average festival by all means. Conclusion I liked re-seeing Voyager on stage and appreciated their set. I even almost managed to forget that I could have been in Bochum the same evening.
Next on would be that band. Almost every year PPE puts one band on the line-up, that divides opinions. Usually they go down really well, but those not getting the point walk around outside and in the downstairs bar asking WTF this is all about. This year that band would be Diablo Swng Orchestra and unfortunately I fell in the second category. I consider myself fairly open minded see just who I intended to see on Thursday and one of my favorite concerts this year was by Azusa, but DSO was too complicated for simple me. Or was it the huge amount of wind instruments on stage? We shall never know, so I can only say that the majority seemed to appreciate them and I expect such combo's to play at world chamionships speedskating.


Saturday
Saturday had legendary written all over the programmed bands. This could be one of those days where I would really like all six bands. This resulted in a sold out house, but also in some worries, how recovering me would handle this. It turned out that  I did well by staying inside half the set only a few times. The first band that happened were opener Scarlet Stories. They are from Holland, so I will see them again probably soonish. I liked their playing and style, although I woudl have appreciated a fast banger somewhere halfway for needed variation in pace. Still a band that opened for a full and enthusiastic hall went down very well I saw. For me only half an hour before getting some fresh air.


Now I obviously did not read the program carefully enough, so I walked back in when teh next band started playing. I thought this would be VotF, but it was Anima Tempo, the first Mexican band ever at PPE and one I definitely wanted to see. Entering the hall I was halted by Christian complaining I missed his Spanish introduction of the band. Now I don't speak Spanish, but my Portuguese is fluent (ish), so I probably could have been a judge on his lines. Not important as meanwhile Anima Tempo started ruling the hall. Their energetic played set with double guitar attacks, comes very close to the style I like most, so we had for me the first winner of the festival. I picked up their CD afterwards and shall play it with care, seeing if I can recall some of the high that went on for an hour to me. This is what is the best about PPE to me, bands you did not know yet, that become new favorites to follow. Gracias senhores. Voices from the Fuselage came next and I must again admit I did neither prepare, nor give them a fair chance as a delicious Falaf Hell was served by Pois Chic. So I saw only some 20 minutes, enough to get an idea on their music, with the recognizable high voice of Ashe O'Hara. It sounded ok I thought.


After the break things could not go wrong really as I know and like to totally love all three bands. Kingcrow being the first was the one I like. I knew them since their album with the easy name Phlegethon. I saw them a few times hereafter and always liked them, yet not buying their last album any longer. When they hit the stage I recalled what I like so much about them. It is their sympathetic appearance on stage, a band that is enjoying themselves playing for us and doing so rather well. I did not go for the full 75 minutes due to two reasons. First the rest for what was to come and second the similarity inbetween songs to me. So start and finish together I got some 45 minutes and that was enough. Kingcrow are a band I will see when playing the west of Holland, but as with many bands to me, when the surprise is gone the efforts from my side diminish a bit. They did have huge response though and might have been a silent headliner to many.


Next another band I was really looking forward to: Ghost Ship Octavius. On tour with Psychotic Waltz I was even considering seeing them on Thursday in Hamburg or Friday in Bochum. When due to cancellations they were included to PPE as well I decided to skip those, save some money and health and see them here. Well that did not disappoint. During PPE I usually tend to love it when a band just comes and blows us away with Heavy or even Death metal for the needed variation throughout the day. And that is just what they did. Heavy from begin to end giving us an overview of their two albums, with personal favorite Turned to Ice, what a killer song that is. For the occasion they came on stage with painted faces and I loved this set from start to finish. Very welcome last minute addition to the line-up indeed.


Psychotic Waltz
Yes I know Psychotic Waltz is not a day, but this band deserves a full chapter. On the FB page of PPE, people were asked to introduce themselves and tell among other things which three bands they were looking out for. To my shock and awe, hardly anyone mentioned Psychotic Waltz. This must be an age thing and also explained why I did not manage to get many regulars to come to The Hague, when I had Heir Apparent playing in June. So as I am old and older people have to teach herewith a small history lesson of Progressive metal. Without Psychotic Waltz, there would not have been a PPE festival. Let me explain this a bit. As from the eighties all good Progmetal came from over the ocean to us. The so called big three never played clubs. Queensryche supported Dio and Bon Jovi in main halls and then headlined Aardschokdag when Mindcrime was released. Fates Warning hardly came and first time was as opener for Manowar in Paradiso (their first ever European gig) Dream Theater released WDADU, but that one was overlooked by the mainstream and with Images and Words they sold out Vredenburg at once. Then there were other bands who just managed to come over once (or even never) due to lack of finacial support. Here you can think of Watchtower, Heir Apparent, Crimson Glory and Lethal for instance. In comes Psychotic Waltz who with their debut A Social Grace amazed all that understood great music. Opening Dynamo Open Air 1991, they would from there on tour every year at lest once through Europe, playing all clubs sized around Sjiwa size. They became my absolute favorite band of the nineties and I can't count how often we went to see them. I even travelled abroad seeing them at a metalbar off Heidelberg in Germany and once in Vienna, when Ajax picked up the Champions league that same weeek. That last tour they brought along Threshold as support. The years before they gave a stage to many Dutch (Donor anyone?) and German progmetal bands, helping to grow the scene. So when PPE started a firm base was placed by their intensive touring. Since 1997 they more or less disappeared with only a 2011 support on a Nevermore tour and two years ago a very strong appearance at Amersfoort and Graspop. Now there is a new album coming and they finally made it to PPE. Since my first visit to Baarlo in 2000 I always put Psychotic Waltz on the evaluation form after PPE. So fanboy me was happy as can be and I hoped that Psychotic Waltz would show us all how proper Progressive metal is supposed to be played.


And then came Saturday 22:05 and I was placed up front next to old school PW fan Gerrie with his camera. Let me first share how I underwent 90 minutes of Psychotic Waltz. For me this trip down memory lane was the high of PPE, for nostalgic reasons. The sound was OK to me, and if Devon's voice was not as dominant as it was in the past I had no complaints. So upon a high after the show I only ran into people telling me they were disappointed in the vocals. Musically very strong, but off key vocals making it hard to them to like the full set. Well that was a cold shower as I did not get this and my wish for PW to win over the full crowd apparently did not come true. Well I have the right to be biased, so I had a brilliant show. Maybe not their best ever, but still PW so hard to match by anyone. The setlist was great with an overview of all four albums, two new songs and a Black Sabbath cover to close with. I remember (!) on their first tour they played obscurer BS song Disturbing the Priest. This time it was Children of the Grave. On the songs I can not mention highlights as all of them are favorites to me. Amazing also to see that A Social Grace until the day of today remains one of the most exciting progmetal albums ever released. So coming out of their set on a high reactions of literally everyone talking to me, gave some disappointment. Not to me, but the missed chance. Well February 2020 the new album is out and Psychotic Waltz already promised a fast return to Europe. Go give them a chance again, as in 2017 they were the best gig of the year, not just to me.


Sunday
After Saturday with so many ups, Sunday promised to be a bit more low key and unknow to me. Well not opening band Lost in Thought. I had their debut album Opus Arise and then they went a bit under the radar. Through the website of the Man of Much Metal I read about a new album, so I joined the crowdfunding. It was nice to meet Matt Spall after the Lost in Thought set and share that he put me on the right track for this band. I said right track as to me Lost in Thought were the first highlight of the day. Good band, nice presentation and songs that flow and differentiate between them. So they skipped their (classic?) debut Opus Arise and played the new album in full. Well either set would have worked as I liked my first encounter with these men from Wales. Finally I am surely not the only Dutch person being surprised how good our ex topjudoka Dennis van der Geest is on guitars in this band.


Prehistoric Animals would be next and they were the only band I heard or read absolutely nothing off and about. The idea was to let them surprise me and what a good surprise this was. Unknown to me, now one to follow and getting their CD after the show. Again it was for me about the quality of the songs, which in their case were helped by videos on the background. It always helped when the  on stage appearance is sympathetic and appreciative. Well no lack of either here and later on they told this was only their fourth show ever. If they return one day to holland I will travel further to see them again. Now knowing the songs it might be even better. So that was two out of two wins on a Sunday afternoon.


Rendezvous Point are from Norway, but are not very weird in music, given their passport. Fairly open and accesible songs to me. A few weeks ago I saw them opening for Vola and now getting a full hour, they managed to keep my attention spanned. What I saw in the hall was this to many probaby also a silent headliner, as it was and remianed full throughout. Well a nice show again, not my top favorite maybe, but definitely a nice live band. Then came a break for dinner and I made a mistake, Staying outside far too long I managed to miss most of Kong's show. What I did get was their last 20-25 minutes, which sounded impressive. While Kong are Dutch I still managed to never  see them before. Defintely one to look out for, as this felt and sounded like more.


My silent headliner and band I looked out for most on the Sunday were Teramaze. Their progmetal is closest to Heavy Metal again and I love their feel for melody. Only holding their last two albums I did recognize most songs. Yet being honest I probably was hoping for too much, as I was not blown away. Turns out you can not be blown away just by expectations only. Don't know what it was exactly, but something did not fully connect with me. So I saw an enjoyable show, by an obviously good band. Still wondering what I missed though.


Persefone headlining ProgPower Sunday is a bold statement. I do like this band, but know that their death metal parts are a bridge too far for some. Yet we saw those present (fairly large in numbers still given the Sunday night) enjoying themselves during their long set. Energy is the only certainty never missing during a Persefone gig and that was present again. Only issue seemed to be with the mic. Talking inbetween songs, we got some cartoon like voices thrown at us, and noone seemd to be bothered to solve this. While Marc Martins is the one jumping around on and off the stage all the time, the clean vocals from behind the keys are as important to me. Maybe a bit long for me as we are old and tired, but another good gig by Persefone, showing us they deserved the headline spot for the weekend.

Afterparty's
Being old and tired is one thing, but skipping all the afterparty's is simply not an option. Down in the basement the mood is brilliant and so many nice people just seem to be happy to be there and then.This year the Saturday held a top 25 of epics as chosen online by the audience. I only stayed a while. The Sunday knew the introduction  of a Hard Rock and Metal Karaoke and let's hope another tradition is born. Maybe swapping both days is even better for enabling more to participate. This was pure fun and highlights where Death Metalizzed Three Little Pigs and the smoothly sung Tequila. People understanding music told me that a certain The Boys Are Back in Town sounded rather awesome as well. Well what a great way to end this wonderfull weekend. An annual high on music and more for many frequent visitors, so we can only thank the organization and many volunteers, for giving us this platform to get together and enjoy some brilliant bands.  2-4 October 2020 has been noted down in the agenda. See you all there again.

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