ProgPower XVI: THURSDAY
The Thursday Kick-Off Show originally featured Royal Hunt frontman DC Cooper performing a set that would span his career; that fell through. No big deal – just add heavy metal legends Armored Saint and Saxon to the bill, and you have yourself a fucking show. But it started with Brazil’s Almah, a band fronted by former Angra singer Edu Falaschi. Almah has several albums under its belt by now, so seeing Falaschi fronting a new band was exciting, even if I wasn’t that familiar with their material going in. Even though his wireless microphone had some issues early on, Falaschi took it in stride and gained momentum as the show went on. Guitarist Marcelo Barbosa was a standout, delivering some blindingly fast leads that were very tasteful and never over indulgent. He was especially great in the epic song “Treasure of the Gods.”
My favorite Almah song performed was the song “Believer,” which could easily have been on Rebirth. Falaschi was just phenomenal on it, and that chorus is super catchy – it had me singing along even though it was my first time hearing it! And to the delight of almost everyone in the crowd, Almah did play three Angra tunes: “Heroes of Sand” and “Nova Era” from Rebirth, and “Angels and Demons” from Temple of Shadows. “Angels and Demons” is a great song, but I’ll admit the band struggled to keep it tight through the really proggy guitar runs that go through the whole thing. Overall, Almah was quite good and they had a strong crowd response.
Dragonland played next, and were given a little more than an hour for their set. Dragonland is a power metal band from Sweden that, if you’re not familiar, really sounds a lot like Rhapsody (of Fire?). They want to be Rhapsody so bad. Their albums tell a continuous story with tons of fantasy tropes. Their vocals are soaring high in the sky, their guitars are flashy and fast, and the keyboards and ambient sounds run throughout every bit. They even had their guitarist do a little folky violin number to simulate being in a forest (of Unicorns?).
I’ll admit that even though they had all the right bits and pieces, I came away not really wowed by the whole thing. Sure, they do a sweet cover of the theme from Neverending Story (that they closed their set with), but there are similar bands with more memorable songs playing this style of metal. I may be in the minority, because they still got a big crowd response.
But I was ready for Armored Saint to teach us all what heavy metal is all about. They did not disappoint. From note one, the veteran John Bush exploded on stage and riled everyone up with the title track from their newest album Win Hands Down. But you don’t see a classic band for a set full of new stuff! Song two – “March of the Saint” – now we’re talking, boys!
They did a good job of peppering in the new songs amid a great deal of classic tunes. The best moment was when they went into “Reign of Fire” from 1991’s Symbol of Salvation. That’s already one of their best songs ever, but Bush took it to the stands. He ran up and down the stairs and aisles, even singing the chorus with a few lucky fans in the seats. He finished by running into the pit and rocking out with the crowd below. Truly a crowd-pleaser. The band ended their set with “Madhouse,” having the whole crowd chant the chorus with them.
Saxon were the headliners of the night, and had a setlist just shy of two hours prepared for the crowd. The members of Saxon have an average age of 58.6 (I did the math), including their 64-year-old singer Biff Byford. Byford looks his age, but he doesn’t show it on stage. His energy and stage presence rivals singers half his age, and his voice is as good as ever. I heard from a friend that during Motley Crue’s farewell shows it was sad watching the aging Vince Neil (10 years younger than Byford) struggle to sing the old classic songs. There is no struggle with Byford, who leads the charge through so much classic NWOBHM goodness that it’ll give you whiplash.
We lost our minds and broke our necks to “Heavy Metal Thunder,” and we lost our voices singing “Princess of the Night.” They even played the song “Battering Ram” from their upcoming album (of the same name), and that song ruled too! I like Saxon’s newer material, and would have liked to see more of the new stuff, but playing the hits still satisfies like almost none other. Finally, we all grabbed a buddy arm and arm, and belted out “Denim and Leather,” like it’s still fucking 1981. Saxon played a long set, and I could have easily seen them play four or five more and not have been tired. They were that good, and they’ve been that good for years. Somehow not fatigued by the years of touring and playing, Saxon is still a band at the top of their game. And that’s saying a lot.
Stay tuned as Hellbound’s report on ProgPower 2015 continues with William and Justin’s report on Day 3….