The Metal Files

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ProgPower XVII Review, Atlanta, GA, September 9-10, 2016

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Four years ago, Kelz and I went to Connecticut to see Arch/Matheos.  It was a pretty magical and at the time I didn’t think it could be topped…

That was until ProgPower announced that Fates Warning would be playing all of Awaken the Guardian with the band lineup from that album.

What?

I bought 3 tickets right when they went on sale last year as it was obviously going to sell out.  Kelz was automatically in and Rodney claimed the other.  Done and done.  And I mean done!  To be truthful, Fates and Refuge (aka Rage from Germany) were the only two bands on the lineup that I really wanted to see.  Anneke Van Gierbergen, formerly of The Gathering, was a little added bonus.

Thursday:  I flew into Atlanta that evening and Kelz was already at our hotel a couple of blocks from the venue.  We decided to get a couple of drinks and I contacted my friend, Charlotte, who is also from Austin about her whereabouts and knowing that she was planning to have dinner with John Arch and his crew.  She told me they had left the restaurant already but thought he may still be there.  I looked for them when we walked in and didn’t see them and just went to the bar to grab a burger and some beers.  After being there for a bit, all of a sudden like an apparition (yes, I went there), John popped up beside me at the bar.  My favorite singer of all time standing next to us.  What an awesome surprise.  He and his friends were on their way out and it was awesome that he saw us and said hello for a few minutes before heading back to his hotel to rest for Friday’s show.  We finished our food and drinks and went back to ours as well.

Friday:  We got up and made out way down to the hotel’s worthwhile breakfast buffet.  Mmmm…bacon.  After breakfast and getting cleaned up we headed down to the venue, Center Stage, in the Midtown part of Atlanta.  Doors opened at 1:30PM and we arrived about that time to see a few friends in line from here in Texas or from other festivals that we’ve attended.  Once inside, we jumped in line for band merch to get the 30th anniversary of Awake the Guardian shirts.  Done.  Canada’s Ascendia was on stage and I peeked in for a second to see the inside of the venue area.  I wasn’t into the band at all and to be honest not into any of the other bands that weren’t named Fates Warning or Refuge.

Fates was scheduled to do a signing at 4:30PM and the line was already forming by 3.  We got in line around 3:30 and just waited it out with our stuff to get signed.  I made the joke several times about all of the prog nerds in attendance, but I’m just as much of a nerd for the stuff that I love as well.  So the pot calls the kettle black…with glee!  Once the line got going and we get to the band, Joe DiBiase stood up and gave me a hug.  I gave him a Grand Slamm box set that he didn’t have as it was a spare copy.  He was stoked.  We’re both Thin Lizzy fanatics.  I just brought the first 3 album covers as I got all of my other stuff signed in CT at the Arch/Matheos show.  A few quick words with the rest of the guys as the line behind us was long.  We were originally told 3 items only and they were starting to limit it to 2 by the time we got to the band.  We got lucky to get all of our stuff done as the line was pretty long.  After the signing, Kelz took our stuff back to the hotel.  I’ve not been feeling so great for a week or so and am thankful that he made that run a couple of times.  I didn’t go in and listen to the next couple of bands either but by the time Kelz returned, we figured we should go inside, find some seats and hunker down as the room would surely be filled for Fates.  Rodney showed up right at this time and we went in and got some good seats on the side.  We sat through Gentle Storm’s set which was utterly boring except for the 2 Gathering songs she did.  Her voice still sounds great and her band was solid but the music just didn’t do anything for me.  I literally dozed off twice.  Scar Symmetry was direct support for Fates and I dozed for a second during their set as well.  They were heavy but….but…ugh.  I can’t deal with that stuff.  They have a lead singer who sings clean-style and a separate singer who does the cookie monster vocals.  NO.  That was a tough set to sit through, but we didn’t want to lose our spots.  After their set, they showed a video announcing the lineup for next year and it was very clear that I’d not go.  Angel Dust was the only interesting band named and from what I have been told, they don’t touch their first 2 albums, so I can’t really care.

Then Fates came on and the packed house went crazy.  They opened the show with The Sorceress and played all of Awaken in its entirety.  John looked very happy to be there and very comfortable.  His interactions with the band and the crowd were great and his voice was just plain fucking awesome.  The whole band was great although there were some apparently some technical difficulties with their monitors which caused a couple of slight mishaps but no train wrecks.  It was great hearing that whole album live, especially Guardian, Fata Morgana and Giant’s Lore.  Again, John’s voice was out of this world and I think he sounded better at this show than in CT 4 years ago.  After they finished with Exodus, the stage went dark for a few minutes and they came back for a 4 song encore which included Damnation, The Apparition, Kyrie Eleison and Epitaph. Their Keep It True show had Night on Brocken in the Kyrie slot. Their setlist showed both songs but DiBiase told me after the show that it was going to be one or the other and they obviously chose Kyrie.  So many emotions and great memories during their set.  They could have played any of those first 3 albums all the way through and I would have felt the same.

After the show we went out to the street.  The entire crowd was in awe and all you could hear was everyone praising the show and with good reason.  After a few minutes out there, John comes up to me and says, “Grab your friends and come with me.”  Wait. What?  YES SIR!  So I grab Charlotte and Steve when they were coming out and the 5 of us went backstage.  I really didn’t expect that but there we were just outside of Fates’ dressing room.  I saw some other friends back there as well.  After a little bit of time, we were welcomed into the dressing room.  It was very casual and I got to speak with DiBiase and his son for quite a while.  John hung out with us for a bit.  What an awesome guy.  He’s just a dude like us…but not really.  Mike Portnoy was back there and I said hello.  He didn’t care.  haha.  I wish I would have had the Book with me, though, as he’s listed with Majesty.  Oh well.  As things were winding down back there, we got to say goodbye to the band and I got to talk to Matheos for just a minute along with Zimmerman.  The conversation was pretty humorous but that story will be left in the dressing room.  Afterwards we met up with Oliver from Keep It True and Kiri at Gladys Night’s Chicken and Waffles.  The perfect end to an incredible night.

Saturday:  Another roll through the breakfast buffet.  Their bacon is on point.  We were trying to decide if we wanted to head back to the venue to do the Anneke signing or go bumming around to some records stores.  The record store decision won out.  I found some cool stuff at Fantasyland Records and Wax N Facts Records.  After returning to the hotel and getting our Rage stuff together, we grabbed some very boring pseudo-Mexican dinner then got back to the venue right before Refuge hit the stage.  We grabbed our seats and waited for the band to start.  It was clearly obvious how under-attended Saturday’s show was.  The floor was pretty open and there were tons of available seats.  Refuge hit the stage and just blasted through their set playing only material from their era as a trio, which meant I’d not get anything from my favorite album, Execution Guaranteed.  They sounded great all the way around.  Peavey’s vocals were solid and they were obviously having a great time on stage.  I remembered about 5 or 6 of their songs and seeing the songs Don’t Fear The Winter and Refuge live were certainly highlights.  It was just a fun set overall.  Haken was on next and I popped in for a minute before getting line for the Refuge signing.  BORING.

The Refuge signing line went pretty quickly as most of the folks in front of us were just getting either their tickets signed or the festival program.  Kelz was ahead of me in line and had quite a few items and they happily signed it all.  I had them sign the Book.  The guitarist was slightly interested in it, the drummer was just happy to be there and Peavy was asking questions about it.  Another great addition!  After we finished with the signing, Haken was still playing.  Ugh.  Devin Townsend was up next but neither of us cared so we went down to the merch room for a bit, had a couple of beers, said our goodbyes and went back to the hotel where we ordered a pizza and drank a beer while reflecting on another incredible weekend that is also another one of our Mitchfests.  Then sleep.

Sunday:  What?  Yes…breakfast buffet.  My flight wasn’t until later in the day so we hit one more record store at noon and didn’t find anything of note.  Kelz dropped me off at the train station, we said our goodbyes and I headed off to the airport on a couple of different trains filled with Atlanta Falcons fans.  That was fun.  At the airport I met Malik, who was also at the festival.  Great dude that loves prog metal.  He gave me a spare copy of Serious Black’s debut that I have yet to listen to, but I will.  I love the metal connections.

As I’ve said elsewhere, this show was the tops for both of us.  I can’t think of another show that could ever come close to that again.  I said that after Arch-Matheos as well, but this was even more intense than that show.

I met a lot of new friends of friends and it was great catching up with some older friends that I don’t get to see very often.

 

Holy Grail, Exmortus & Spellcaster Concert Review, Austin, TX, August 3, 2016

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The Fellowship of the Strings Tour rolled in to Grizzly Hall yesterday featuring bands full of really good guitar players.  Having seen all 3 bands before, there were no real surprises here.

Spellcaster hit the stage promptly at 815PM.  Yes, you read that right.  An early show on a weeknight.  What a novel concept!  There was no local opener and set times didn’t get announced until about an hour before the show.  Had this show been downtown, it likely would have been a 10PM start time.  For us day job folks, these early shows are great.  Spellcaster’s slot was only 30 minutes and they blew through their set with ease.  The crowd was at about 60 people by my rough count during their set.  They sounded great.  I can’t recommend their latest album, Night Hides the World, enough.

Immediately after the set I hustled next door to grab a couple of al pastor tacos from Taco More.  Delicious I tell ya!  There was only 15 minutes between sets as all 3 bands were sharing the backline.  Exmortus was already on by the time I got back and I enjoyed their set a little more than I did last time.  The growing crowd was really into it and I think they may have had about 80 people.

Holy Grail rolls through Austin on the regular and the crowd had thinned out a little, but was still very much into the show.  To be honest, this may have been the best of the 4 shows I have seen by them.  James Luna’s voice was pretty much flawless.  They finished around 1115ish and all three bands just hung around and drank with the remainder of the crowd.

I bought a Spellcaster shirt, said a few goodbyes to them and some other friends and went home.  It was a fun early night.

 

Helstar and Omen Concert Review, Austin, TX, July 30, 2016

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I love Metal Blade Records for being one of the first metal labels that were accessible in the mainstream record store market as a kid.  About 90% of their first 80 or so titles were winners.  One of those bands that stood above the fray was Omen.  My first listen came when Danile bought Battle Cry.  From there I was hooked.  Before owning any physical copies of their stuff, we traded dubs of their first 2.  Kelz had a dubbed cassette of those first two that was passed around between our circle of friends.  Would love to see the j-card of that again.  Such great memories.  Those first three albums are essential to any fan of traditional metal.  JD Kimball’s (RIP) vocals are the best.  After he left and their followup albums came out, I admit to losing interest.  I did buy their latest one, Hammer Damage, last week and I like it a lot.  It’s certainly got that old school Omen vibe to it.  They never came through Virginia back in those days and I had missed festival appearances in the last decade so last night I was able to scratch off another band from the list.  To be honest I had a little trouble sleeping the night before like a kid on Christmas Eve.

Come show day, I gathered up my CD covers, marked the spot in The Book, took a nap, showered up and headed to the show.  Doors were at 7PM and the first of the 6 bands was going on at 730.  I grabbed some tacos at the place next door then went in and caught the openers, Metalriser, from San Antonio.  I’ve seen them a few times in San Antonio and I like them a lot.  Very Sepultura-ish with slightly cleaner vocals.  It was a solid 30 minute set.

Locals Force of Rage came on next.  Pass.  Not a fan.  By their second or third song, my date had shown up and she hadn’t had dinner yet, so back to the taco place!  We had missed all of the next band, Death of a Dream.  After listening to their stuff earlier in the day, I was ok with missing their set.  We returned right as Black Thorn Halo came on.  She looked at me when their second song started and said, “Outside?”  Haha.  YES!  I’m not a fan of that band at all, 0%,  although I think their guitarist is excellent.  He also plays in a local Dio tribute.  Fantastic guitarist in general.

As we were outside waiting for them to finish, I let her know about my rabid fandom of Omen and she was understanding.  We went in as Omen was setting up and went right to the front of the stage.  I was utterly surprised how under-attended the show was, especially since Omen rarely plays Texas even though Kenny lives in Dallas and because it was Helstar’s album release party and they generally do well in Austin because of how infrequently they play here.  My guess is that there were maybe 100 total from beginning to end, but the crowd had thinned out by the time Omen came on.  But we were there, at the front of stage when they opened with Death Rider and Dragon’s Breath.  This is right at the beginning of their tour with Helstar and even though things were a little rough, they were still fantastic.  I was just so excited to see them, singing along with everything.  They played the title track from their new album, Hammer Damage, and singer Kevin Goocher forewarned us that it was only their second time playing it live and that it would be a little rough…and it was, but that was ok.  To be honest, it’s my least favorite song on the new album, but it’s not a bad one by any means.  They played 8 songs total and were scheduled to close with Teeth of the Hydra (!!!) but the other bands ran long, so Omen had to pay the price and get cut by one song.  Add to the fact that Helstar had a hard start time.  It’s my favorite song of theirs.  Bummer.  I met up with their singer right after the cleared the stage to sign my CD and he mentioned that Steve Wittig had left already as he had to catch a flight.  So none of my stuff got signed by him, but no biggie, I’ll see them again in California is October for Frost and Fire II and again April 2017 for Spring Bash.  Funny, waited 32 years to see them and now I’ll have seen then 3 times within 8 months or so.

Helstar came on and pretty much just destroyed the place.  They were promoting their new album, Vampiro.  It may have been the best I had ever seen them play.  Currently lineup features on Larry Barrigan as the other remaining original member and he’s a fantastic player.  The remnants of crowd (pun intended) that were left there piled into the floor and were very vocal and animated during the set.  James’ voice was as precise as I have ever heard it.  It was a fun set and the new songs sounded great.  My date enjoyed both bands as well, having never heard them before.

She was patient with me as I spent a few minutes with Kenny Powell to get some CDs and The Book signed.  “I love signing stuff, I appreciate anyone who appreciates us.”  I mentioned how much I liked the new album and he mentioned how much trouble they had in writing and recording it.  I said that it sounded like Omen.  “Perfect,” he said.  “That’s what I needed to hear.  I wanted it to sound like classic Omen.”  Mission accomplished.  He signed the CDs and paused to see the Best of Metal Massacre.  “What’s this?  Never seen this before.  Another comp that I never knew about!”  He signed the book and his wife was enthralled by it, taking a picture of the cover to get one of her own.

It was a great night overall seeing old friends, making new friends and seeing one of my favorite all time bands.

 

 

Riot V Concert Review, Detroit, MI, July 9, 2016

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And away I go to Detroit.  That was a long drive on minimal sleep.  I booked a hotel while I had stopped for breakfast at a truck stop.  As soon as I arrived to my hotel in Romulus, MI right by the airport, I took a shower and a quick nap.  I had a bunch of things I wanted to do and see that day but was just too wiped out to do them all.  The only thing I did do was to see my old friend Nikki.  We met in 1999 or 2000, went on a couple of dates and just ended up quickly becoming close friends.  We recorded an album together in 2002(?) and had seen each other since about 2004.  It was great to see her and her fiancee, laugh about old times and just be around her.  She’s always been one of the most positive people I’ve ever known.

From there I went back to the hotel to catch a Lyft ride up to the Token Lounge in Westland, MI.  I arrived right when the opener was starting.  I hadn’t eaten since breakfast and was getting hungry.  I noticed a pizza place on the end of the building and as I was leaving to go grab a slice or two, the door guy said, “No re-entry.”  I didn’t notice the sign when I had walked in.  He said to just phone in the order and they’ll walk it down.  I was about to do just that then he said, “Fuck it, there’s no one here yet, just go.”  Sweet.  The pizza place was called “Krustyzz.”  I ordered it to go and took it back to the bar.  They had some hightop tables behind the soundboard in an area that was separated by glass.  It was nice to sit and eat and not be blasted out.  The pizza was greasy but delicious.

The opener was called SixE SixE (Sixe Sixe?).  I don’t know.  They were pretty awful.  Not sure if they were a brand new band or what, but it wasn’t solid at all and the 2 songs I heard sounded like 90s style hard rock.  Glad I missed most of their set.  Terminus was up next.  Unfortunately it wasn’t the Irish band of the same name.  These guys were pure new metal and even covered Lamb of God.  I almost threw up my pizza.  Guitar players were good, though.  Heard a few solos that were impressive.  There came Acoustic Hell.  It was everything you’d think it was with that name.  Three acoustic guitars, a guy 50ish yrs old in flip flops and his hat on backwards and a female backup singer.  They played stuff like Crazy Train, Screaming in the Night and some other stuff that I couldn’t care about.  Luckily my pal Ryan showed up and I hung out with him and his friends on the back patio for the rest of their set.  Wulfhook was up next.  I neither loved nor hated them at Ragnarokkr and my reaction was the same at this show.  I’m not sure what it is that doesn’t quite catch my ear.  Singer has a powerful range, the rest of the band is solid and competent, but I’m just not into them.  Then…THEN, they did an encore version of Powerslave.  Maiden is my favorite band ever and I am picky about hearing cover versions of their music.  They played it pretty well then I heard, “When the life givers die.”  Not just once, but every time that section was played.  WTF.  No.

Riot time.  Thankfully.  They played the same set as the night before, flawlessly.  Such a powerful band to watch.  The crowd was considerably smaller, though.  Maybe a 100 people or so when they took the stage and it cleared out little by little throughout their set.  But I enjoyed it just as much.

After the show, the bar didn’t kick anyone out and we got to hang out.  It was drummer, Frank Gilchrist’s birthday, so we did a shot of whisky together.  I didn’t get to talk to him much at the Chicago show, but we caught up for quite a bit on Saturday.  He’s a good dude for sure.  I also got some one on one time with Mike Flyntz.  I requested Maryanne to get added to the set and he said that it’s the most requested song that they get.  I’d also like to hear more from the Mike Demeo era.  He was super cool as always and thanked me for making the trip.  As I was going over to talk with Donnie, he introduced me to his merch guy.  I saw him in Chicago and thought he looked familiar but couldn’t place it.  It was Giles Lavery who sang for Warlord for a little while.  I was shocked to see him and it was great to finally meet him in person.  What a great guy.  We talked for a while and had a beer.  He mentioned that his main band, Dragonsclaw, had a new album coming out.  It was quite a great night.  That venue is really cool, too.  Medium sized, great staff, great sound.  I’d like to visit the area again and hopefully that trip can coincide with a show here.

Sunday morning I just popped into a record store before heading to an airport.  I got a Paul Stanley shirt which just has the ’77 solo album cover on it with no lettering.  The store was certainly into ICP as their merch was everywhere and even a sign out front stating that they had tickets to the juggalo gathering.  Ha.

Twas a great weekend overall getting to see a band that I love in 2 other cities.

 

Written by The Metal Files

July 11, 2016 at 3:38 pm

Riot V Concert Review, Chicago, IL, July 8, 2016

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I like Riot/Riot V.  All incarnations.  Period.  They’ve never released a bad album.  Some better than others, but never a bad one.

I ran into their bassist, Donnie Van Stavern, at a RUSH tribute show in San Antonio a few weeks ago and asked him about upcoming shows.  He mentioned the Chicago and Detroit shows and I checked my concert calendar and my Southwest account and took the decision to just go.  He said he’d hook me up with guestlist for both shows, so that was an added bonus.

I left for Chicago Friday morning on a direct flight, got there, grabbed my rental car and headed straight to the north side of town to pick up Bob, one of the organizers of the Ragnarokkr festival.  He graciously offered up his place for the night.  We headed first to Metal Haven Grill and I pigged out on their tasty Italian beef and a char polish sausage.  It was entirely too much food but it was delicious.  You gotta go if you’re ever in Chicago.  Their record and CD selection is ever expanding and there is a ton of great original heavy metal artwork on display, mind-numbingly so.  From there we went to one of the locations of Reckless Records.  I didn’t find anything but it was a cool place.  Afterwards we headed back to Bob’s.  I changed clothes and off we went to the red line EL train to Reggie’s.

We got in and I saw a couple of folks I knew from the area that I had met at previous Ragnarokkr shows.  Crusader was the opening act and they played the whole time I was upstairs at Record Breakers store where I bought a bunch of albums to have shipped back to Texas.  Didn’t hear a note of them so I can’t comment.  Scars of Armageddon were on next and they were a proggy/power metal/slight hint of nu-metal band with excellent guitar work and a good singer.  I’d never buy an album by them but wouldn’t be upset to see them again.  Direct support for Riot was a local Judas Priest tribute band called Judas Rising.  Pass.  I mean, sure, they sounded alright although their singer I think would sound better doing a Di’Anno era Maiden tribute.  I don’t know, I just wasn’t feeling it at all.

After a quick set change, the lights go down and you hear the taped live version of Narita and then Frank leads in with the drum into to Flight of the Warrior.  The crowd of 200+ was into it, singing every word.  They then went into Ride Hard, Live Free from the latest album and then Fight or Fall.  I was on the stage left side where Van Stavern and Lance Barnewold (filling in for Nick Lee for this mini tour) we located.  Lance is Nick’s perfect replacement.  Both guys have flawless execution of riffs and solos.  They mix the set up with old and new songs.  The whole band was great.  I also appreciated getting handed the bottle of tequila from Donnie a couple of times.  And just let me say this, Todd Michael Hall is one of the best singers in metal out there right now.  That guy’s range is phenomenal.  He’s really just a freak of nature vocally like Harry Conklin and Mike Soliz.  It was great to hear Black Leather and Glittering Steel in the set as well.  They did 6 from Thundersteel including my fave, Johnny’s Back.

At the end of their set, Todd announced that they’d com out to the merch booth right after a quick break.  Two minutes after that, Reggie’s staff was kicking everyone out.  It wasn’t even 1:30 AM yet.  So we just hung out on the street with the locals friends and then went around to their back door to shoot the breeze with Donnie, Mike and Lance.  During their set, I took a pick of Lance and posted it on NIck’s Facebook page with the words, “Fake Nick is getting it done.”  haha.

It was a great show but I was beat so we hopped on the train back to Bob’s.  We got delayed at one stop because of some dude raising hell at the stand and not letting the doors close.  The guy sitting across from me woke up and said, “Fucking crackies!”  A few moments we were on our way.

I got to sleep around 4AM but I didn’t sleep well at all.  I was up and ready to go by 745AM, said adios to Bob and was on my almost 5hr drive to Detroit.

click fotos

 

Written by The Metal Files

July 11, 2016 at 2:26 pm