ProgPower USA XXI Day Two Recap: Following a riveting opening evening, the musical eclecticism and excellence factor is pushed into overdrive.
Absence has a unique way of making the heart grow fonder, and the opening evening of 2022's ProgPower USA festival was treated with the level of elation that one would expect from an audience that had seen two years of delays in getting their auditory fix. One could rightly assume that the task afforded to MindMaze, Klone, Flotsam And Jetsam and first night headliner Hypocrisy was unenviable, given that it fell to them to shake the proverbial cobwebs from the crowd's ears and be the first word in a de facto resurrection of the live metal scene after nearly 730 days of death. With the results being an absolute blowout, one might similarly see an even greater challenge befalling the expanding lineup of bands taking the stage on the second evening given how high the bar has been set.
The onset of the late afternoon, circa 3:30 pm EST to be exact, the second night of unconventional bedfellows rocking the masses commenced with the entry of Boston's own and progressive folk metal trustees Wilderun. Though they originally cut their teeth in the east coast of the United States for the first half of the 2010s, playing a blend of traditional American folk music with a highly epic and progressive songwriting approach somewhat akin to The Faroe Islands' Viking-bent icons Týr, their sound has come to more closely resemble a darker and more atmospheric template similar to Opeth on their two latest albums, which occupied the lion's share of their opening set. The number of songs tapped were relatively few in number given their expansive nature, with drawn out orchestral interludes, technically charged instrumental interplay, roaring shouts meshed with pristine clean singing and a downright ferocious, double-kick steeped drumming, but a flawless execution by frontman Evan Berry and company helped the audience to navigate the various twists and turns.
Though the first impression was one of nuance and exploration, a more direct and straightforward would soon follow with the entry of 80s AOR-inspired outfit and Frontiers Records affiliate Spektra. Featuring the vocal talents of renowned Brazilian vocalist BJ, perhaps best known for his association with Jeff Scott Soto's various projects since 2009, the band itself was comprised of Soto in a support capacity and several other associates of his and carried a corresponding level of gravitas. In essence, what ensued was a rapid foray of rocking bangers after the stylistic mold of Journey, Foreigner and Winger, with a slightly more metallic edge to the guitar work. Though BJ himself proved formidable at the microphone, turning in particularly exemplary performances during the band's renditions of Deep Purple classic "Perfect Strangers" and Queensrÿche hit "Empire," guitarist Leo Mancini frequently stole the show with a wild display of shredding guitar majesty that rivaled the likes of Marty Friedman and Yngwie Malmsteen.
Following on the heels of an infectious display of 80s nostalgia with a 2020s gloss, the heaviness and technical factor would be ratcheted back up with Berkeley-born virtuoso quartet and symphonic metal masters Seven Spires. Already riding high off an impressive two-hour studio opus Gods Of Debauchery and also making up for lost touring opportunities during the pandemic for their prior sophomore outing Emerald Seas, they attacked their set with the fervor of a mighty titan, led by the multifaceted vocal display of one of the industry's busiest singers Adrienne Cowan. Drawing from a dueling array of influences that includes the guttural harshness of Arch Enemy's Angela Gossow and the soaring operatic splendor of Floor Jansen. She would lead her virtuosic fold through a spellbinding display of musical excellence, with guitarist Jack Kosto and bassist Peter Albert de Reyna presenting elaborate solo displays that parallel the inhuman skill of Symphony X's Michael Romeo and Mike LePond, and the apex of the whole set being hit with Conception and former Kamelot frontman Roy Khan appearing on the towering epic "This God Is Dead."
In a sense, it could be argued that this evening had no official headliner regardless of the order of the bands, and one could just as easily have given such an honor to Swedish progressive metal icons Pain Of Salvation. Despite the massive back catalog that these veteran stalwarts had at their disposal going back to the late 1990s, helmsman and founder Daniel Gildenlöw and company would throw caution to the wind and perform the entirety of their legendary millennial classic and fourth album The Perfect Element I, for the first time ever in front of an audience after having toured through most of the continental U.S. with an entirely different set list. This risky venture would begin paying dividends instantly due to the album's highly diverse array of expressions and influences, which one might readily compare to the most musically adventurous studio creations of Rush and Dream Theater, and at no point was the audience any less than totally enthralled with the spectacle as one song led seamlessly to the next as if the recorded version was playing through a massive stereo system.
The aforementioned theme of rediscovering the greatness of the past would be mirrored when Finnish power metal legends Stratovarius took the stage to deafening cheers. Having been fairly quiet in the studio since their 2015 smash Eternal, they'd appropriately and primarily dip into the glory days of the European power scene circa 1997 through 2003, leaning heavily on ultra-infectious bangers and Neo-classically charged high speed glory. Of particular note were the references to late 90s classic albums Visions and Destiny, with fan favorites such as "The Kiss Of Judas" and "S.O.S." bringing the house down, though newer fanfare like "Unbreakable" and "Shine In The Dark" roused a comparably favorable reaction. Famed keyboardist and former Malmsteen counterpart Jens Johansson and drummer Rolf Pilve lit the whole venue up with their solo slots between songs, while guitarist Matias Kupiainen effortlessly glided through his own past shred exploits and those of his predecessor Timo Tolkki. But the elation from attendees would peak with the closing number of their extended encourage "Hunting High And Low," ending the evening with a resounding bang.
The Greek philosopher and stoic Heraclitus stated that one can never step on the same piece of river twice, a statement that is analogous to the highly varied array of artists who came and went throughout the evening. Yet in like fashion to an actual river, there was a unified character and sense of constancy that endured from the opening notes of Wilderun's set until the final chord struck by the mighty Stratovarius. Indeed, the festivities that would run their course throughout the evening were less a "Unity of Opposites" than they were a perfectly calibrated machine of various unique parts, all coming together and exerting themselves as one colossal force of nature that would revitalize the still recovering live music scene. Chalk it up to another fine day at the metallic fair, but at the same time, take note of the fact that the attractions continue to become more impressive. With an even greater number of acts slated for the next two days, the sky is sure to be the limit.