Review by Patrick De Sloover
Pictures by Olivier Bourgi ( www.bourgol-photography.net )
Lay-Out by Stefan
PPM Fest or the abbreviation of Prog Power Metal Festival gathered the best of the best in this musical genre, so it was time to travel to Mons (Belgium) to witness three days of pure metal!
We arrived at the Mons Lotto Arena at 16u45, which was perfectly on time as the doors were going to open at 17h, while the first band was going to kick off this festival at 17h30. Due to technical problems to scan the tickets, everything went not as smooth as intended to be. We were waiting in a queue for about one hour and a half, with the result that we and +1000 others had to miss the opener FireForce. Afterwards I spoke with the guitar player of this band and he told me that FIREFORCE had to play their gig for approx. 50 people… I hope that they will get a fair second chance next year!
The second band was VITAL BREATH which had a cool bass player (Christophe Babin) and Jérôme Ponsolle on vocals and guitars. As we still needed to buy drink and food tickets, we weren’t able to see this band from the first row, but what I heard was pretty average that might become monotonous to the end.
Another Belgian band was DRAKKAR. They gained a lot of success with their ‘Rated-X’ albums which was released in 1988. The band stood the test of time, but I wasn’t fully pleased with the higher notes of the vocalist, as it’s more like blatant and screamy. A few camera’s filmed the gig, so I guess that a DVD will be released afterwards.
The first really awesome band entered the stage: DIVIDED MULTITUDE from Norway. Hailing from Brekstad and active since 1995, they showed how a good prog power metal act should behave! They had a great sound, the vocals of Sindre Antonsen were a revelation and the band blew us away from beginning till end. They brought songs from older releases but also a preview of what’s to come, as in May, they will release their 5th album ‘Feed On Your Misery’. Tracks as ‘What I See’, ‘24/7’ and ‘The World Is Watching’ indicate that the new album will be an outstanding release, so keep your eyes and ears open! After this great performance, it was time to get a little rest as there was so much more to come. Max Pie only released one album, but as some of the members are in the organization of PPM as well, they gained a nice spot on the Omega Stage. I was surprised about the nice lightshow and also the performance of vocals (Tony) and guitars (Damien) resulted in a great concert!
Time for another highlight as DGM from Italy devastated the Alpha Stage. Having two stages means that there is only a waiting time of 10 to 15 minutes in between two bands, and works really handy. The changeover can easily take place while the other stage is presenting a band, and you only have to walk a little to see the next band. Handy and efficient! DGM presented a lot of songs from their new album ‘Momentum’ which I already consider as one of the best albums that will be released in 2013. Mark Basile is a very energetic frontman with a golden voice, while Simone Mularoni is a shredder that is capable to bring the necessary hooks and twists into the music! DGM already surprised those that went to the Symphony X tour, where they were the supporting act, this time they proved that they are ready for the next step in their career! Some of the members had to perform on Saturday as well (Empyrios and Astra), so the fans of these Italians can be considered as the lucky ones!
One more band to go on Friday, and it can be mentioned as A truly headliner as TOBIAS SOMMET' AVANTASIA was scheduled. I saw already a few concerts of his main band Edguy, which were above the average, but what I saw with this side project of Tobias reached far beyond our expectations!
Avantasia ruled on Friday with a blistering light show, with passionate musicians, back ground vocalists, a lot of guests (like Bob Catley from Magnum, Ronnie Atkins (Pretty Maids) Amanda Somerville (Trillium), Michael Kiske (Unisonic, ex-Helloween), just to name a few). Avantasia brought a fantastic gig, and the duels between Tobias and his guests were breathtaking!
*Best gigs on Friday: Divided Multitude, DGM and Avantasia.
Saturday started with the winner of the Metal Battle contest and DYSCORDIA from Belgium had the task to open the festival at 11h35. Pretty early, but nevertheless, there were already a lot of metalheads present. Dyscordia released their first full length album recently, so it was time to get some excerpts out of ‘Twin Symbiosis’, during a gig that was scheduled for about 25 minutes. In this short time, the band proved to be ready for the bigger stages and to convince a large crowd!
Standing at the first row, I noticed a lot of Flemish people, so the die-hard fans were ready for some great melodic progressive music! ‘The Loser’s Game’, ‘Twin Symbiosis’, ‘In Solitude’ were brought with very good twin guitar solos and I was also surprised about the live performance of drummer Wouter Debonnnet.
Halfway the set, the sound check on the Alpha Stage started, which was a bit annoying, but luckily it didn’t took that long! Graspop, where are you waiting for???
The sound of the gig was brought to us by Heavy-D on the mixing desk and this resulted in a great concert from a band with a great future ahead!
AKTARUM is a Belgian band as well, but the four members were lesser progressive and renewing as Dyscordia. They had some corpsepaint on their bodies and the vocalist/keyboardplayer TrollOur and his gang brought music that can be compared with the likes of Alestorm. Not my cup of tea, to be honest…
The next band was INFERNAL TENEBRA, and this was the first band that brings on extreme music. Their album ‘New Formed Revelations’ was received very well, and I guess that they earned a spot on PPM as the organization wants to broaden their horizons. By attracting more extreme bands, you will get a various turnout and not only the fans of prog metal are pleased. The bassplayer Paolo of Infernal Tenebra looked a little like Adam Duce (ex-Machine Head), and he went really wild on stage! The sound was again really stunning and at some moments I had to think on Nile, another classic band in the extreme. And while we are comparing, the vocalist Darko had a lot of Tom Araya (Slayer) in his looks.
Something totally different was the next band: SEVENKINGDOMS. Dressed in a kind of baby doll including leather pants, the band from Deland, Florida, USA tried to convince us with songs from their latest album ‘The Fire Is Mine’.
A guitar player who had some Jake E. Lee looks (Dio, Ozzy) including a very nice shaped guitar brought a pretty wild act. It was a good transition to the gig of Empyrios from Italy. Vocalist Silvio Mancini acted like he was totally insane or should be say drugged.
Anyhow, this gig was a real highlight as well, with the track ‘A New Dawn’ as one of the best tracks, and the guitars of Simone Mularoni were much heavier than his set with DGM, the day before. Two totally different bands, but both high quality!
ASTRA was the next Italian band, and again we got a very heavy dose of progressive metal including an extraordinary light show. This band originally started as a Dream Theater cover band, but released already two albums so far. The track ‘Sunrise To Sunset’ was a new song that they played, which will probably feature on their third new album.
One of the bands that drew my attention on Saturday was MANTICORA from Denmark. They started their act really wild and vocalist Lars F. Larsen was in perfect shape! He’s a metal maniac on a stage and songs like ‘In The Abyss Of Desperation’, ‘Playing God’, ‘A Lake That Drained’ followed the revue! I guess that this vocalist had the ultimate charisma so far! The temperature in the hall reached heights and we were halfway of the day!
ROTTING CHRIST was the second extreme band that day, and after a 2 minute slowly dragging intro, they started headbanging like the wings of a windmill. This was such an intense gig with a lot of songs from their latest, in the meantime, 11th. album. By the way, the name of this album is Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy, and is also the inscription on the gravestone of Jim Morrison, and means something like ‘Loyal to the Soul’.
As I had a meeting with AMARANTHE and the lovely Elize Ryd, I had to skip Orphaned Land. Afterwards I spoke to some attendees and none was really impressed. I guess that Elize impressed me much more… (laughs)
The Amaranthe gig was a mixture of ‘discobeats meet metal’ and having three vocalists in the lineup created a special vibe during the gig. Songs like “Invincible” and “Burn With Me” from the new album ‘The Nexus’ were alternated with tracks like “1.000.000 Lightyears”. The band is perfectly-attuned and the set was just great!
I guess it was time to create a moshpit as ALESTORM entered the stage and all four members were singing like hell. Their youthful enthusiasm worked really well and the crowd was singing out loud on songs like “Shipwrecked”, “Pirate Song” and “One More Drink”. The band enjoyed themselves like hell, and they even dedicated PPM as Pirate Power Metal Festival.
After this bunch of wild pirates, it was time for some more serious metal with STRATOVARIUS. Since Timo Kotipelto changed his hair into brown instead of white, he lost a bit of radiation. The band brought a lot of new tracks and even a drum solo. I don’t know why, but that’s not done any longer.
Just skip this ego tripping and play another song instead! The set of Stratovarius was in the end better than expected, and that’s due to the great new album!
Final band on Saturday: BEHEMOTH. Again an extreme act, and perhaps not the perfect headliner for a festival like PPM. I liked their gig, but it was already an exhausting day, so we decided to go to the hotel before the end of the gig. We had one more day to go and Sunday promised to be a very exciting line up as well.
*Best bands on Saturday: Dyscordia, Manticora, Amaranthe, Alestorm.
Sunday started just like Saturday, so we arrived on time to see the second winner of the Metal Battle contest. This time, HELL CITY was present, and this band resides in the Dutch speaking part of Belgium. The band started really furious and the female vocalist mixed headbanging and some kind of dance steps in between the songs. Again, we had a good sound from the first minutes on, but it was only a pity that the band didn’t go to their merchandising booth to have a meet and greet with the audience. Let’s say that this was a missed chance, that might be considered on the next Metal Female Voices Fest, as they are scheduled there as well. When Michelle Nivelle asked the people to come closer to the stage she mentioned a nice oneliner: I Don’t Bite…Too Often.
After this Belgian band, it was time to check out Marcel Coenen and his band SUN CAGED. This is a guitar player with no comparison. His kind of music reminded me on Psychotic Waltz, and perhaps the musical style and direction is too difficult for most of the people that attended PPM. The songs are complex and have the intention to be chopped in various segments. “Ashes To Earn”, from the latest album ‘The Lotus Effect’ was my personal favorite track of Sun Caged.
We continue with SHADOWSIDE from Brazil. A few years ago, I did an interview with Dani Nolden, the vocalist of the band, and since that moment, I didn’t have the chance to see them live. PPM brought them all over and having three albums under their belt results in a playlist that is rather interesting.
Behind the drum kit, there was a banner that can be compared with the banners of the headliners. I guess that 40 square meter was the size and it looked very professional. Shadowside played a very intense set and they even played ‘Ace Of Spades’ from Motorhead. Their version was pretty well done, but I would prefer an own song instead of a cover.
Another Italian band showed up and SOLISIA had the task to do even better than Shadowside. That was a task that they couldn’t fulfill as the presentation and overall influence on this gig was monotonous. Beauty doesn’t count for quality, referring to Elie Syrelia. Compared with the musical style and direction of Myrath, Solisia is a band that we want to skip in the future.
MYRATH instead was excellent! Their oriental influence mixed with progressive music is a must-see! A track like ‘Under Siege’ is the perfect illustration how things can work out! At some moments, I had Fates Warning in my mind, but Myrath was even better!
A few months ago, I say NIGHTMARE for the first time and this French band were really excellent. Curious if they could convince the PPM crowd, I went to the first rows at the Alpha Stage. The voice of Jo Amore is comparable with Ronnie James Dio (R.I.P.) and their latest album ‘The Burden Of God’ contains only high class material! The sound quality was superb, the presentation of the songs equal and with songs like ‘Sunrise In Hell’, they made my day!
Legendary TANK from the UK followed and believe it or not, but this band was just awesome as well. However their musical direction changed through the years, the band focused on ‘War Nation’ and a kind of best off.
CIRCUS MAXIMUS was the band from Norway that was touted by the dudes of Divided Multitude, two days earlier. They said that this band was great as well, so again, we went to the front to witness what they are capable of. Circus Maximus have already three albums released and ‘Nine’ is doubtless their best album so far. I guess it was their first gig in Belgium and depending on the reactions of the crowd, it won’t be their last! The sound was respectful, the vocals of Michael Eriksen above the average and the band played a tight and interesting concert.
After Circus Maximus, it was time for FIREWIND, a band that had already so many lineup changes that it was difficult to follow. One thing is for sure, their album ‘Few Against Many’ is one of the best albums released in 2012. Tracks like ‘Wall Of Sound’, ‘Destiny’ and the title track were welcomed by a lot of people! Let’ say that this band was magisterial.
TURISAS added some black and red warpaint on their body and stormed the stage like hell was unleashed. Together with Alestorm the only band that succeeded in creating a moshpit. Although it’s not my personal favorite band, I must admit that a lot of youngsters had a great time during their gig!
GAMMA RAY with Kai Hansen raised a Heavy Metal wall with slamming versions of ‘Men, Martians And Machines’, ‘Send Me A Sign’, ‘Rise’ and even a new one: ‘Master Of Confusion’, ready to be released in January 2014.
While Kai was standing on the drum platform, the other members of Gamma Ray kept on banging their head like heavy metal maniacs should do! Probably one of the best Heavy Metal acts of the whole festival!
I guess that a lot of bands came to the PPM festival for one act, and that’s QUEENSRYCHE. They are in the middle of a storm concerning the name Queensryche as both Geoff Tate and the original members of Queensryche wants to claim the name. Anyhow it will develop, we got to see the original members and newcomer Todd La Torre on vocals.
Todd is now focusing on one band as he left Crimson Glory and I guess that was a wise decision. The band started with ‘Queen Of The Reich’, the ultimate Queensryche anthem and from then on, we heard only songs that can be classified as legendary tracks. ‘Walk In The Shadows’, ‘Warning’, among others, and Todd also mentioned that the new album of Queensryche will be available in Europe on June, 10th. 2013.
Well, I guess that the headliner for me personally was Queensryche but for some there was one more act to come and that’s HELLOWEEN. The band opened with the first track on the new album ‘Straight Out Of Hell’ and “Nabataea” had a great start. I must say that I was really slaughtered after three days of metal, and my latter forces were on the decline.
*Best bands on Sunday: Myrath, Firewind and Queensryche.
This year’s edition of PPM festival was a very good edition and I’m coming back in 2014! Hopefully with again a lineup like this year: a lot of bands that played for the first time in our region, a lot of great potential bands and a good organization and sound.
What I also want to mention is the free shuttle services that are available from the railroad station to the venue (just follow the Circuit D busses). Perhaps a little more catering is advisable as French Fries, Pasta and a dish of BBQ aren’t enough to survive three days of metal! But with all these great bands, that’s only a small remark! Keep up the good work PPM and see you all in 2014!