Atlanta, Georgia, is a second home for hundreds of music fans around the globe. For the past two decades, ProgPower USA has welcomed metalheads and misfits to this multi-day celebration of power and progressive metal. After a summer return in June of 2022, the festival has once again returned to the sweltering September weekend it had been held for years. With one of its heaviest lineups yet, and beautiful weather predicted to shine over Center Stage, there was no shortage of excitement for the festivities to begin.
The festival kicked off with a moving set from The Reticent. Hailing from North Carolina, this opening act proved one of the most heart-wrenching performances in ProgPower history. With lyrical themes that focused on Alzheimers, dementia, and suicide, vocalist and guitarist Chris Hathcock brought a pallor of emotion over Center Stage. The band played cloaked in shadows and deep blue lights, nearly invisible to the eyes of the crowd, while images played across a large screen. Included in the videos were scans of suicide letters, black and white film, and documentary clips of Alzheimers patients. Despite being the opening act on day one, The Reticent received a standing ovation from the seated audience, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Elvenking followed for a drastic change of tone. This Italian powerhouse rained symphonic fire down from elven heavens, with frontman Damna incessantly stoking the crowd. Hundreds of voices joined in chorus for familiar songs such as “Silverseal,” and fists were raised to the sky for the anthem “Elvenlegions.” Awash in yellow and red lighting, and with signature markings painted across their face, this performance was nothing short of visually breathtaking. The whole band’s energy was absolutely incessant, and they brought much-needed energy to a mid-afternoon audience. It was also the first time Elvenking has performed in the US since the release of their defining opus The Pagan Manifesto, and also the first since the Reader of Runes album duo.
The pace slowed with the following two acts, beginning with Cynic. These old-school prog metallers had just finished a trek across North America with compatriots Atheist, and this practice from being on the road was apparent as they shredded their way through seminal album Focus. On stage was the artwork from the recent reimagining, ReFocus, and the vibrant purples were matched by similar lighting. A brief pause came halfway through the set in remembrance of Sean Malone and Sean Reinert, both of whom left us in 2020. Throughout the set the audience was reminded of these members’ absence, as banners adorned with their photos were placed on either side of the stage, and remaining founding member Paul Masvidal referenced them frequently.
Swallow The Sun was slower still, but no less heavy than the former. They shredded through doom-laden and gothic fare from across their discography, leaning heavily on most recent release Moonflowers. The band has toured on this album for some time, and their on-stage chemistry reflects this frequent practice, particularly with the ceaseless movement of guitarist Juha Raivio across the stage. Such poetic melancholy was certainly welcome as a last reprieve before the star-studded headliner to come.
Hailing all the way from Germany was heavy metal’s one and only queen, Doro Pesch. With a career that spans decades, and a reputation that has shone brightly for just as long, Doro’s appearance at ProgPower USA certainly did not disappoint. Attendees were treated to ninety minutes of old-school heavy metal bliss. There were familiar anthems in the setlist that encouraged the audience to sing along, and there was also the appearance of newer material to add a greater air of excitement. Also helping the electric atmosphere was the presence of guitarists Bill Hudson and Tommy Bolan, who tore up the stage between verses. Both were absolutely relentless, running from side to side, sliding on their knees, and even lifting Doro atop their shoulders as they played. It was dynamic, explosive, and absolutely enthralling. Doro’s bright smile and endless gratitude certainly endeared her to ProgPower USA for time immemorial.
Progpower USA XXII – Day One Photo Gallery
Day Two kept the heaviness rolling, beginning with Floridian power metallers Seven Kingdoms. This band is no stranger to ProgPower USA, with guitarist Camden Cruz and vocalist Sabrina Cruz retained as longtime members of the festival’s crew. For about an hour, these two were able to take a step back from their demanding duties, and instead worked on wowing the crowd with tales of aliens and shooting stars. No Seven Kingdoms set would be complete without Sabrina‘s customary hamburger slippers and collection of hamburger plushies adorning the drum risers. It was a well-needed dose of good fun to start the day, and it embodied the spirit of the day to come.
Zero Hour may have dialed back the pace, but this veteran act kept up the intensity as they soldiered through some of their heaviest fare. Following this progressive excellence was some of Sweden’s finest melodic death metal. Doused in green lights and carefully placed shadows, The Halo Effect delivered auric bliss with a set that stunned longtime fans and newcomers alike. Stylized banners, a charismatic presence from frontman Mikael Stanne, and the aura of veteran musicians brought The Halo Effect to the next level.
VOLA’s performance was not just a mere recitation of popular album Witness: it was a full-body experience. Bright lines of white light pulsed with the drum, bass reached deep into the bones of the audience, and angelic vocal tones stretched upwards towards the heavens. Drummer Adam Janzi rained down thunder from behind the kit and supplied the rhythm section with its solid backbone. This performance brought some of the greatest levels of crowd participation yet, with people singing along with every song from “24 Light-Years” to “Inside Your Fur.” A mosh pit stirred at the back of the floor throughout the duration of the set.
The crown jewel of Day Two was headliner Beast in Black. Hearts raced, jaws dropped, and pure excellence brought about a mass transcendence. They certainly knew how to please, particularly with a setlist that leaned on fan favorites like “Blind and Frozen” and “One Night in Tokyo.” On stage were copious set pieces, including the centerpiece android that adorned the cover of recent album Dark Connection. It was impossible to look away from the stage between the visual feast of set pieces, electrifying lighting, and the demanding presence of vocalist Yannis Papadopoulos. His cape swept behind him as he prowled the stage and howled with his immense vocal power. There’s no question as to why these power metal champions earned a headlining spot at America’s premiere power metal festival.
Although Day One and Day Two fell in the middle of the week, the special atmosphere and intimate experience that The Halo Effect delivers brought crowds flocking to Center Stage. The seats were not just full, but the pit was alive with energy, and countless horns were raised to the sky. With the tantalizing promise of Day Three and Day Four to come, The Halo Effect came to its official halfway point with Beast in Black‘s final bow.
Special thanks to Samantha Buckman for her writing contributions to this article.
Progpower USA XXII – Day Two Photo Gallery
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