Haken began proceedings on the Saturday. I know they divide opinions in Prog circles but I like them a lot, and have done since I first saw them at The Peel. This is a long way from there, and as a band they have come on a long way as well, refining their sound, bringing a lean feel to their songs as they tighten them up, and they are a top quality outfit to be kicking off the day. The crowd are in fine form as well, cheering the soundcheck and calling for an encore as it comes to an end. I particularly enjoy the way they craft their songs, sometimes going from the very serious big riffing into keyboards which sound like they are straight from a fairground, and it all comes together so well, driven by a solid rhythm department and led by excellent vocals, which remain enjoyable even when they go into growling. They certainly have an avant guarde feel, and their sound can be very busy at times, but they also head off into the realms of progressive metal and pure rock, so there is a lot to appreciate in their songs. They certainly took the crowd with them, with the crowd clapping along as the band jammed while a broken snare was fixed. The new song in their set sounded like they were taking things to another level and this is a band who are really going places.
Vanden Plas were new to me but clearly very well known by a large part of the crowd, and they produced a very good set which went down very well. Rattling drums, riffing guitars, thumping bass and surging keyboards behind strong, deep vocals – very firmly following the Prog metal course, and doing it very well. It drives along hard with a melodic layer on top, as they create huge sounds, epic at times, pounding away with the vocals growing and soaring, often relentless as the crowd clap it along. They are not one-dimensional, though, and have a more gentle feel within some of their tracks, which grows into a larger sound with a hard edge and holds the attention as it develops, and their set proves to be the same, a real crowd pleaser which drives to a crashing close.
I had been looking forward to seeing RPWL and they did not disappoint at all. Their set was very well balanced, full of excellently constructed songs which have a melody as their basis, and they rocked the crowd. The songs really bounce along, with a lightness to them even when they have a hard edge, so they do not drag, and the band are really tight, meaning that it does all come together and keeps flowing, giving the set an upbeat tempo. It helps that they are all such accomplished musicians who are having fun up there on stage, and this really comes across when they go into their medley of Prog songs – I lost count of how many snippets they threw out there, but they kept it running seamlessly. It is all very guitar focused, with a full, rounded sound as the guitar combines with the keyboards, and the bass and drums keep it rocking along. There is certainly a Pink Floyd feel at times but the band have really produced their own sound now and it really works for me – I was enjoying what they were producing as much as they were enjoying playing it. The sharp set produced massive, sustained applause from the crowd, who called for more even when it was obvious the band were not coming back. I will have to catch them another time for more.
I had not seen IQ since the 80s, and given that their current lineup is mostly the lineup from back then I was interested to see how they performed now. In addition to the lineup mainly being the same, given that they played a lot of the tracks from back then in this set it really was like being back there again and proved to be very enjoyable. The vocals seemed very low in the mix for me but the music was as tight as you would expect it to be from a band as experienced as this. Though they can have something of a deep sound I have always found it to be full of energy and this was certainly the case today, probably helped by a huge proportion of the crowd being there to see them. They rattle along with a real drive behind them, keeping the tempo high, the sound flowing with wonderful bursts, complex moments running together so well, the guitar riffing hard against thumping bass before screeching away, the keyboards rolling with it, the drums holding it together, which is not always easy with their varied compositions. It is an excellent performance before a very appreciative crowd and soaring guitar takes it to a superb finish.
The vast majority of the tshirts in the crowd had been Dream Theater tshirts and the excitement built as they ran through their soundcheck, and especially as the soundcheck turned into an extended one as they tried to figure out the bass drum sound. The drum kit itself was a bizarre one, featuring a holding frame which had cymbals in the air above where the drummer would sit. They got some use in his solo. Personally, I am not much taken with Dream Theater, finding them to be substance over style, a lot of notes and flourishes over solid, concise song writing, and there was nothing within this set which won me over from that opinion. They are clearly very accomplished at what they do, which for me is an overblown prog metal sound, and their many fans in the crowd appeared to be enjoying everything they did. I suppose if there is anything specific I could put my finger on it would be that what they do lacks soul. Even the drum solo seemed to be a matter of hitting things as hard as he could, or as fast as he could, or, given the structure of his kit, as high as he could. There was no subtlety to it, but it got a huge applause. So they must be doing something right for their fanbase, even if it does not appeal to me.
I had missed Anathema on their recent tour and was hoping this performance would give me a way into their album. I had listened to it many times but it was just not clicking with me. Unfortunately they ended up with a sound which made it impossible to properly appreciate their set. They seemed to get the same problem as Dream Theater with the bass sounds, but it was not corrected, and that left the bass swamping everything else. I am not sure they were aware of this and they pushed on regardless, seemingly with some other problems on stage, but this was not an ideal time to assess them. Which was a shame because their style of music should have provided a perfect ending to the festival, and when they closed with a cover of Comfortably Numb it was a good note to end an excellent couple of days.