at Center Stage, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, October 6, 2007


After 2 days (some 16 total hours of Metal), Day 3 of ProgPower USA VIII had arrived, and some of the best was still yet to come. Fans again arrived early and in full force to ensure they wouldn’t miss a beat, and to take advantage of one of the best things about this festival … the opportunity to mingle with various members of the bands that had played during the 2 nights before who were there for the All Star Jam and/or just to take in the great music.


Firewind After an all in all outstanding evening Friday night, Saturday’s billing had a lot to live up to, and fans were primed and ready to help the bands meet this challenge. First up was the Power Metal band Firewind from Greece, still supporting their outstanding 2006 release entitled Allegiance. In fact, the title track from this album was the opener for the set, and the band engulfed the stage and arena with unadulterated enthusiasm and energy. The crowd immediately responded, and all in attendance were happy that they hadn’t slept in to continue the detox process.

The level of power and craziness propelled even higher with “Insanity,” and by this point Gus G. on guitar had totally won over the crowd with speed, expertise, and ability to craft a solo that fits perfectly into the structure of each song. Babis Katsionis, the keyboardist and outstanding guitarist in his own right (check out his solo works on Lion Music), was extraordinarily impressive as well, especially when he played guitar with one hand and keys with the other.

Apollo Papathanasio, the latest and greatest vocalist for Firewind, was unable to make the trip to the USA for Firewind’s tour (which was ending on this night) – in his substitute was Henning Basse, who did a commendable job. As a special treat, former vocalist and resident of Atlanta Stephen Fredrick took over the mic for a few songs: “Anger” and “Brother’s Keeper.” A bit of an age difference there, but it still worked, and the musicianship of the Firewind band remained incredible.

All in all, an outstanding opening set for the evening that got the audience ready for the onslaught to come, and set the bar pretty freakin’ high for the acts to follow.


Threshold Damian Wilson, looking like a long-haired Bono from U2, and the rest of Threshold, a Progressive Metal band from the U.K., took the stage next, playing the opening song, “Slipstream” from their 2007 release Dead Reckoning to a healthy roar from the crowd. Threshold displayed a different side of Metal … Clean Metal you could call it, which was definitely a change up compared to what the audience just witnessed with Firewind. Threshold showed they play a classy breed of Metal … no devil horns or Glam moves to be displayed by this band – no sir. Their sound and keyboard fills came through crisp and squeaky clean … but at times landed a bit on the ho-hum side, likely falling victim to the intense energy level bellowed out by Firewind.

Still, the band is what it is, and they did what they do well. There were plenty of highlights, including “Pressure” from the Subsurface album, the closer “This Is Your Life” from the new album, and the Damian Wilson crowd diving escapade. Damian’s no small dude … so he took a chance, and the audience responded.

Overall, a solid set by a true pioneer of Progressive Metal … their set would have been better received if it had been placed before Firewind instead of after (always better to take a step up in speed and aggression than a step backward), but nonetheless quality entertainment.


Primal Fear Third up was Mat Sinner’s band Primal Fear (German-based), with vocalist Ralf Scheepers, one of the best kept secrets in all of Metal. Cut like a banshee and looking like he stepped out of the WWF’s squared circle, a que-bald Scheepers greeted the crowd by totally ripping out the opener “Sign Of Fear” from their potential album of the year, New Religion. If you haven’t heard Scheepers sing before, you need to … this guy sounds like Rob Halford did 20 years ago, and in fact started Primal Fear with Mat Sinner after KK Downing and Glenn Tipton opted not to hire him, instead making the mistake of bringing on Ripper Owens and a stylistic change that was not well-received by the Metal masses. Scheepers has incredible range and voice control, and isn’t afraid to blast through a few vocal chords during the set … plus, you can lay odds that he could physically kick everyone’s ass in the audience without losing his grip on the microphone.

Primal Fear ripped through Traditional Metal track after track with skill and stage savvy, taking no prisoners along the way and holding nothing back. Songs like “Seven Seals” and the other 3 songs played from the new album, “Face The Emptiness,” “New Religion,” and “Fighting The Darkness” were more than warmly received. Actually, this performance met and perhaps even exceeded the quality level of the opening set by Firewind.

Primal Fear could do no wrong on this night, and Scheepers showed that he indeed belongs way at the top of the list amongst the elite Metal vocalists of the 21st century. But, the night was still young, and there was still so much more to come …


After Forever Shifting gears again, next up was the headliner for the evening, After Forever, a very unique Symphonic Metal band from Holland that mixes the eloquent and beautiful voice (and look) of Floor Jansen with periodic Death Metal growls provided by guitarist and band leader, Sander Gommans. Floor is an interesting frontwoman. She’s just about 6 feet tall, and shifts her style from a tough girl Joan Jett-ish persona to a what would have to be described as a classically trained opera motif. The great (and sometimes eerie) thing about this shift in demeanor is that she turns those 2 personalities off and on in an almost schizoid fashion. You find yourself getting used to the one face of Floor … and next thing you know, she shifts out of that personality and jumps into the other in Sybil-like fashion. Pretty cool, actually, and she pulls that off skillfully and with great respect from the audience.

Unfortunately, After Forever got the worst end yet of the technical difficulties, which essentially added up to total shutdown for about 5 minutes. A damn shame, actually, but Floor did her best to keep it all together, even though she stated she knew her limitations when it came to stand-up comedy. Mercifully, once the problems were taken care of, After Forever shot right back into the position they left off from, and continued to impress and entertain this Metal-thirsty audience. Songs such as “Energize Me,” “Estranged,” and “Digital Deceit” came across and hit home extremely well, and they even threw in a cover of Metallica’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls” for good measure!

The band seemed genuinely moved by the response they got from this ProgPower audience – their first performance ever in the USA. All members were very engaging to the audience, appeared to be having the time of their lives, and moved with headbanging grace throughout their set … an absolute pleasure to take in, and a very deserving headliner spot.


As a special hugging trees bonus, ProgPower USA VIII coordinators put together an All Star Jam session as the curtain call for this year’s festival. In theory, this session is a great way for the artists to have a little fun (or sometimes TOO much fun) and send the audience on its way with a set of recognizable songs that bid adieu to the 3-day party in grandiose fashion.

Pagan’s Mind, the true definitive highlight of a festival filled with highlights, were asked to provide the musicianship for the All Star Jam — a perfect choice, really, as they burned their mark on the Center Stage theater as the most versatile and skilled musicians from soup to nuts of the lot (and that’s saying something, to be sure). No different than what happened during the past 3 days, the first song, “Final Countdown” (Europe) was plagued with microphone technical difficulties … poor Floor Jansen again was in a position of having less than the best support for her efforts. Basically, nobody could hear a word she sang … so after the song ended, she was handed a new microphone and the whole song was performed a 2nd time!

Zak Stevens from Savatage fame was the surprise guest of the evening, performing “Strutter” by Kiss in full Kiss facepaint. He sounded great, the band sounded great, and the technical difficulties that seemed to follow Floor were long forgotten. Several other great covers were cranked out, and the audience was going insane. The fans in front of the stage on the floor were bobbing up and down in unison like a school of salmon trying to fly upstream to spawn, and the excitement was as contagious as chicken pox in a preschool learning center. That is … until a wasted Christer Ortefors (bassist/vocalist for Freak Kitchen) took the mic to belt out a few AC/DC covers. The show suddenly began falling from classy to classless … and it was poised to unfortunately get worse. The halfway point arrived, and after what seemed to be mass confusion, the backstage crew actually took their turn at playing “Flight Of Icarus” by Iron Maiden. Surprisingly, they performed that classic Maiden tune pretty well, although amid what appeared to be a Chinese Firedrill.

The first 5 songs of the second half of the show basically made no sense – most weren’t Metal, and they basically weren’t even well known songs. You could almost hear the wind getting sucked out of the audience’s proverbial sails as each of these ill-advised picks came to light (see set list below). The solution? Well, just as the Jam wrapped itself into the throes of boredom, Damian Wilson of Threshold during his rendition of “Hard To Handle” by the Black Crowes (yes, the Black Crowes) brought out what appeared to be a totally naked, painted exotic dancer on stage, making a bad situation even worse. A move like this in a 21 and over crowd can be excused (or even welcomed), but there were a good number of teens and pre-teens in the audience – Metalhead diehards of the future, if you will. That stunt along with the fact that it looked like Damian may whip it out at any moment and engage in the act on stage (think of the F*#k For Rainforests movement that made headlines a few years back), made the whole situation a bit tenuous, to say the least. By this point, it appeared the All Star Jam was on the verge of chaos.

Luckily, the show mercifully shifted back to a METAL JAM, and Michael Gremio of Cellador belted out “I Want Out” (very apropos considering what just went down in that 5 song stretch) by Helloween, his favorite band. Next, Nils K. Rue took control of getting the show totally on track again by ripping out Queensryche’s “Take Hold Of The Flame” … and nailing every note of this challenging Progressive Metal classic. From that point forward, no wrong could be done.

When the Jam came to its conclusion, Glenn Harveston came on stage to a strong round of applause and introduced a video featuring the 10 bands already confirmed for next year’s show … however, the 2 headliners have yet to be named. Make your bets now that 1 of those 2 will be Pagan’s Mind, so get your tickets for next year’s show now!

The following list memorializes the songs, bands covered, and lead performers during the All Star Jam:

“Final Countdown” – Europe – Floor Jansen of After Forever
“Strutter” – KISS – Zak Stevens of Savatage
“Symphony of Destruction” – Megadeth – Oddleif Stensland of Communic
“Welcome Home” – King Diamond – Nils K. Rue of Pagan’s Mind
“You’ll Never Remember, I’ll Never Forget” – Yngwie Malmsteen – Henning Basse on vocals and Gus G. on guitar (both from Firewind)
“Youth Gone Wild” – Skid Row – Claudio Coassin of Raintime and a variety of backup vocalists
“Out In The Fields” – Gary Moore – Ralf Scheepers on vocals and Mat Sinner on bass (both from Primal Fear)
“Lady Of Winter” – Crimson Glory – Nils K. Rue of Pagan’s Mind and Lance King of Krucible
“Highway To Hell” – AC/DC – Christer Ortefors of Freak Kitchen
“Back In Black” – AC/DC – Christer Ortefors and Bjorn Fryklundh of Freak Kitchen
“Flight Of Icarus” – Iron Maiden – ProgPower Crew
“Alone” – Heart – Floor Jansen of After Forever
“Who Wants To Live Forever” – Queen – Floor Jansen of After Forever and Ralf Scheepers of Primal Fear
“Desperado” – The Eagles – Zak Stevens of Savatage
“Hard to Handle” – Black Crowes – Damian Wilson of Threshold
“The Real Thing” – Faith No More – Ray Adler on vocals and Nick Van Dyk on guitar (both from Redemption)
“I Want Out” – Helloween – Michael Gremio on vocals and Bill Hudson on guitar (both from Cellador)
“Take Hold Of The Flame” – Queensrÿche – Nils K. Rue of Pagan’s Mind
“Children Of The Sea” – Black Sabbath – Zak Stevens of Savatage
“Metal Gods” – Judas Priest – Ralf Scheepers of Primal Fear
“Balls To The Wall” – Accept – Lance King of Krucible and Nils K. Rue of Pagan’s Mind


  • Dan Skiba

    Dan is a former partner at Metal Express Radio, and also served as a reviewer, photographer and interviewer on occasions. Based out of Indianapolis, USA he was first turned on to Hard Rock music in the mid-1970s when he purchased Deep Purple's Machine Head as his first album. He was immediately enthralled with the powerful guitar sound and pronounced drumbeat, and had to get more! His collection quickly expanded to include as many of Heavy Rock bands of the time that he could get his hands on, such as Ted Nugent, Judas Priest, and Black Sabbath, to name just a few.

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