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Saturday 7 October 2023

A View From The Back Of The Room: Power Metal Quest Fest 2023 (Live Review By Matt Bladen)

Power Metal Quest Fest, The Asylum, Birmingham, 30.09.23

Once more we made our way to the birthplace of heavy metal for a day of power/prog at The Asylum Venue. Once again organised brilliantly by CapsaArx Team, it was a day that had little to no issues on the stage, all of the changeovers slick while the sound was pretty much perfect the whole day.

As we made our way into the venue, stopping first for a German beer on the last day of Oktoberfest. The Black Hounds (7) were on stage making a ruckus, not really power or prog metal, I'd put them more along the lines of a band like Black Label Society where big biker riffs are interspersed with some NWOBHM. If anything you could call it Midlands Heavy as they owe as much to Sabbath as they do Priest. Despite a call and response section that lasted a little long, The Black Hounds got PMQF 2023 started with a bang.

Always booked with a personal edge from the team, the bands invited are often ones they themselves want to see so next it was Sheffield symphonic/progressive act Aonia (7). I mentioned in my Instagram stories at the time that it was like watching a metal version of the Flower Duet, the dual soprano vocals in a soaring unison over the intricate musical backing.

Rarely shifting from the late 90's/early 2000's style of symphonic metal, there's a thick gothic seam to their music, as the fantasy lyrics are delivered by the unique double vocals style. The front women seem to be having the most fun of everyone and you can't help but like the band. A prospect that could always be flawed Aonia nail their classical/metal crossover.

Next though was the more direct sound of Risen Prophecy (8). Inspired by the German/American heavy power metal sound. The Sunderland based power thrash band have just gained Dave Bissett formerly of Farseer on vocals and Dan Rochester of Bone Tomb on guitar, though he has played with both drummer James Charlton and guitarist Ross Oliver in other bands. This link between the instrumental part, topped off by Ben Oliver on bass, and the addition of new members made me think that Risen Prophecy had something to prove.

They certainly proved something to me as out of all the various types of power/prog metal the heavier/thrashier/more Americanised style is my favourite. Bands like they who shall not be named, Jag Panzer and even UK acts like Intense are favourites of mine and Risen Prophecy have joined that list,. especially with Dave on vocals, as I loved his voice in Farseer. On the PMQF stage he was hitting heights only audible by dogs and the crowd ate it up waving their (rubber/inflatable) broadswords in the air.

Ahh there's always one band who suprise you, for me it was Warlock A.D (7). Parodying, cosplaying, genre bending heavy metal from Stoke On Trent that brought filth to PMQF. With songs such as Geralt Of Labia, Skyrimming and Judge Judy, Executioner, Warlock A.D come across as a D&D party fused with Steel Panther playing at being a power metal band. It was entertaining though the po-faced axe wielding warriors in the room would likely tell them to "leave the hall" it was a nice break in proceedings that brought laughter and fun to the festival. It also felt like a first half closure. Like the introduction to the day had finished as from here the quality increased exponentially. 

Many would decry any band playing their own festival as being uncool, though both Manowar and Megadeth do it. But to hell with what people say, when you're as good as Dakesis (9) are then of course you can play your own festival. Having come off the back of a brilliant BOA set, PMQF was a chance for the foursome to delve into their catalogue a bit and play songs that don't always fit on festival sets.

Taking cuts from their early releases and playing a 15 minute track to close, the skill of Amie and Adam's rhythm section was tight, muscular and explorative when the prog was at its most powerful. Adam's drumming is so inbuilt into the Dakesis sound you often forget he's there but if you look at what he's doing, for someone like me it's similar to calculus.

Amie's techincal bass playing is the groundwork for the songs, the major source of groove and riffs, linking with Adam, laying down a foundation for the virtuoso guitar playing of Matt, who continues to leave you awestruck, while also backing Gemma with some harmonies in the choruses. Gemma possesses an incredible range and some serious power, cutting the mic dead a few times with how strong she sang.

Dakesis always bring it, a celebration of being different, being a fan of heavy music and being welcomed for it no matter what. It's what they build their band around and what they build their festival around. Inclusion and defiance of anyone stupid enough to try to keep them down. It was fantastic!

The joy didn't stop though as next were my favourite band of the day. Germans Victorius (9) play overdriven power metal ala Sonata Arctica, Hammerfall, Gloryhammer, but the songs are about Laser Toting Dinosaurs, Mythical Dragons, Magic Mammoths and of course... ninjas. Is it stupid? Yes! Does it bring a huge grin to your face? Also yes! Isn't that the point? You better believe it.

European power metal where everything is at light speed deserves the conceptual silliness of Victorius' long running war between Dinosaurs and Ninjas, the armour clad band throwing shapes and posing like warriors under the lights. With the alcohol stating to kick in, the crowd really stared to get involved with the upbeat approach.

Power metal is at its best and brightest when it's not taken seriously, Victorius understand this so to have a room full of people dressed as dragons, mages, pirates and more singing "Mighty Magic Mammoth" is as good as it gets. My jaw hurt as they finished their set so I will definitely be putting them on my 'must see' list for future.

That's the beauty of a festival like this, watching bands that so often are overlooked by the bigger bookers. Take for example co-headliner Dragonland (8), there aren't many festivals that would book their conceptual, power metal to headline but as I said PMQF do things differently. A bit of Swedish metal supergroup, Dragonland features Olof Mörck of Amaranthe on guitar, though studio only, Stuart Docherty of Ascension takes his place on stage in unison with Jesse Lindskog, Johan Nunez of Firewind/Lords Of Black on drums as well as ex-members of Nightrage.

Musically all the songs are drawn from their own Dragonland Chronicles, similar in their high fantasy style to any Italian band with Rhapsody in their name (there are so many now). Mörck’s leads duel with Elias Holmlid’s cinematic keys as Lindskog, Anders Hammer and Nunez drive the triumphant epic power metal riffs. To cap it off Jonas Heidgert is a brilliant singer powerful and on the right side of going into the histrionics of Fabio Lione, though you were not always able to hear them due to so much happening with the mix. They played  varied set and even included the live debut of Resurrecting An Ancient Technology from 2022's The Power Of The Nightstar. Not as visually entertaining as Victorius, they certainly put on a show that enthralled the PMQF crowd, especially as their visits are few and far between.

On tour as part of a package with Dragonland, were our other co-headliners. Also from Sweden, also featuring a member of Amaranthe, singer Nils Molin, it was a band I dubbed the ‘pretty boys of power metal’ Dynazty (8). Making use of backing tapes for the rippling, pulsating electronic elements of their sound, they stormed onto the stage of The Asylum with a cocksure strut and a set packed full of anthems to make sure the venue was bouncing along. More on the melodic side of power metal due to the use of synths, they create a party atmosphere, perfect for a venue that boasts Birmingham’s best alt club night.

Appealing to all, the amount of people of all genders down the front throwing themselves around was site that brought joy to my snide journalistic heart. In keeping with the inclusive nature of the festival, in the knowledge that power and prog metal is often the breeding ground for lots of misplaced machismo and the only place internet trolls will venture out of their bedrooms for. A band such as Dynazty with their pop-inflected hooks and cool styling (not a costume to be seen), open up the genre to people who may think it’s all D&D fanboys that have never seen a woman. Taking their set from across their most recent four albums, most came from 2022's Fire Advent and 2020's The Dark Delight, the tracks came fast and furious, even mamnging to throw in a drum solo and during Advent a bass solo that changed into a snippet of Van Halen's Hot For Teacher

The best sound of the night and the slickest performance too, the tapes faded and the chords rang out closing yet another brilliant Power Metal Quest Fest. Rapidly becoming my favourite festival, if I were to give you advice for 2024, book early as it WILL sell out. And on a personal request to the organisers please try to get Intense!

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