The Sweden Rock Festival annually hosts the most diverse line-up of any European festival, and 2014 proves to be a year of quality over quantity for prog.
With the rejuvenated Queensrÿche, Todd LaTorre creates quite a stir in Geoff Tate’s shoes, immediately winning over the sceptics as he hits the highest notes of Nightrider. A setlist drawing from the first four albums and debut EP is augmented by three new songs, the previously unseen grins of original members Michael Wilton, Scott Rockenfield and Eddie Jackson telling their own story. Eyes Of A Stranger, Empire, Queen Of The Reich and Take Hold Of The Flame seal a winning return to Scandinavia.
Unfortunately, the rain accompanies a one-off performance by a six-piece Transatlantic. Mike Portnoy, Neal Morse, Roine Stolt and Pete Trewavas are joined by both Ted Leonard (Spock’s Beard) and Daniel Gildenlöw on guitars and keys respectively. Their truncated set cherry-picks one long piece from each album: the recent Into The Blue, a medley from The Whirlwind, All Of The Above and the encore, Stranger In Your Soul. They’re all note-perfect and performed with grace – bar Portnoy’s obvious dissatisfaction with the timing of his drum tech’s swivel mic, which ends with him trashing the kit.
Fully recovered from a life-threatening illness, Gildenlöw also appears with his own band, Pain Of Salvation. While US vocalist/guitarist Clay Withrow cuts an out-of-place figure with his Flying V and fringed white jacket, he supports Gildenlöw beautifully as they run through older prog metal workouts such as People Passing By and the brilliant Chain Sling. An hour-long set on the smallest stage seems scant reward for such adventurous eclecticism.
Singer Michael Sadler has been back in Saga for a couple of years now but it’s at Sweden Rock where we see how much he was missed. From the opening bars of Don’t Be Late to the closing bow after Wind Him Up, the boisterous crowd sing along to a mostly predictable set, with Ian Crichton’s scorching guitar and Jim Gilmour’s dazzling keys well to the fore. The band mix it up with two recent tracks, while drummer Mike Thorne’s backing vocals give the Canadians an extra boost.
Drawing the short straw, Therion suffer a post-midnight slot (after headliners Black Sabbath!), where they’re breaking in new vocalist Sandra Laureano. Thankfully, leader Christofer Johnsson has seen the folly of touring with a 16-piece line-up, so the string section and choir are now just backing tracks. The three singers on stage handle their parts well, with additional help from ex-Treat bassist Nalle Påhlsson and Johnsson himself. The crowd’s quite sparse by now, but the diehards enjoy the complex operatic pieces just as much as the likes of To Mega Therion from the band’s death-metal roots. Phil Ashcroft