In Concert: A Night of Michigan Prog Metal

Entransient Album Release Party with Imminent Sonic Destruction and Paradigm Shifter, The Pyramid Scheme, Grand Rapids Michigan, January 14, 2023

I gotta admit, it was first-class fun to reconnect with fellow members of the (extremely informal) West Michigan Prog Posse, checking out three homegrown bands at this local 400-capacity venue.

First up was the Grand Rapids-based Paradigm Shifter, self-described as “an instrumental Metal band taking influences from Hardcore and Progressive metal.” This young trio had chops galore and plenty of decent ideas packed into titles like “Hammer Down” and “Primal Fear”. To this old-codger-in-training, it reminded me (in a good way!) of surf music like “Wipe Out” and “Pipeline” — though played with droptuned, heavily distorted 7-string guitars. The band’s current limitations (computerized drums, extended re-tuning covered by pre-recorded interludes) certainly aren’t impossible to overcome, and if they took their guitar hero posing a trifle too seriously — well, haven’t we all at one time or another? Changing pace for “Leap of Faith”, a rap-rock finale with guest vocalists that sounded like a Linkin Park comeback, Paradigm Shifter was a solid opener, offering something for everyone in a remarkably youthful crowd.

Imminent Sonic Destruction, a Detroit progressive metal band of 15 years vintage, was up next, with the melodramatic oratory of British sci-fi author Michael Moorcock ringing in our ears. Gleefully self-aware as they took the stage, ISD quickly cued us in that their music is completely over the top, and that they’re in on any potential silliness right along with us. Ping-ponging between extravagant, multi-part headbangers, complete with cookie monster vocals (“With Death This Story Ends”, “The Fog”) and tightly harmonized, symphonic power ballads (“Solitude” and the title track from their latest album The Sun Will Always Set) guitarists Tony Piccoli (also a game lead vocalist) and Scott David Thompson (a key harmonizer), bassist Bryan Paxton (doing the growls), keyboardist Pete Hopersberger (pleasingly prominent in the mix vocally and instrumentally) and drummer Pat DeLeon (also of Motor City proggers Tiles) provided one pile driving good time!

And then there was the evening’s hosts Entransient, who I’ve written about previously, both live (opening for Thank You Scientist and Bent Knee at the Pyramid Scheme) and on record (their fine new album Ghosts in the Halls) Tonight, they opted for a slow build, starting with an acoustic mini-set — complete with cello — before firing the big guns. Their consistently sharp songwriting had the broadest range of the night’s bands, as guitarists Nick Hagen and Doug Murray, bassist Matt Schrauben and drummer Jeremy Hyde whipped up a compelling blend of light & shade. And while it took vocalist Scott Martin a few tunes to get the measure of the room, he swiftly hit peak form, belting out new tracks like “Parasite” and “Synergize” along with setlist standbys like “The Weight of Things”. Plus, in the night’s coolest moment, the band played “Take What’s Left” from their debut album — featuring Hagen’s dad Tom, on the most metal clarinet solo I am ever likely to hear.

In between bands, the talk at our table turned to that evergreen topic, the future of progressive music in general and progressive rock in particular. One of my friends made two points: 1) the genre has to take root amongst younger generations for it to prosper, and; 2) the heavier edge that Fate’s Warning and Dream Theater brought into the mix is probably a core component in that future prosperity. Based on the strong performances by all three of the night’s bands and the demographics of the 150-175 people at the show, I have to agree; the heavy is here to stay!

— Rick Krueger

Haken Live in Detroit, with Next to None – 4/25/15

Saturday night, I had the awesome opportunity to see Haken, along with the brand new band Next to None, as well as Tiles and Imminent Sonic Destruction. It was a busy night, to be certain. While you may be familiar with Haken, you may not have yet heard of Next to None. Well, get prepared to be amazed. This band is made up of 16 and 17 year olds, with Max Portnoy as their drummer. And, yes, this is the incredibly talented son of Mike Portnoy, who is accompanying the young rockers on their very first tour. You are probably already guessing how awesome a show this must have been.

Tiles with Mike Portnoy

Taking place at the Token Lounge, a very small venue that has been around since the early 70s, in Westland, MI, the show opened with the Detroit native band, Tiles. I am not very familiar with the band, but I have heard some of their music. I must say, after hearing them live, I will definitely need to investigate them further. Their vocalist, Paul Rarick, astounded me with his range and style. All of the musicians were fantastic, and they got the show off to a fast start. The highlight of their set, however, came when they invited Mike Portnoy onto the stage to play none other than Rush’s “Spirit of Radio.” Oh. My. Gosh. Portnoy’s drums were indistinguishable from Neal Peart’s, and Rarick sounded, I kid you not, exactly like Geddy Lee. It was incredible!

Imminent Sonic Destruction
Imminent Sonic Destruction

After a short break, Imminent Sonic Destruction played a set. I had never heard of this band before, but they showed impressive skill. It seemed to be a cross between straight up metal, metal core, and prog metal. The singer had a great voice, but he was also fully capable of belting out screams common in more mainstream metal. These guys were clearly enjoying themselves, and they did a great job of warming up the crowd before Next to None and Haken.

I will admit, I was really excited to see Next to None. My first exposure to Max Portnoy came from a video on Mike Portnoy’s YouTube channel of the two of them playing the drum part from Avenged Sevenfold’s song, “Nightmare.” In the video, Max keeps up with his dad perfectly, and he was only 11 at the time. Very impressive, to say the least. When I heard that Max and his friends, Thomas Cucé, Ryland Holland, and Kris Rank, formed a band and recently announced an album coming out through Inside Out Records, I was intrigued, to say the least. After viewing some of their music videos online and listening to one of their released songs, I couldn’t wait to see them live.

MP introducing Next to None
MP introducing Next to None

When they came onto the stage, I detected about three seconds worth of nervousness before they ripped into it. After that, all bets were off. These guys have fantastic stage presence for their age. On top of that, their musicianship is outstanding! Max Portnoy definitely inherited his father’s chops, and the rest of the band play like musicians twice their age. Vocally, Thomas Cucé ranges from regular singing to full on metal screaming, and he does both exceptionally well. Keep in mind, this was also the band’s first performance of their first official tour. Amazing. These guys will go far in rock, and I believe they are the future of the genre. Way to go guys!

Next to None’s debut album, A Light in the Dark, comes out on June 30.

Next to None
Next to None

After several hours of awesome music, Haken finally emerged and played a two hour set! Holy crap. Before the show, I was only familiar with The Mountain and the Restoration EP. On my way out, I bought their first two albums. They played music from all of their albums, as well as the 20 minute “Crystallized” from Restoration. Songs such as “Cockroach King,” “Atlas Stone,” “Falling Back to Earth,” “Shapeshifter,” and the 20 minute encore, “Visions,” along with several other songs I am forgetting, were huge hits with the crowd. Everyone at the show was head-banging along to the music, and the band was certainly all in to what they were playing.


The single most amazing thing about Haken’s performance was the fact that they were playing minus a member – Richard Henshall, who for some reason was not able to make it to the show. I think Ross Jennings, their vocalist, said he was ill, and he really wanted to be there. Despite his absence, their live music managed to sound just like the albums. The crowd, which, to my pleasant surprise, was made up of a large majority of young people around my age, LOVED Haken. After they finished their last song, the crowd started chanting “HAKEN! HAKEN! HAKEN!” for several minutes until the band re-emerged to play their 20 minute encore, “Visions.”

I cannot say enough good things about Haken. They were absolutely fantastic, and their fans were awesome as well. This was my first truly metal concert, and I didn’t know what to expect. But, there were no mosh pits, no shoving, no fighting, or generally obnoxious behavior. Granted, it was a very small venue with only 200 people at the most, but still. It was an awesome experience, and I definitely look forward to seeing them again.

Max Portnoy and yours truly. I promise I was not drunk even though I look like it. That is just the look I get after standing for 5+ hours. Sadly, its not all that different from my normal look.

At the end of the show, I decided to wait around a few extra minutes to buy Haken’s first two albums (I already bought a t-shirt before the show) and see if any of the performers would come out to mingle. Sure enough, a few emerged. I got the chance to briefly meet and thank Ray Hearne, the drummer, and Charlie Griffiths, the guitarist, both of Haken. Both looked completely exhausted, but it was very nice of them to come out and talk to fans. I also spotted Max Portnoy wandering around, and I got my picture taken with him. He seems like a really nice guy, and I wish him and Next to None the best of success on their album and tour. I can’t imagine what it must be like to juggle high school with recording and touring. Props to them.

The one person I really really really wanted to meet was, of course, Mike Portnoy. Unfortunately, that did not happen, but Mike seemed like he wanted to stay out of the limelight. This was Max’s night, and Mike did a great job of emphasizing that by simply being there to support his son. Maybe I’ll catch you at the next show, Mike.

If you are anywhere near any of the venues of this tour, definitely go out and see them. I only paid $18 for my ticket, which was incredibly reasonable, considering we got hours of great music.