The Epic Iced Earth/Symphony X Tour Launches With Perfection
Band Photo: Iced Earth (?)
Even though I reside in the “drive through” state of Connecticut, I still find it odd that one of the most anticipated tours of the year would begin in a location that most bands/tours avoid. It has more to do with fans in the state. Real fans of metal usually head over to neighboring New York or Massachusetts for any quality metal and any other fans tend to stay at home on Tuesday rather than get out and witness a major tour that is literally within 20-40 minutes away. It is the sorry state of affairs that most real metal fans in Connecticut deal with. But here, a rare opportunity descended upon us and it was a night that the half-filled hall would not soon forget.
The bands arrived in town early, but for some reason the sound checking process started right about the time that doors should have opened. Iced Earth could easily be heard in a practice run of Dystopia while the crowd gathered and waited. The delay caused doors to open at approximately 6:45pm and by the time half the crowd had be properly frisked, entered and started to check out the merchandise table…Warbringer started its set.
I really felt bad for Warbringer. They are such true road warriors. They drove straight from California with a new guitarist who barely knew the material. Once they hit the stage, half the crowd (which was half of the half-filled hall…for those keeping count) wasn’t in the building yet. But as a “working man’s band,” Warbringer brought the thrash in heaping quantities. At one point singer, John Kevill told the crowd “this is a metal show…it wouldn’t hurt you to move around a little!” Kevill is a really fun frontman with his searing thrash vocal style and hysterically funny facial expressions.
The band tore through a set of headcrushing metal including new songs “Shattered Like Glass,” “Behind the Veils of Night” and older tracks like “Living in a Whirlwind,” “Total War” and “Combat Shock.” New guitarist Andrew Bennett played admirably under the pressure of learning fast and playing the first night of a major U.S. Tour. As it turns out, Warbringer’s quickened pace afforded them the opportunity to play an extra song. A hot opening act that I simply must see as a headliner someday!
After another lengthy switch out, Iced Earth hit the stage with as much aggressive fervor and pure adrenaline as singer Stu Block could muster. I had purposely not watched any fan videos of Iced Earth’s performances in Europe as to not give away Stu Block’s renditions of older Iced Earth classics. If you haven’t been afforded the opportunity to see Iced Earth in recent years with Matt Barlow and/or Ripper Owens, this incarnation cannot be missed. As with the “Dystopia” album, Stu Block infects this band with new life and energy not seen since Matt Barlow first joined the band before the 1995 classic “Burnt Offerings.” It is not just the vocal style, but his natural ability to get a crowd, even slightly smaller ones, on their feet and moving about with chanting choruses and throwing fists. His attire is a true throwback to a time when metal was identified with a look as well as an attitude. Simply put, Stu looks like a crowd member of an Iced Earth show from 1991 donned with denim and spikes and his presence was an exhilarating time warp for me. Stu equally admired the crowd, consistently beating his chest in appreciation for both the reaction to him and the crowd's knowledge of the band's material.
The rest of the band was professional as always, with mainman Jon Schaffer, bassist Freddie Vidales and guitarist Troy Seele manning their posts with little movement but amazing sound. In their defense, the stage was not enormous and it was already cut in half by Symphony X’s gear, as well as the standing Dystopia banners. The band roared through an incredible set, even though it was cut short from the European headline tour by a few songs (no “Burning Times,” “The Hunter” and “My Own Savior” this time out) due to the co-headlining with Symphony X. As soon as the opening track of “Dystopia” was over the band immediately went into my all time favorite “Angels Holocaust.” Rather than playing a track of the choir opening of the studio version, the band opted to play straight guitar with Stu getting the crowd to provide the choir parts. This is what live shows are supposed to sound like, imperfection which turns out more fun than sitting home listening to a well-orchestrated CD. Of course, Stu’s version blew the John Greely effort out of the water.
The band continued with a nicely balanced and well picked set list consisting of “Slave to the Dark,” “V,” “Stand Alone” and “When the Night Falls.” Then a real treat happened….the playing of the monster “Horror Show” track “Damien.” Stu’s rendition added an even more sinister element given the man’s incredibly talented “hybrid vocal” style and the ability to pull off hard rock melodies, ear piercing Halford-esque screams, screeching black metal and guttural growls all within any line of any song. “Damien” was laced with blood red lighting, a deeply fogged stage and spiked arm metal horns in the air. Even the most devout Christian would soon scream out “CURSED NAZARENE!”
Following “Damien” was one of the best tracks on “Dystopia,” “Dark City” and then “Anthem,” “Declaration Day,” “Days of Rage,” and “Watching Over Me.” The highlight of the night came by way of the incredibly impressive “Dante’s Inferno” in all its 17+ minute glory. For those who haven’t heard the stunning re-recording as part of the limited edition of “Dystopia,” the live version is even better. Never have I been so happy passing through the nine plains of hell! The night capper was the eponymous track off the band’s 1991 debut and a perfect end to a perfect performance.
After yet another lengthy switch out, Symphony X hits the stage. With the opening melodies of the band’s latest album “Iconoclast,” Russell Allen takes a big swig of whiskey from the side of the stage and runs up with his larger than life stature and belts out with a voice from the metal gods. One small, but shining moment for me is that each time Russell Allen left the stage, he would come to the front barrier on the right side and simply admire his own band just like a fan. It is something you just don't see a lot. This was my first taste of Symphony X live and I wonder why I hadn’t seen them on previous tour even though I love the entirety of the band’s studio efforts.
I have always thought of Symphony X (both in studio and live) to be exactly what Dream Theater SHOULD sound like. It is a power form of progressive that is as much for headbangers as it is for hardcore musician types. Michael Romeo is as much a wizard as John Petrucci. Michael Pinnella is just as good as Jordan Rudess on keys, without the flashy swiveling keyboard and overly pompous (no disrespect intended) keyboard solos. Russell Allen is a way better frontman than James LaBrie with an overwhelming presence and outstanding rough but highly melodic vocal style. The band as a whole executes with as much technical perfection. The biggest difference: The crowd simply does not fall asleep!
The band plowed through practically the entire “Iconoclast” album right from the start with the title track, “The End of Innocence,” “Dehumanized,” “Bastards of the Machine,” “Electric Messiah” the amazing power ballad “When All is Lost” and “Children of a Faceless God.” Slightly older tracks from “Paradise Lost” included “Serpent’s Kiss” and “Eve of Seduction.” The band paid tribute to “The Odyssey” with “Inferno,” but the 24 minute title track was sacrificed due to the slightly shortened co-headline set, despite the crowd’s lively chants for the opus.
Other than a slightly smaller turn out then what I anticipate the band will receive in neighboring Worcester, Mass, the show was an epic night of metal perfection and a perfect warm up start for the rest of the tour. Iced Earth’s performance slightly edged out Symphony X’s for me only due slight preference in material. What Iced Earth lacked in technical perfection was made up for with pure old school metal fun. On the other hand, what Symphony X lacked (which wasn’t much) in old school fun was made up for with sheer technical perfection and a larger than life Russell Allen. It was a night for singers with all three acts with true frontmen that transcend other acts and have the ability to control the crowd at will. God help the rest of the cities on this tour!
Carl Frederick is a staff writer for Metal Underground.com. From the early to mid-90's, Carl published his own fanzine called C.R.O.M. In 1997, he released a compilation entitled "CROM: The Resurrection of True Metal," which featured songs from bands from around the world, including the first U.S. release of any kind for bands like Italy's Rhapsody (n/k/a Rhapsody of Fire) and Brazil's Angra. Follow Carl on Facebook and Twitter: @CROMCarl.
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