Like the night before, I managed to time my arrival right near the 6:30 start. This time, there were even more people streaming towards the doors, with half of them wearing Iced Earth shirts, so it was pretty clear even before entering the building what this night would be all about. In addition to the balcony, the area to the right of the stage was opened up, which I had never seen before. They definitely outdrew the night before, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more than 1000 in attendance.
Arise and Ruin:
Completely unimaginative and by-the-numbers non-melodic metalcore, but it was actually executed quite well. The guys seem ok at playing their instruments, and the vocalist gave an energetic and convincing performance. As I listened, I thought that some of their mega-downtuned breakdowns actually would be pretty cool if they were expanded into full songs, where they’d turn into some kind of dirge-like hypnotic post-metal. And their last song even had some washes of melody, so it wasn’t half bad. But the best part was their attitude: they clearly recognized that no one was there to see them, so instead of exhorting the crowd to cheer for them (which would have failed miserably), they kept the banter to a minimum, and used the cleverly-dropped names of Iced Earth and Testament to keep the crowd involved. Oh, and one guitarist wore an Iron Maiden shirt too.
Umm…wow. Where to begin? Well, the beginning, I guess. It seemed to take them forever to set up, mostly because the entire drumkit was being assembled from scratch, and when you have 400 cymbals to forge, shape, and then screw onto the stands, that’s going to take a long time. I can’t understand why they weren’t more prepared, did they only remember at the last minute that they would need drums for this performance? Finally the music starts, and those drums are deafeningly loud, and horribly triggered. Up front, we have the other two guys on guitar and bass shouting angrrry-isms into their microphones gang-vocal style while they play some nondescript groove-metal. Hmm, do we only have a trio? Nope, out sashays the singer, with blond spiky hair, oversized mirrored sunglasses, and enough flamboyant prancing to make Boy George blush. Mixed with that persona, we also have him channeling Martin Short at his comedic worst, thinking that the more exaggerated facial contortions he does, the funnier he is. Ok, so, we have this free-spirited character, maybe that could actually be kind of cool and entertaining, something fresh in the metal world. But, no. Problem number one is that he has to sing too, and to do that, he apparently attempted to channel a third personality, that of Mike Patton and his many voices. Needless to say, he came up woefully short on every style he attempted. Problem two is much more egregious: between songs, his goofy gay guy routine vanished, to be replaced by Mr. Badass, who proves his toughness by showing how many times he can angrily use the word “fuck” in a sentence. But wait, it gets worse. At some point, this clearly white man devolved into a hackneyed black-preacher caricature, even going so far as to call us his “niggaz”. Oh, and then he took the opportunity to decry “fucking non-metal fags”. Just embarrassing. I can only conclude the he’s a bigot who thinks that mocking those unlike him is the highest form of comedy. Somehow, the crowd was actually mildly supportive, which shocked me, although a chant for Iced Earth did go up immediately after they finished their set.
Easily the most interesting band of the night, Iced Earth excluded. They’re one of those melting pot bands who takes influence from thrash, melodic black metal, etc. They were at their best with the more melodic and atmospheric parts, although their keyboard player contributed surprisingly little to their sound, especially given how many notes he appeared to be playing. Unfortunately, the most notable part of the band was their “singer”, who would do ok during the growling stuff, but was absolutely dreadful on the clean vocals, which he attempted quite a lot of. Honestly, I can’t remember ever hearing a worse performance from a singer, he never even came within a mile of the note he was trying to hit. He would have had no difficulty at all making it into the lowlight reel on American Idol.
A Life Once Lost:
By now, the crowd had packed in pretty tightly preparing for Iced Earth, so these guys had a huge audience watching them. Thus, it was all the more amazing how that entire crowd remained completely dead for their whole set. I was way in the back, so I didn’t notice any outright disrespect, and their was mild applause between songs, but for some reason the frontman decided to take the opposite approach of Arise and Ruin: instead of accepting that they simply aren’t going to win over the audience and then trying to stay positive and make the best of it, this guy gets his poor feelings hurt and derides us for being a bunch of pussies. Uh, yeah, that’s not going to help, genius. Musically, they were decent, but I guess if I want to hear a mix of thrash, -core, tech, and southern rock like that, I’d much rather have Mastodon.
Finally, the band that everyone was waiting for. From beginning to end, it was a complete no-bullshit, streamlined performance carefully engineered to kick our collective ass for 90 minutes. Zero stage decorations, no intro, they bashed through their first five or six songs without a break, and Jon uncharacteristically didn’t even say a word the whole night. If the goal was to make it seem like Matt had never even left the band, they completely succeeded. The only reference they made to Barlow’s return was when Matt and Jon warmly hugged after a huge “Welcome Back!” chant came up from the crowd, and Matt’s quiet acknowledgment of the frequent “Barlow” cheers.
It was clearly a “greatest hits” set, covering as many crowd favorites as possible while playing to Matt’s strengths. They hit at least one song from every album except ‘Burnt Offerings’, with ‘Something Wicked…’ and ‘The Dark Saga’ getting the primary focus. It’s the first time that I can recall them doing the closing songs from both of those albums without playing at least one of the lead-in songs of their respective trilogies, but the catalog is now getting large enough where that’s necessary, and even welcomed.
Early on the sound seemed a bit clicky and poppy on the bass end, and I don’t know if that improved or if I just got used to it. Then, the PA cut out twice, but apparently with their in-ear monitors, the band didn’t notice at all and just kept right on playing. That was good, because if they had noticed, I don’t think Jon would have been much pleased, and that would have brought down the vibe quite a bit. Since it cut out during a couple of classics and the band was still somewhat audible, the crowd just picked up the vocals themselves, and didn’t seem to mind much at all. The other guys in the band seemed good enough, but honestly most of my attention was on Jon and Matt. And for them, it was exactly like old times. Matt’s voice might have improved a bit as the night went on, but he was solid the whole way through, even on the Ripper stuff.
For me, it was my 20th Iced Earth concert, and it ranks right up there with the best of them. When their set started, I was at the absolute rear of the crowd, but worked my way up through the ‘Burning Times’ mosh pits. Eventually I made it to within three rows of the rail, where I spent most of my time. It was a complete crush, and sweaty enough that my fingertips got pruned. There was even a girl up there who was completely passed out and had to be dragged away; hopefully she was ok once she got some air! During ‘The Coming Curse’, Jon noticed me in the crowd, smiled, and pointed to me with his guitar, which is always cool. He was probably a bit surprised that I’m still up there going nuts for Iced Earth in my old age. It was only because the previous bands allowed me to conserve all my energy that I was able to survive up there, though I did nearly collapse when I dropped back into an active pit for some final insanity during ‘Iced Earth’.
So the crowd came to see Iced Earth, and I think they went home well satisfied. It was so great to see the universal positive reaction to Barlow’s return, and I can almost imagine that Jon is already taking the footage (there was someone filming) to the European festivals and looking to renegotiate upwards, because it’s going to be huge. Then again, the European festivals probably already knew how great the return of Barlow would be; it’s only Jon who was a bit slow in figuring it out!
01. Dark Saga
02. Vengeance is Mine
03. Burning Times
04. Declaration Day
06. Pure Evil
07. Watching Over Me
08. Ten Thousand Strong
10. Coming Curse
11. I Walk Alone
12. Setian Massacre
13. Travel In Stygian
14. A Question Of Heaven
16. My Own Savior
17. Iced Earth