Iced Earth / Warbringer / Elm Street Hot
Written by James Gaden     May 29, 2014    
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Iced Earth / Warbringer / Elm Street - O2 Academy, Islington (UK) – 14th January 2014

I know it happens to everyone but I am becoming increasingly shocked at how quickly time flies as I get older. It feels like just a few months ago I watched Iced Earth at The Underworld. In truth it was over a year ago; I know that because I remember joking with a friend at the time that if the Mayan's were right that it would be the last gig we would ever see. Now thirteen months later IE are back in London with a new tour and a new album. Tonight also featured two other bands that continued the international theme with American Thrash Metal band Warbringer sandwiched between IE and Australian Heavy Metal act Elm Street who were charged with opening the proceedings.

The Melbourne based four-piece opened the evening brightly enough with 'Hellraiser'. There were big, bounding drums, a crunchy riff and raspy vocals from singer Ben Batres. He encouraged the sparse audience to get involved and they reacted with plenty of fists in the air. Although the solo was slightly buried this was a good starting choice as there was a certain catchiness to the song. There was no title announcement for the next song but it was far more hostile and furious with a solo that was a little too manic. I remember thinking compared to 'Hellraiser' this track was too much fury and not enough finesse. The next two songs all rolled into one and it was tough to know where one song ended and the next one began. In fact it was only when a photographer friend appeared out the pit after his standard three tracks that I was aware we were even on a fourth song. By the time they played 'Face The Reaper' they had reverted back to the more accessible sound of the first song. The vocals were still fairly aggressive as was the music but it was all more audible and enjoyable. This continued into their closing track, the aptly named 'Elm Street Children'; there were a solid crunch to the guitar, aggressive but understandable vocals and added melodicness with a keys backing track. It was, for me, the highlight of their show and a good way to end.

During their set, ES referred to Warbringer as Thrash Metal Monsters...for a few moments of their opening song they didn't sound too hostile, but they quickly kicked into overdrive. The bass was overwhelming and the drumming almost mental with screamed vocals that didn't quiet reach death growling. The mosh pit opened up and those within it threw themselves around with abandonment and seemed to be enjoying themselves...each to their own I suppose. Their second track was even more raucous and malevolent and exactly what I was expecting. As they motored through 'Iron City' and 'Demonic Ecstasy' the drumming became more frantic and the bass almost took over drowning out everything else. It let up a little during 'The Turning Of The Gears' and everything became a little more audible. Vocalist John Kevill looked like he was having fun and this song seemed popular with sections of the crowd (especially those in the mosh pit) – I sadly wasn't one of them. The overwhelming bass was back for 'Total War' and at this point it became a bit much for me and I headed to the side for a beer. Kevill announced they had time for two more and asked for the whole floor to go "fucking mental" as they closed out with 'Living In A Whirlwind' and 'Hunter-Seeker' which continued in much the same vein as the other tracks. They received a fairly large applause which surprised me a little but it also proved the audience tonight had a taste for the heavier side of Metal.

Whilst the wait between the acts was again short, the intro after the lights dropped took its time to get going but once they came up fully... Iced Earth hit the ground running with a big band in the shape of the new album's title track 'Plagues Of Babylon'. From the first few notes, IE showed themselves to be several classes above the other bands on tonight's bill. Stu Block was vastly more audible than the other singers whilst the guitars were seriously heavy, substantially clearer and somehow even louder; that said the rhythm section was still a little overly thick. At its conclusion the air raid sirens roared away before they followed up with 'Democide' which was the second of seven tracks from the new album that appeared tonight. There was a little taken off the base line which alleviated some of the thickness whilst the vocal harmonies in the chorus sounded good as did Block individually. After 'Dark Saga' he told the audience they were going to play a lot from the new album before he then explained the next track ('If I Could See You') was written for Jon Schaffer's grandfather. There were lots of hands in the air matching the beat whilst Block's sentimental and touching vocals seeped forward. It may have been a more emotional song but it was still played at some volume. IE then slammed their foot on the gas for the insanely fast 'Disciples Of A Lie' before they returned to the new record with the fairly maniacal 'Jekyll & Hyde' and the riff filled 'Among The Living Dead'. It was musically a case of all guns blazing especially from main riff-master Schaffer who was stood mercurially on his side of the stage. IE kept up the intensity with another smash mouth entry in 'Red Baron/Blue Max', Block was letting fly with some amazing wails before he exited the stage and left it to the musicians. On his return the "Iced Earth" chants started and Block informed the crowd it was time for a track from the 'Something Wicked This Way Comes' album; with that they blasted into 'Blessed Are You' which got an excellent crowd reaction with lots of hands up and for me it was one of the night's highlights. It was then time for 'Peacemaker' which Block informed the audience was a song about a gunslinger. Surprisingly, despite the subject matter being about speed, this was a slower paced song with a grinding riff that was pumped out by Schaffer. There was another injection of pace afterwards with 'Vengeance Is Mine', a very aggressive styled song and clearly very popular judging by the reaction on the floor. The returned to 'Plagues...' with 'Cthulhu' before the place went absolutely nuts for the frantic 'My Own Saviour' where the drums and bass were on overdrive at times. Block asked the crowd if they still had energy for a few more and the loud roar confirmed they did. It was time for 'The End?' which was ironically the last choice to be played from the new album. Block checked that the crowd were not bored before getting their hands in air to match the drum beat. Schaffer then kicked out another colossal riff as they finished off their main set with 'A Question Of Heaven'. There was a sea of hands across the entire floor and the applauded with vigour at the end. As would be expected there was loud chants of the band's name in the darkness before they strolled back out again. IE opted for a three song encore that started off with 'Dystopia'. It was almost my favourite moment of the night which isn't a massive surprise given I am such a fan of that album. But that honour goes to 'Watching Over Me' which was dedicated to anyone who had lost someone. The hands were up throughout the song with a really positive showing from the audience. By this point, everyone knew the night was near its end and in the break everyone started to chant the band's name again, but this time it was a song request and they were rewarded with the band closing out with 'Iced Earth'. Schaffer unleashed another powerful progression and scorching solo whilst Block whipped the crowd up with fist pumps in the air and lots of "heys" to finish out the night.

The openers may not have tickled my fancy this evening but the headline act certainly delivered as they almost always do. The crowd response would tend to suggest that many there this evening enjoyed the two warm up acts, especially Warbringer, but sadly I wasn't that impressed. I openly admit I'm not the biggest fan of Thrash so my viewpoint is somewhat skewed, but my friend is and he was also pretty underwhelmed. Iced Earth delivered a punishing and polished Heavy Metal display that was as loud as I have heard any band play. Some may have been a little unhappy that the set list was almost half filled with new songs especially given the lengthy back catalogue, but they were after all on tour to support that record. Block really has cemented himself as vocalist in the band and he gives them an added youthful enthusiasm on stage whilst Schaffer's performance was pretty much flawless from start to finish. For me the headliners were excellent tonight, even if they weren't sensational, and I look forward to the return of this American band in the near future.

Dave Scott

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