After four years, heavy metallers Iced Earth have finally returned to Atlanta, GA. There are a few things that made the show, and tour, a very special one. For starters, this year marks the 30th anniversary of the band. The band also had a small line up change as well, as unfortunately Troy Steele stepped down as lead guitarist and has been replaced with Jake Dreyer of Witherfall. Jake has proven he is without a doubt the man for the job and added an enormous amount of energy to the performance, which will be discussed in greater detail later. This tour also featured the return of Brent Smedley on drums. The day of the show also just happened to be on St. Patrick’s Day, and Iced Earth even had a few shirts at the merchandise table dedicated to the holiday and to the best of my knowledge were in limited quantities and exclusive to the Atlanta show as most if the sizes sold out very quickly. Unfortunately, Iced Earth were not the only band to have a line up change, as Sanctuary lost their lead singer, Warrel Dane, who passed away earlier this year. Warrel Dane wide vocal range quickly made him a favorite in metal circles, as did his work with Sanctuary, which Dane founded in 1985. The singer released his debut solo album, Praises to the War Machine, in 2008 and was working on his sophomore solo effort in São Paulo, Brazil at the time of his death. The musician reportedly had a heart attack during the night and could not be revived. To honor Dane’s memory Sanctuary decided to stay on the tour as a “Farewell to Warrel Dane.”
Doors opened for VIPs about 30 mins before GA ticket holders we’re let in. The meet and greet was fine, a little bit better than the one I attended four years ago on the Plagues of Babylon tour. I brought just about their entire discography and the band happily signed everything. They also handed out posters to be signed as well. The posters were made of very high quality and thick paper as opposed to cheap news print that I’ll encounter at Meet and Greet from time to time. After the signing the band took group pictures with everybody and even let us take individual pictures with each member which was the icing on the cake. Another surprise was the presence of former Iced Earth member, Gene Adams, who was hanging out during the M&G. He was very friendly and happily signed my copy of the first Iced Earth album saying, “Wow you have the original artwork? That’s so cool! You sure you want me to sign?” Of course I said yes and afterwords we took some pictures together. Once photos were finished the band hung around for only a few minutes to ask questions. All in all, the Meet and Greet was a very pleasant experience. I just wish we could have had more time with the band to talk and ask further questions.
The concert began with Kill Ritual opening. A band of only four members with a classic metal style, they seemed to fit right in the lineup. The bombastic drumming and riffing guitar made them a very welcomed addition. Unfortunately, the rest of the sound was not so great, as the singer was almost completely inaudible, a real shame as he had great stage presence and even jumped off the stage in front of the barricade to flirt with the crowd on a few occasions.
Next came Sanctuary, with Joseph Michaels of Witherfall filling in Warrel Dane‘s shoes. Sadly, his vocals were almost inaudible as well and he even asked the crowd, “Can you guys even HEAR me?!” question that was unanimously answered by the audience with a thundering “No!!” This did not slow the show down though, as Joseph just laughed it off and kept singing his heart out. Much like the singer from Kill Ritual, Joseph combated the poor sound and got off the stage several times, to add some additional excitement to the already energy-packed show, only this time he took it a step farther. Instead if merely jumping in front of the barricade, he ran into the pit and sang with the rest of the fans in the front row, and even managed to take some selfies in the middle of performance!
Sanctuary‘s banner was taken down to reveal Iced Earth‘s, while a few sound guys tested out the instruments before finally leaving the stage empty. The lights dimmed and venue erupted with cheers and loud chants of “ICED EARTH! ICED EARTH!” The band came on stage amidst the frantic chants and opened with “Great Heathen Army” from the latest record Incorruptible. Drummer Brent Smedley, guitarist and founding member Jon Schaffer, vocalist Stu Block, bassist Luke Appleton, and new guitarist Jake Dreyer were on fire from the opening chords of this evening with Jake swinging his guitar around and throwing pics towards the first lines. Jake definitely has a greater stage presence than his predecessor Troy did and it certainly rubbed off on the rest of the band, especially on Jon. As opposed to just seemingly brooding on one side of the stage, Jon actually moved around and swung his guitar a bit, often times smiling at the crowd: it was great to see him in better spirits this time around, as he was dealing with some health issues last time I caught them on tour. Thankfully, the sound problems that affected the previous bands didn’t seem to happen with Iced Earth, as Stu’s voice was clearly heard, even Jon’s backing vocals were perfectly distinguishable in the mix.
The next songs were “Dystopia” and “Burning Times”, containing the classic galloping riffs the band is known for, and subsequently inspiring lots of head banging. “Black Flag” and “Seven Headed Whore” from the new album, followed by “I Died For You” and “Vengeance is Mine” from The Dark Saga album, dropped one after another, with Stu Block climbing the drum-kit and singing while dangling from the cage. Next came “Brothers” and the fan favorite “Dracula”, instantly recognized by the crowd since the beginning melody, provoking roaring applause, screams, and more sing-along. After a heated rendition of “Raven Wing” they played three tracks from their sophomore album Night of the Stormrider. Jon’s mic was moved to the front and center and Jon sang lead vocals for “Stormrider”, and Stu came back on stage to handle the mic for “Angels Holocaust” and finally the epic “Travel In Stygian.” The band proceeded to remove their instruments and left the stage for a short break. After a few minutes they returned for a two songs encore, attaching with the frenzied “Clear the Way (December 13th, 1862)”. Before playing the final song, Stu explained its origin, as it was originally written for Jon’s friend who passed away in a motorcycle accident several years ago: “This will be our last song for the night, it’s a song written many years ago… Tonight we dedicate it to Warrel Dane, this one is called ‘Watching Over You.’…” . Their flawless and blasting interpretation of the song, driven by Schaffer’s powerful chords and riffs paired with Block’s powerful vocals carried the song to extreme heights without ever sounding cheesy. When the last note vanished Stu took a minute to address the room full of passionate fans: “…We have some of the best fans, we thank you all for your support over the years! You guys rule!…”
The show was incredible and the whole band was firing on all cylinders. The set-list seemingly had the perfect blend of old and new material as the new songs almost felt like classics all on their own making this whole concert truly feel like an almost “best of” set-list. Hopefully we won’t have to wait another four years for their return.
Die for My Sins / Seasons of Destruction / Battle Angels / Arise and Purify / Frozen / Soldiers of Steel / Future Tense / Taste Revenge
Iced Earth Set-List
Great Heathen Army / Burning Times / Dystopia / Black Flag / Seven Headed Whore / I Died for You / Vengeance Is Mine / Brothers / Dracula / Raven Wing / Stormrider / Angels Holocaust / Travel in Stygian
Encores: Clear the Way (December 13th, 1862) / Watching Over Me
All pictures in this article courtesy of of Björn Olsson / Rocksverige.se. Check more of his fantastic work by visiting here