Iced Earth - LIVE: Islington Academy, London 2011

Dystopia World Tour
November 4 (20:00-21:30)
Capacity 800

Iced Earth's first UK headline tour has certainly been a long time coming, perhaps a bit too long given the band are close to celebrating 25 years. The band made a one off appearance in the UK nearly ten years ago to much fanfare, and haven't managed to do a proper tour or even one-off headliner show since. There's been a few festival appearances, as well as a support slot on tour with Heaven And Hell, but otherwise the band have remained strangely absent from the UK's clubs. In the meantime the band have changed singers a few times, losing fan-favourite singer Matt Barlow twice, as well as his powerhouse replacement Tim 'Ripper' Owens.

It is perhaps the well-publicised loss of Matt Barlow for the second time that has caused a lack of interest in this particular tour, with the band's London date scaling back from the large Shepherd's Bush Empire down to the Islington Academy, less than half the size. However Stu Block – originally dismissed by fans based on his performance with Into Eternity – has certainly turned heads on the band's latest album Dystopia, bringing back interest in the tour as a whole. That, and rumours that the band would end their set with a full performance of opus Dante's Inferno, swelled the venue to full capacity despite the lack of Barlow.

It certainly felt a bit strange seeing Iced Earth in such a small venue, but as the band kicked off with the title track from Dystopia, it ceased to feel strange and felt more like a rare, intimate show – a real metal show in a small, densely packed crowd. The band quickly moved to regular favourites Angels Holocaust and Slave To The Dark, from Night of The Stormrider and The Dark Saga respectively, to huge cheers and a crowd singing along to every lead guitar riff.

Still, for anyone who didn't care for the new album, tonight's show might have proven to be slightly disappointing. The new album took up the majority of the band's setlist, itself cut short by almost half an hour for reasons still not entirely clear (curfew was a good thirty minutes away, at least). There were still a few surprises for long time fans – the epic Damien from Horror Show made a welcome appearance, as did early track When The Night Falls. Of the band's latter material, only Declaration Day appeared, the band wisely avoiding recent albums Framing Armageddon and The Crucible of Man.

The real test though was whether or not Stu Block could fill the shoes of his predecessors in a live setting – and the answer was a very firm yes. Both Matt Barlow and Tim Owens are talented and charismatic performers, able to really deliver on the band's material. But neither have seemed like they have had their hearts in the music over the last decade – Barlow perhaps when he first rejoined, but otherwise both have seemed disconnected and the band have lacked cohesion as a result. Stu on the other hand clearly has an active and passionate interest in the band and his own performance, and fully engaged with the audience, keeping a constant stream of banter in between songs. He even dared to joke about the band's intimidating founder Jon Schaffer – well, it is his funeral, he can make fun of Schaffer if he really wants.

The band themselves have become a fairly well-oiled machine as expected by this point. You're unlikely to see Schaffer on a bad day, and the comparatively steady line up of Troy Steele, Freddie Vidales and Brent Smedley have become pretty tight at bringing the band's lengthy career to the live arena. Perhaps the band aren't quite the awe-inspiring experience you'd hope them to be given the rarity of their shows – and to be fair, a live version of Dante's Inferno doesn't really bring anything new to the song – but they continue to breathe a lot of life in the classic heavy metal genre.

Tonight's only real disappointment was the set itself being cut short. Otherwise, it was difficult to truly fault the band – Stu is clearly what the band have needed for a long time, and the band are the strongest and most stable they've been for quite some time. Hopefully tonight's packed venue and a successful tour in general will mean that we won't have to wait so long for the next UK tour.

“ fully engaged with the audience ”

Setlist: Dystopia / Angels Holocaust / Slave to the Dark / V / Stand Alone / When the Night Falls / Damien / Dark City / Anthem / Declaration Day / Tragedy and Triumph // Dante's Inferno / Iced Earth

Written by James Donovan
More: 2011, Gigs, Heavy Metal,

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