Iced Earth - LIVE: The Underworld, London 2012

World Dystopia Tour
December 20 (21:25-23:00)
Capacity 500

The success, expected or otherwise, of Dystopia, the first Iced Earth album with former Into Eternity front-man Stu Block on vocals has led to some of the band's most extensive touring of their career, taking them to countries they've never been to before, and to some territories on multiple legs.

Their return to London, the second headlining show of the two-year tour and their only UK show of the final run of dates, was initially an optimistic affair, scheduled for the Electric Ballroom with a capacity of around 1,000, upgrading from the 800-capacity Islington Academy they played in 2011. However, quite late on it was clear they hadn't sold the volume of tickets the promoters expected and the show was downgraded to the 500-capacity Underworld a week earlier.

With a special guest as strong as Evergrey on the bill as well, the lack of ticket sales is disappointing, although perhaps symptomatic of the time of year. As could have been predicted from the 18:30 start time, barely anyone turned out for mismatched openers Dead Shape Figure, but the crowd began to swell for stereotypical traditional metallers Steel Engraved, and the venue was nearly full by the time Evergrey started their 55-minute set at 20:00.

Evergrey's own set was delivered with their typical exemplary musicianship, but lacked anything special for fans who have seen them on any other recent occasion. The setlist itself contained everything they played when opening for Kamelot last year except with As I Lie Here Bleeding and Rulers of The Mind, the only two standards missing that night, back in instead of Monday Morning Apocalypse. They haven't headlined in London since 2006, so it's good for them to keep getting these appearances in the capital, but they need to add occasional rarities for the regular attendees.

With so many supporting bands there was a danger that, just like on the last tour, Iced Earth would have to cut songs from their regular set in order to finish by 23:00, but by coming on just five minutes early they were able to fit in their full 90-minute set (admittedly 30 minutes shorter than their usual 2011 set), and tack an extra track on at the end. By the time they came on the venue was nearly full, but not quite.

Kicking off in the same way they did before, with the opening title track from Dystopia, both the band and the crowd made it clear they didn't particularly care that they were in a smaller place with fewer people. Stu Block seems far more comfortable in Iced Earth since the 2011 tour, and genuinely leads from the front now with energy and confidence abound - although needs to work on his stage banter. Sometimes the sound undermined the band's performance (particularly on the layered vocals of Wolf) but for most of the time everything was clear enough for the focus to be on how and what they played.

The set was probably a little heavy on newer songs. The half-hour of time trimmed from last year's set seems to have meant the sacrifice of mostly older songs, as six Dystopia songs remained, including the unlikely choice of Equilibrium, replacing the much more crowd-friendly Anguish of Youth or End of Innocence. Otherwise it felt familiar, but was actually completely different. Essentially all of the songs that were in last year that were different to normal are gone, and they're replaced with tracks that were in the set during Matthew Barlow's final tour fronting the band. This translates to When The Night Falls, Damian, Stand Alone Dante's Inferno, and Slave To The Dark being replaced by Burning Times, Wolf, I Died For You, Setian Massacre, The Hunter and Prophecy. Anyone who got to see a show on both halves of the tour ended up seeing a vast number of Iced Earth songs.

Something that was evident last time was that Triumph And Tragedy wasn't a good main set closer, so its absence was not missed, but instead the encore has a strange composition. New song Boiling Point, freshly added to the set for this leg, didn't do as good a job of re-igniting the crowd as an old classic would have done, and then when they found they had enough time to play their rehearsed spare song at the end (Watching Over Me) they didn't go off and come back to do it. Although often lambasted, the lack of break here meant the usual rousing effect of Iced Earth as the closer was lost. Switching them with ten minutes remaining would probably have been a better idea.

Nevertheless, there's no denying the impact the current Iced Earth have on stage, and why more people aren't coming out to see them in this new incarnation, after it's been made abundantly clear by everyone who has seen past the second departure of Barlow that the new line-up is outstanding, remains a mystery. Perhaps the release of their new live DVD in the first quarter of 2013 will tip a few more people off. A new album is set to follow, with a lot more touring.

“ Stu Block seems far more comfortable ”

Steel Engraved setlist: Steeler / Prayer For The Dead / Desert Uprising / On High Wings We Fly / Solitary Mission / Forlorn Empire / I Am The War

Evergrey setlist: Leave It Behind Us / The Masterplan / Rulers of The Mind / Blinded / As I Lie Here Bleeding / Wrong / Frozen / Recreation Day / Broken Wings / A Touch of Blessing

Iced Earth setlist: Dystopia / Burning Times / Pure Evil / Wolf / V / My Own Savior / I Died For You / Motivation of Man / Setian Massacre / Anthem / Prophecy / Dark City / Equilibrium / The Hunter // Boiling Point / Melancholy (Holy Martyr) / Iced Earth / Watching Over Me

Written by Andy Lye
More: 2012, Gigs, Heavy Metal, ,

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