At first it seemed like an odd pairing; the crushing classic metal/power metal of Iced Earth with the neo-classical progressive metal of New Jersey's Symphony X. But, as it turned out, the pairing was indeed extremely successful as the metal masses found out at the Best Buy Theater last week when the two powerhouse bands rocked the house for an evening of intense heavy metal that proved to be among the best peformances I've ever seen from either band.
Scheduling conflicts prevented me from seeing opening act Warbringer, though truth be told they've been on so many tours in the last 2 years it's not like they are an unknown quantity these days. The venue was filling up quite nicely by 7:30 in anticipation of the mighty Iced Earth, who hit the stage just before 8:00 with new singer Stu Block in the fold. Most New York metal fans should be well familiar with Stu, as he's been fronting another regular band on the scene called Into Eternity, a furious Canadian act who play a very lethel mix of extreme & progressive metal.
As it turns out (for those who haven't heard the latest CD Dystopia), Stu is a perfect choice for frontman for Iced Earth. Most in attendance completely forgot about Matt Barlow or Tim 'Ripper' Owens once Stu and the band tore into "Dystopia" and "Angels Holocaust", the first two songs played that evening. The sound was great, and the band on fire as more favorites like "Damien", "Stand Alone", "Declaration Day", and "When the Night Falls" were mixed in with excellent new tracks "V", "Anthem" and "Days of Rage". Extre special gems included the soaring "Watching Over Me", a great Iced Earth anthem that Block handled perfectly, and of course the monstrous epic "Dante's Inferno", played in its entirety for the first time in many years. With Stu's background in extreme metal, his growls & screams added the right amount of ferocity to this dark and powerful song. Jon Schaffer seemed truly energized on this evening, as did the rest of the band, who are comprised of Troy Seele on lead guitar, Brent Smedley on drums, and bassist Freddie Vidales. Schaffer & Seele delivered plenty of thunderous riffs (Jon is truly one of the best riff masters in metal) throughout the set, and the stunning sound at the Best Buy Theater only helped matters greatly. Chants of 'one more song' after "Dante's Inferno" of course led to the obligatory "Iced Earth" and an end to the bands near 90 minute set. A truly spectacular show from these veterans, and with the addition of Stu Block I see and hear a renewed energy in the band that can only mean great things for them in the future.
For Symphony X, playing NYC is somewhat of a homecoming party for them. As Russell Allen explained that evening, the band planned the tour to start at Starland Ballroom in Sayerville, NJ (near where the band is from) and finish at Best Buy Theater, so they basically started and ended at home, which is a nice way to do things. I've seen these guys many, many times, and they just do not disappoint. Their latest album Iconoclast is their heaviest and most adventurous yet, and the band dipped into it quite a bit on this night. Seeing as how heavy the album is, and how strong and heavy Iced Earth were before them, the band needed material that was going to keep the crowd going at full speed, and they certainly made it happen. "Iconoclast" and "The End of Innocence" kicked things off in melodic prog metal fashion, but the set quickly turned massively heavy with the band churning out songs like "Dehumanized", "Bastards of the Machine", and "Children of a Faceless God". The gorgeous "All is Lost" provided some melodic prog rock in the middle of the set, before the metal came back furiously with "Electric Messiah", "Inferno" and "Of Sins and Shadows", the latter two being older tracks and big fan favorites.
By the end, you could tell the crowd was pretty wiped out after three intense sets, but Symphony X still had a few surprises. After leaving the stage for a few minutes, they came out for their encore, and three songs from their last CD Paradise Lost. Michael Romeo, who had been blazing all night on guitar, threw out one killer riff after another on "Eve of Seduction" (trading licks with keyboard player Michael Pinella), the crushing "Serpent's Kiss" and closer "Set the World on Fire". As always, Russell Allen is the consumate frontman, his tall frame imposing on the stage as his snarling, powerful Dio-influenced vocals cut through the dense musical wall created by the band. Drummer Jason Rullo and bassist Michael LePond are two of the best rhythm players in the business, and stay out of the limelight for the most part but who are integral to the Symphony X sound. Each was spectacular this evening as always.
Both bands made numerous mentions of just how much fun this tour was, and how both acts quickly became close friends. You really could see that kinship come out in their music, as both bands delivered some of the best performances I've seen from them, as if they were having the time of their lives. New York City metal fans were treated to a fantastic night of music from both bands, and that is most definitely a good thing.
Iced Earth Setlist
Slave to the Dark
When the Night Falls
Days of Rage
Watching Over Me
Symphony X setlist
The End of Innocence
Bastards of the Machine
Children of a Faceless God
When All is Lost
Inferno (Unleash the Fire)
Of Sins and Shadows
Eve of Seduction
Set the World on Fire (The Lie of Lies)