Iced Earth, White Wizzard, Fury UK
Principal Club Theatre, Thessaloniki, Greece
It’s been almost ten long years since Iced Earth’s last full show in Greece. Actually it was February 2002 when they came for the promotion of ”Horror Show” back then, playing about three hours with a great scenery change between the suites representing the band’s eras (new and old ones). I was very curious to see if they still had a crush on their always loyal Greek fans, as the seasons have changed quite a lot and also, the band has been through hard times the past ten years. To make matters worse, Matthew Barlow who was a very beloved singer for the fans, decided to leave the group. And this decision came to become the best thing in Iced Earth’s history maybe, for they found not only a great successor, but the man who’s going to lead them to their former glory. This guy has a name and that’s Stu Block. A frontman with a tremendous vocal range and stage presence who made all the fans admit that not only he overcomes Barlow, but he can also sing Tim Owens’ parts (Barlow couldn’t do this for sure).
Fury UK was the band that opened the show, a classic heavy metal band coming from Manchester of England. The influences of Judas Priest on their music can’t be hidden and this is not bad at all. This power trio has the two brothers, Chris Appleton on guitars and Luke Appleton on bass on the front, trying to fill the stage as much as they can (you know that this always works harder with the trios) and the very good drummer Martin McNee supporting them with his great playing. Without playing something we have never heard before, they gave a solid and honest performance that lasted about 32 minutes, playing six songs and warming up the crowd as much as possible. Not bad for an English band in a small label. Once you want to check them out, they have four albums and two EP’s, you may find them worth the time spending.
White Wizzard is quite a case though. One of the best traditional heavy metal bands that have appeared the last five years. Amazing energy on stage, with leader bassist Jon Leon twisting his bass strings the way he was playing and the AMAZING vocalist Michael Gremio making me wonder what would have happened if he was singing on the bands two EP’s and two full lengths. They played a little more than 45 minutes and their performance was greeted with applause and great response from the crowd. They surely deserved it, and the fans became more happy when Marios Iliopoulos from Nightrage came up on stage as a guest to help them play ”Flying Tigers” and of course as always, he did a great job. There could be no better support group for the American giants that night. Who cares about Enforcer with bands like White Wizzard anyway?
Iced Earth were playing at home and they knew that. The marching intro of the band’s last album title track ”Dystopia” sets the beginning of the frenzy and from the first scream, Stu Block proves that he came to stay and he’s the reason why the band sounds so fresh again. Before we understand what happens, ”Burning Times” brings us back to the era when they recorded ”Alive In Athens”, on the highest peak of the band so far. ”Angels Holocaust” causes a major headbanging inside the full club (it must have been a third in a row sold out for the band in Greece the last three days) and ”Slave To The Dark” is welcomed warmly (”The Dark Saga” remains a very favourite album for the fans), before ”V” puts us in a protest climate, with all the fans raising their hands making a V sign while the band plays. Another good surprise was ”Stand Alone” with Jon Schaffer torturing his guitar with ease, while he still tries to adapt to what he sees, as it is sure than in his eyes, you can see that’s he’s feeling it’s like the first time they ever played in Greece.
”When The Night Falls” was a track I didn’t expect and represented the first self titled album of the band, and ”Damien”, being the best song on ”Horror Show” is sounding twice colossal, with Schaffer looking like he’s got fire in his eyes when whispering the spoken part. ”Dark City” is another new one with Stu Block proving his worth on all types of songs, fast, slow, high pitched, mid tempo and everything you can imagine. Surely the best frontman the band had so far, exceeding all expectations. Such a perfect fit and it shows on ”The Hunter” which was only the second time he sung it. Then Schaffer takes over and after thanking the Greek fans, promising they’ll come back soon, he unleashes ”Stormrider” to take our carcasses and throw them away. A song of hope follows, ”Anthem” from ”Dystopia”, one of the best and most pointful songs the band has written, before ”Declaration Day” proves that Stu Block can easily step also on Tim Owens’ tracks (if I say he’s doing even better it might be too much but not far away from reality).
”Something Wicked This Way Comes” is represented by two more tracks before the encore, with ”My Own Savior” setting fire once again and ”Watching Over Me” making Schaffer looking at the crowd and feeling quite touched by the response on the song he’s written for his best friend (the man responsible for the band’s current name). The band leaves and returns in pure triumph to play its absolute track, ”Dante’s Inferno”. You feel like you are travelling to hell and a storm of riffs surrounds you as you sail the Styx, with Stu Block being the reaper that waits to take your soul and leaves you in agony. Few people (especially youngsters who saw them for the first time) can believe what they see. Until they pick up their pieces, the band waves goodbye with ”Iced Earth”, after seventeen songs lasting nearly two hours.
I don’t know what happens in other countries. I can only say that Iced Earth is a relentless live force, one of the best live bands of all times. Add the motive when they play in the country that has embraced them since the beginning and you have a very clear idea why you mustn’t miss them live in any given chance. What made me happy is that I saw Schaffer smiling and feeling like in the old days, a very hopeful sign as he is the undisputed leader of the band. I never believed I’d see Stu Block when I first heard him singing his guts out with Into Eternity. He’s doing justice for the band, leaving the ghost of Matt Barlow behind. The rest of the band is the perfect line up that can support these two heroes, a perfect rhythm section with Freddie Vidales being a solid bass player, the relentless Brent Smedley smashing his drum set and the comfortable Troy Seele filling the parts when Schaffer unleashes riffs of pain. I will never miss Iced Earth live. Because when they come, they give even their souls. Noone can deny that. Reach the other side, open wide the gate! The beast awaits you, threatening as always.
Report: Aggelos “Redneck” Katsouras.
Photos: Louis Konstantinou.