Iced Earth’s amps went up to 11. Their sound galloped like some apocalyptic horseman born from an unholy union of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. Their songs and albums are epic, kindred to the universes of Tolkien, Martin, and Herbert. Iced Earth doesn’t move tickets in America like Hellyeah and Volbeat, the bands they opened for last Tuesday, June 26, but Iced Earth does carry the fire.
In their 27 years as a band, Iced Earth has only opened on three other tours before this one. It showed Tuesday—from their first song and title track from their tenth and latest studio album Dystopia, through the shredding conclusion to their set, the 22 years old “Iced Earth.” They played like the stage was theirs. No timidity or apologies to the crowd who overwhelmingly were waiting for the top bills.
Those Iced Earth fans there—and those they won over as the set thrashed on—were treated to nine songs covering half their catalog and nearly all the emotions primary songwriter Jon Schaffer has penned since the 80s. The riffy “Pure Evil.” The ballads “Anthem” and “Watching Over Me,” the latter being a painful tribute to lost friend with an-impossible-not-to-sing-along-with chorus, “Oh, I know. Oh, I know. He’s watching over me.” One of my favorite moments is my favorite song from Dystopia, “Days of Rage.” Its fury, its furious double bass drum, and the growl of new singer Stu Block is Iced Earth at its angriest. The best authors pulled their readers’ emotions in many directions over the course of a novel. Iced Earth did that Tuesday as they’ve done over two decades.
But Iced Earth isn’t accessible to many American listeners who reside under the large metal umbrella, because Iced Earth’s sound and lyrics don’t fit neatly in one stream, main or otherwise. Iced Earth’s power metal core has spawned four albums from Schaffer’s “Something Wicked” universe about the secret Setian race on Earth whose world was stolen and populated by starfaring humans, which none of us humans remember because of the Setian “clouding” method of memory erasure. Iced Earth’s The Dark Saga is about Todd McFarlane’s comic book antihero Spawn. The Glorious Burden features songs about military history, from “Attila” to the three-song, 30+ minute Gettysburg (1863) suite that spans the three day battle and is accompanied by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. That a band’s discography could have stories seemingly geared for neckbeard geeks to flag-waving Patriots—along with their allegiance to Maiden and Priest in an (de?)evolving genre—may very well not give the average American listener a large enough portal to enter Iced Earth fandom.
It’s a shame really. Europe seems to get it—Iced Earth and other bands of the fantastic ilk are worshiped in some places. What was clear during and after the Iced Earth set was that when someone becomes a fan, they’re treated to deft musical construction and masterful execution that infects them with a rabid and long-term loyalty bands dream of.
At the end of their set, with the final chord of “Iced Earth” fading, a line from their special operator tribute, “Greenface” off The Glorious Burden, echoed in my head. “I’ll be where the metal meets the meat.”
Before Iced Earth took stage, when the curl of fans had just lined up at the Myth’s doors, I sat down with guitarist Jon Schaffer in the back of Iced Earth’s bus and talked music and the politics he used as motivation for Dystopia and his overt solo effort, Sons of Liberty. Jon and I see some of the same crooked symptoms of corporatism, but from there diverge in our analysis of causes, Keynes, and the role of government due to—I think—a disagreement about realities of positive and negative liberty. Regardless, I think the interview shows a man who gives a shit about people and his craft.