Gathering onstage to surprisingly moderate cheers and applause, Iced Earth kick off tonight’s show with the opening track ‘Plagues of Babylon’ from their hot-off-the-press album of the same name. Blinding strobe lights burn stop-motion frames of windmill head-banging and spinning manes of hair into the retinas of the audience as the song builds with pounding drums and characteristically heavy metal riffs.
The Button Factory is not quite at capacity, but a sizeable crowd have turned out to welcome Iced Earth back to Dublin less than 18 months after their last visit. Supporting them tonight are Californian thrash metallers Warbringer and Australian metal band Elm Street. Both seem to go down well with the crowd, although there is not much in the way of audience participation, and Warbringer frontman John Kevill’s requests for a circle pit are largely futile. The mature, old-school Iced Earth fans in the audience are obviously not as familiar with the music of these bands that started their careers twenty years after the headliner. And truth be known, some of the seasoned rockers in the venue are probably wearing t-shirts and jackets older than the members of Elm Street.
With the enduringly popular Iced Earth onstage, uniformly dressed in self-branded black vests and t-shirts, the enthusiasm builds quickly, and fists are pumping in unison from the first thunderous beat of the bass drum. Tattoos, bandanas, wallet chains and studded leather accessories complete their obligatorily metal ensemble. Patriarch Schaffer proudly sports the only noticeable endorsement of any other band – a Volbeat wrist sweatband, for whom they performed as main support act on their Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies European tour last year. The appreciation is mutual and Volbeat frontman Michael Poulsen lends his vocals on ‘Highwayman’ from Plagues of Babylon.
The band members stand motionless; silhouetted as the sound of machine gun fire and sirens precede the second song of the night ‘Democide’. The newest recruit to the band, drummer Jon Dette, pulls comical facial expressions as he drives the galloping rhythms laden with double bass drum and dexterous fills on an elaborate drum kit embellished with the new album artwork. Vocalist Stu Block exercises his impressive vocal range and abilities, impressing the audience with Iron Maiden-style melodic choruses, Disturbed-style nonsensical grunts, occasional Cookie Monster death growls and everything in between. He dedicates ‘If I Could See You’ to Jon’s grandfather, for whom Shaffer wrote the song.
The setlist is unsurprisingly heavily focussed on new tracks, but older material such as ‘Jeckyll & Hyde’ and the synonymous ‘Iced Earth’ satiates the faithful fans. After an initially underwhelmed reaction to the gig, the crowd lose their inhibitions and completely let loose by the time the show draws to an end.
Despite never having found “mainstream” success, Iced Earth have proven that you don’t need radio airplay or a permanent memorable line-up to amass a dedicated loyal following, sufficient to perform regularly at small-to-medium-sized venues across Europe and put on a consistently great show.