Iced Earth – The Limelight, Belfast – August 8, 2012

Heavy metal is supposed to played loud and proud not wrapped in cotton wool: but, unfortunately, the long awaited first visit to this part of the world by the Floridian power titans (one of three dates as part of their build up to Bloodstock) was plagued by an absolutely atrocious sound, with the PA sounding as if it had been crammed full of tissue paper.

The sound issues first became apparent early in opener Absolva’s slot, with frontman Chris Appleton’s vocal in particular cutting out and occasionally even disappearing. Still, it didn’t stop the Manchester quartet delivering an impressive set: despite only being their third full gig, they were extremely tight and the songs – all drawn from their soon-to-be-recorded debut album, ‘Flames Of Justice’ – were good, solid examples of hard-hitting classic British rock, and these’ coupled with Appleton’s cheeky demeanour, together with a huge reaction from the Belfast crowd, helped pull them through.

If those of us who had noticed such things were expecting the sound level to be turned up for the headliners, then we were sorely disappointed – if anything, the reverse seemed to happen: standing at the bar, it was a strain to hear and it was possible to hold a conversation at normal volume. And, in common with Absolva, Stu Block’s vocal levels almost completely disappeared on an annoyingly regular basis… It must be said, the Limelight’s sound is normally very good – but, tonight, it was worse than bad!

Nevertheless, the band (buoyed by the loyal faithful) battled on and delivered a powerhouse set, based around the recent ‘Dystopia’ opus but with more than enough of a smattering of IE classics to keep the diehards in the moshpit more than satisfied. Mainman Jon Schaffer dominated one side of the stage, content to commend proceedings from the wings as Block whipped the audience (well, those who could hear him) into a frenzy. The band’s other two longer-term members, drummer Brent Smedley and lead guitarist Troy Steele both fulfilled their roles with admirable aplomb, the latter succeeding in wringing out an impressive barrage of solos which just about managed to cut their way through the dire sound, while new boy Luke Appleton (brother of Absolva’s Chris) seems to have slotted right in and delivered a supremely confident performance.

Despite the aural conditions, highlights of the set included the powerful ‘Slave To The Dark’, the huge ‘I Died For You’ and the dark broodiness of the majestic closer ‘Damien’. Having waited more than 20 years to see Iced Earth grace a Belfast stage, the overall impression of the evening was one of a potentially great show ruined by a sound more suited to a primary school play than an evening of bombastically triumphant metal.

‘Dystopia’ is out now on Century Media.
‘Flames Of Justice’ will be released on RockSector in November.

Photographs © Marc Leach – http://www.marcleachphotography.com/

About Mark Ashby

no longer planetmosh staff
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