Published Feb 07, 2012Frequent openers Warbringer might pass for a Toronto fixture, with this tour finding them at the height of their game, despite a last-minute guitarist switch-up. John Kevill is an engaging, gravel-voiced frontman, full of raw camaraderie and karate chops to the air. But guitarist John Laux (sporting a Panzerfaust logo on his chest) is the band's main spectacle, bursting with energy (and big curly hair). Throwing some spacey and explosive leads into their tight delivery, Warbringer came across as more than just a replay of old-school thrash.
The night's first headlining set, from the prog/power of Symphony X, lasted for nearly an hour and a half, punctuated (painfully) by blinding white lights. An instrumental intro from the title track of 2011's Iconoclast got the show underway, vocalist Russell Allen joining the band a few minutes in (and frequently leaving the stage during extended solos). There was a lot of smoke and fast-moving notes, especially from guitarist Michael Romeo. But Symphony X reliably break up the extended melodic and rhythmic complexity with groovy or thrashy interludes, and even a ballad (when Allen pulled out his own lighter, tethered to his belt). They're a good-natured bunch, so Symphony X's performance, despite the showiness, had an intimate feel, brought to a close, after a short encore, with a friendly group bow.
A longer pause and an elaborate set-up prefaced Iced Earth's appearance, sapping away a touch of the night's momentum. After a slight sound glitch, and in the midst of a bright blue glow, the band launched into the title track from their 2011 LP Dystopia, with all the drama and power Iced Earth have conditioned fans to expect. The set list was dominated by tracks off the band's latest, with brief gestures to Horror Show and their classic '90s albums.
After a surprise vocal appearance by Volbeat's Michael Poulsen, Iced Earth skipped the usual encore theatrics, playing straight through into the epic "Dante's Inferno." Canadian Stu Block (Into Eternity) fronts the band impressively, interacting warmly with fans and demonstrating a powerful mid-range sound (if a little piercing at the high end). Guitarist Jon Schaffer, as the band's denim-clad Southern founder and core, is less "at one" with the crowd, but firmly in control and seeming to enjoy every moment. And as a whole, Iced Earth made it easy for that enjoyment to circulate through the Phoenix, clear in the faces of those passionately singing along.