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Concert review: Iced Earth, Sabaton and ReVamp at the Newport Music Hall

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Iced Earth, Sabaton and ReVamp concert at the Newport Music Hall, Columbus, Ohio

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Despite a lineup that seemingly changes every other week, Iced Earth is as consistent as the rising sun when it comes to performing. Main man and rhythm guitarist Jon Schaffer has a keen talent for surrounding himself with phenomenal musicians and delivering an amazingly tight live show that impresses you with its polished expertise while its unique mix of American thrash and European power metal crushes your skull in. Something else you can always rely on is Schaffer and company assembling a rock solid tour package that’s supported by high-caliber opening bands. Iced Earth doesn’t appear to dread playing after anybody, and previous shows in Columbus have featured bands such as In Flames, Children of Bodom and Anvil. Last night’s concert at the venerable Newport Music Hall was definitely no exception.

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ReVamp was the lowest band on the bill, but vocalist Floor Jansen might be the most well-known performer of the lot. For the past couple of years now Jansen has been pulling double duty as lead vocalist of the hugely popular symphonic metal band Nightwish. Fortunately, she decided not to quit her day job; instead she went back to the studio with her band ReVamp, recorded an excellent sophomore album, 'Wild Card,' and hit the road to support it.

Despite going on stage at the obscenely early hour of 7 p.m. and suffering through a criminally low PA volume, ReVamp delivered 30 minutes of melodic yet heavy metal. Anyone expecting to hear music akin to Nightwish had those expectations dashed as soon as Jansen unleashed some death metal-styled growling during the first song of the set, an explosive rendition of the new album’s title track. ReVamp’s intriguing hybrid of Lacuna Coil-meets-Nevermore got the audience pretty fired up. Six songs later, Jansen and her entire band – even the keyboardist – were still whipping their heads around furiously. Those 30 minutes went by much too fast.

ReVamp’s setlist:
1. Wild Card
2. The Anatomy of a Nervous Breakdown: The Limbic System
3. Head Up High
4. The Anatomy of a Nervous Breakdown: Neurasthenia
5. Nothing
6. In Sickness 'Till Death Do Us Part: Disdain
7. Wolf and Dog

I was really curious to see what Sabaton’s performance would be like. On their latest live DVD, 'Swedish Empire Live,' the band played their hearts out to hundreds of thousands of rabid European fans; how would they do on a foreign continent in front of only about a thousand people? It didn’t make a bit of difference to them at all. They brought the same level of energy and intensity to the Newport Music Hall that they did to the Woodstock festival in Poland. I’ve never seen a metal band, especially one whose songs are primarily about war, smile so much on stage as these guys. You could tell they were ecstatic to be on a stage, doing what they love. Vocalist Joakim Brodén was so into it, so spastic on stage that he suffered a wardrobe malfunction, splitting a leg of his pants. And even though the crowd was small, the majority of people were very vocal in their support of the Swedish band. Judging by the line at their merch booth after their set, Sabaton made a lot of new fans last night. Musically, they delivered the goods too: songs like “Carolus Rex” and “Primo Victoria” sounded just as huge and epic in the Newport as they did at a humongous European festival. Hopefully the next time they play Columbus, they’re headlining their own tour.

Sabaton’s setlist:
1. The March To War
2. Ghost Division
3. Gott Mit Uns
4. Carolus Rex
5. 40:1
6. To Hell and Back
7. Art of War
8. Primo Victoria
9. Metal Crüe

After sets by two bands of ReVamp’s and Sabaton’s caliber, it would be easy for lesser headliners to come off as anticlimactic bores. Iced Earth, however, has been fine-tuning their live show for a long time and they possess a vast catalog of metal classics to populate their setlist with. Opening with a kinetic one-two punch of tracks from their new album 'Plagues of Babylon' – the building powder keg title track and the trash masterpiece “Democide,” Iced Earth grabbed the audience by its throat and rarely loosened its talon grip. Even when they played ballads such as the moving “Watching Over Me” and the brand new “If I Could See You,” they were performed with such emotion that these moments rivaled the really heavy stuff. The band even broke out “Peacemaker” for the first time on this leg of the tour. Imagine Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” if it actually rocked and wasn’t written for 13-year-old girls and you have an inkling of what this new Iced Earth classic sounds like. It’s unlike anything else in the band’s extensive catalog and an absolute gem to hear live.

Iced Earth’s lineup seems like a revolving door oftentimes, but this current incarnation is a beast on stage. New bassist Luke Appleton is pretty young but he comes from the Steve Harris school of bass. He was front and center during much of the set and provided most of the backing vocals. I’m hoping he becomes a mainstay in the band. Lead guitarist Troy Steele has only been in the band for a little over six years, but he’s already second in seniority only to Schaffer. His lead guitar work on the two most recent albums is stellar and a perfect complement to Schaffer’s trash riffing. Vocalist Stu Block is the perfect vocalist for the band at this stage in its evolution: he can sound eerily like former singers Matthew Barlow and Tim “Ripper” Owens when he needs to, and that is most definitely no small feat. He also has his own unique sound, which is more than strong enough to rival those other guys. But the band’s ace in the hole is new drummer Jon Dette, who brings a new level of intensity to the band. There’s a reason bands like Slayer and Anthrax take him out on tour. Hopefully he gets a chance to record with the band the next time Iced Earth enters the studio.

Iced Earth’s setlist:
1. Plagues of Babylon
2. Democide
3. V
4. If I Could See You
5. The Hunter
6. Burning Times
7. Red Baron/Blue Max
8. Blessed Are You
9. Vengeance Is Mine
10. Cthulhu
11. My Own Savior
12. Peacemaker
13. A Question of Heaven
14. Dystopia
15. Watching Over Me
16. Iced Earth

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