Walking into the Corona Theatre is almost like walking back in time. Beat-up wooden floors, immaculate old murals, a creaking (but not in any sketchy way) balcony; it’s obvious that this building has seen some history. The 16th was another one for the theatre’s books as it would play host to a veteran band of the North American metal scene, a Swedish band whose legend is slowly growing, and a compelling, melodic Dutch act with fire in their eyes.
That act is none other than Floor Jansen and Revamp, the band that helped her secure her spot in Nightwish. It’s obvious what the members of that band saw, as Revamp attacked the stage with a confidence and grace that few bands of their relative youth could muster, launching into their set with “Wild Card”, the title track of their sophomore album from last year. No disrespect to Tarja and Annette, but this lady has got it all: she’s a technically brilliant singer, but also has a ton of personality. While so many female vocalists in gothic metal get caught up in swan-like preening, Ms. Jansen is not afraid to yell, scream, growl, using the entirety of her talent, refusing to be bound by the conventions of “proper” technique. “Disdain”, from the band’s first album, was a set highlight, the band whipping the crowd into a frenzy, the likes of which is not often given to an opening act. Though it’s hard to not give the entirety of your attention to the woman at the mic, the entire band is filled with great musicians, and they put on a hell of a set, ending with Floor promising to return next year with both Revamp and Nightwish.
Sabaton‘s entrance was heralded with dimmed lights, a brief intro track, and a roar from the audience. It was obvious that a good portion of the attendees where there primarily for the camo-clad Swedes, who were met with a thunderous reception as they launched themselves into “Ghost Division”.
Frontman Joakim Brodén was very animated, like a cross between Bruce Dickinson and a young Udo Dirkshneider. His voice is also pitch perfect to what you hear on record, with “Carolus Rex” being a great example of the man’s unique, might-for-right style. Pär Sundström, the band’s bass guitarist, never lost the smile on his face throughout the entire set, as he and guitarists Christoffer Rörland and Tobbe Englund flowed effortlessly back and forth across the stage. Even the mix was crystal clear, the best of the night in fact. This is only the band’s second time in Montreal, the first was opening for Accept on the Blood of the Nations tour, three years less a day prior to this show. Having also seen them on that day in 2011, I can tell you that the band has grown by leaps and bounds ((This is probably due in part to all the fresh blood, the band having endured a major line-up shuffle in 2012 which left Joakim and Pär as the sole remaining original members.)). This parallels the size of their fan base here, as what was then a contingent of maybe half-a-dozen people cheering them on 3 years ago has grown to encompass two-thirds of the similarly sized venue. This is a band whose legend on these shores is clearly growing.
This left headliners Iced Earth to try to bring the energy back to previously established levels and, on this night, they couldn’t quite manage the task. Don’t get me wrong, Florida’s finest power metal troupe is a legendary band with some great material. On this night, however, they seemed like they were going through the motions. John Schaffer proved that he is a consummate professional, throwing out his signature riffs and a few fantastic solos. Canada’s own Stu Block looked like he was into it, but also seemed very tired. The rest of the band… no smiles, no shapes, few attempts to draw the crowd in. Just down-the-line solid playing. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it was only as interesting as listening to the albums. I expected more from Iced Earth and, from the looks of the much more subdued crowd, they expected more too. Adding to that, their mix was awful. Stu‘s lower-register vocal passages were nearly drowned out by the rest of the band.
Though there were glimpses of the brilliance the band is capable of (“Red Baron/Blue Max” and “Dystopia” were definite show highlights), when the dust cleared, Sabaton seemed to be the nights true victors: their bombast and passion drew in the crowd’s energy and gave it back tenfold. That is what the best bands in the business are capable of, and that is what Sabaton delivered. I hope that on their next trip north of the border, Iced Earth are in better spirits: they deserve better from themselves.