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Iced Earth - Live In Ancient Kourion Award winner

Iced Earth
Live in Ancient Kourion
by Vasilis Odontidis at 15 April 2013, 5:37 PM

In the last years ICED EARTH was in a frail position, as its steering wheel, John Scäffer, was struggling with personal and internal issues in the band. While the departure of Tim Ripper Owens and the triumphant return of long standing and beloved front man Matt Barlow showed a promising future and a dynamic comeback of the band the second "Something Wicked" album received even less positive reviews than the first one. And though the atmosphere was bleak in the ICED EARTH camp as Barlow left for a second time, the only encouraging omen came from Schaffer's solo project SONS OF LIBERTY. Then out of the blue John Schaffer made probably the wisest choice in his career as the recruiting of Stu Block (INTO ETERNITY) to fill the demanding position behind the microphone gave hope to the fans, inspired and rejuvenated him. Indeed “Dystopia” was the triumphant return of ICED EARTH to the world of Metal. After extensive touring around the globe promoting the new album, the time seemed right to immortalize in video and sound recording their current line up performance (though I will review only the music here). That night was a very special occasion that took place in Cyprus, in the ancient theater Kourion that counts 6000 years of life.

One would consider a weird choice of picking an ancient theater to record a live Heavy Metal event but the truth is that it turned out for the benefit of the band and became a very special and memorable night, no matter the technical difficulties because of the isolated location of the place. Not to mention here the great connection and love between ICED EARTH and their Cypriot and Greek fans. One could consider it as the second part of the legendary live record “Alive In Athens” and indeed “Live In Ancient Kourion” is a strong competitor in terms of quality and band performance.

An impressive amount of 29 songs compacted in two CDs (five of them being small intros or bridges) of 2 hours and 20 minutes in total and a setlist that balances between covering their extensive discography and the newest material of the band. Six out of ten songs are present from “Dystopia”. The trilogies of “Night Of The Stormrider”, “Dark Saga” are not fully present but as selected songs and interesting enough the trilogy of the “Something Wicked this Way Comes” is totally absent! Also there are fan favorites like “I Died For You”, “Burning Times”, “Pure Evil”, “The Hunter”, “10000 Strong”, “When the Night Falls” and the epic masterpiece “Dante’s Inferno”.

The performance of the band is terrific as ICED EARTH is a band that always treats its fans with the best in their power (I will never forget the tour in 2003 while promoting “Horror Show” when they performed for 3 hours and a half). And so they did in this record delivering a furious and energetic performance. John Schaffer is the leading figure, a machine that continuously unleashes powerful riffs forged with the legendary triplets that have defined the sound of the band. He is also providing backing vocals and does, as tradition has it, the lead vocals on "Stormrider". While the band was never aiming for long or very technical solos, Troy Seele when he is not following Schaffer in the rhythm madness is doing a terrific job playing the old solos with his own style while respecting the craftsmanship of Shawver and Tarnowsky and delivering his own with great passion. Brent Smedley needs no introduction as he is a beast behind the drums and does every song effortlessly. The most recent recruitment in the ICED EARTH camp is Luke Appleton who has integrated seamlessly with the band and his bass playing is heard loud and clear in the record (compared to hiding the bass in “Alive In Athens”). But the revelation of the “Live in Ancient Kourion” is none other than Stu Block. The guy is unbelievable. Not only as powerful and commanding frontman but also as somebody with tremendous vocal capabilities. He has his own singing style and vocal range and yet he manages to fit in the shoes of his predecessors with amazing ease and make the songs his own that you probably won't realize there was Ripper or Barlow who originally sung them. He has great low and medium range but I was stunned at how he nails all the screams so precisely.

The production of the record is raw, probably being processed as little as possible but it could fit a bit of additional dynamics. The Cypriot fans are having the same enthusiasm and energy as the Greek one and are loud and actively participating in all the songs. The band is doing some minor mistakes but nothing that one would spot on the first listening - except maybe some small troubles in Stu's voice. Keep in mind though that their songs are demanding; not only because of their vocal range but because of continuous parts where the singer doesn't have time to breathe (check "Dracula" which is an extremely demanding song).

Live recording are special cases of albums and usually those appeal to dedicated collectors or those that would like a best of the band's songs combined with a great live performance. Not to mention the people who actually went there and want to keep the proof of that epic night. Bear in mind also that this was recorded mainly because it was the band's first official live video recording which justifies such a release. ICED EARTH are delivering again a hell of performance and a record that could stand next to their live behemoth "Alive In Athens" and obviously better than the mediocre “Festivals Of The Wicked”. But the main reason that I would suggest to you this record is not because the performance is terrific or it is a quality release. This is a great chance to hear the band with the new singer Stu Block because he is the highlight of the record. He nails the old stuff with profound ease and he is the guy that can inspire Schaffer to keep making studio albums worth of the legacy of ICED EARTH.

4 Star Rating

Tracklist:
CD1:
1. Intro
2.Dystopia
3. Burning Times
4. Angel’s Holocaust
5. Slave To The Dark
6. V
7. When The Night Falls
8. I Died For You
9. Invasion
10. Motivation Of Man
11. Setian Massacre
12. Stormrider
13. Pure Evil
14.Wolf
15. Dark City
16. Dracula
17. Ten Thousand Strong

CD2:
1. Anthem
2. Declaration Day
3. Days Of Rage
4. Melancholy
5. Encore intro
6. In Sacred Flames
7. Boiling Point
8. Damien
9.Watching Over Me
10. Dante’s Inferno
11. Iced Earth
12. The Hunter
Lineup:
Jon Schaffer – Rhythm Guitar, Vocals
Stu Block – Lead Vocals
Troy Seele – Lead Guitar
Brent Smedley – Drums
Luke Appleton - Bass
Record Label: Century Media
     


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