Monday, July 29, 2013

Iced Earth - Live In Ancient Kourion

Iced Earth
Live In Ancient Kourion
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

For a while there, Tampa (Florida, U.S.) based power/thrash metal act Iced Earth seemed to have lost their way. And it all came down to their inability to find a front man who would actually stick with the band for any real length of time. But just when fans were about to completely give up on the band (Who were left confused when Matt Barlow left the group, to be replaced by Tim Ripper Owens, and a surprising return of Barlow who eventually made a less than triumphant return on 2008’s ‘The Crucible Of Man: Something Wicked Part 2’), band founder/song writer/guitarist/backing vocalist Jon Schaffer announced the addition of ex-Into Eternity vocalist Stu Block to the ranks. The news came as a shock to a lot of fans, but when the band delivered ‘Dystopia’ in 2011, it all made sense. Block was a perfect fit for the band, with his range and power more than capable of delivering everything Barlow and Owens offered up in their time within the group.
It’s been two years since the release of ‘Dystopia’, and in that time, the five piece outfit (Comprising of Block, Schaffer, lead guitarist Troy Seele, bassist/backing vocalist Luke Appleton and drummer Brent Smedley) have toured the globe in support of the album. Not surprisingly, given the band’s solidified line-up and the overwhelming critical acclaim ‘Dystopia’ has received since its release, Iced Earth have decided the time was right to release a new live album.
In terms of modern live albums, Iced Earth set the standard high with their ‘Alive In Athens’ release way back in 1999. The triple disc captured the band in the live setting perfectly, and proved that the band were in fact better live than they ever were in the studio.
Now, some fourteen years later, Iced Earth is back with ‘Live In Ancient Kourion’, which not only eclipses ‘Alive In Athens’, but sees the band reset the bar in terms of what a live album should sound like.
Recorded at the band’s headlining tour of Cyprus at the ancient Kourion Theater in Limassol, this twenty-nine track live show (Running for a touch under two and a half hours) showcases a strengthened Iced Earth playing at their best, but with a production that sounds superior to all of Iced Earth’s former live recordings.
As expected, this live effort features no less than six tracks from the band’s last studio release ‘Dystopia’. While some might say that the inclusion of so many tracks is overkill, it has to be said that the live versions are actually superior to their studio counterparts. For proof, one only has to listen to the title track ‘Dystopia’ and the powerful ‘V’, and stand them alongside fan favourites such as ‘Angel’s Holocaust’, ‘I Died For You’, ‘Dante’s Inferno’ (Which clocks in at a whopping eighteen minutes!), ‘Damien’, ‘Wolf’ and ‘Melancholy’.
But while the band sound positively inspired here, it’s Block that proves to be the true star of the show. His performance throughout the show is nothing short of powerful, versatile and awesome. He has the ability to channel both Barlow and Owens, and yet still manage to put his own stamp on the songs. Again, one only needs to listen to tracks such as ‘Ten Thousand Strong’, ‘Declaration Day’, ‘Dracula’ and ‘Slave To The Dark’ to know that he’s more than capable to filling in the big shoes left behind.
‘Live In Ancient Kourion’ is an absolute triumph. Not only does it sound great (A huge step up from ‘Alive In Athens’), but the set list is sure to please fans.
While most live albums these days seem to be only aimed at true diehards, Iced Earth have managed to put together a worthy live release that will please diehard fans, but appealing enough for those who want a taste of what Iced Earth have to offer.  All up, this is a first class release from Iced Earth, and the kind of release that perfectly complements their return to form effort ‘Dystopia’ from a couple of years ago.

For more information on Iced Earth, check out – http://www.icedearth.com/

© Justin Donnelly