Iced Earth. At once both metal’s best kept secret and a decades spanning band with a fanatical following. Since their self-titled debut in 1990, Iced Earth have released 9 original albums, 1 covers album (2001’s “Tribute to the Gods”) and the 3 disc live album “Alive in Athens” (which rather amusingly features current drummer Brent Smedley as a “guest musician”), so after multiple line up changes and a festival stealing set at last year’s Bloodstock, they have returned to the Mediterranean corner of Europe to record “Live in Ancient Kourion”.
This live album package features the first official live DVD (and Blu-Ray) of an Iced Earth show (“Alive in Athen”s – the DVD was a limited camera affair in association with a German TV show and Festivals of the Wicked was exactly that, rather than their own gig) and is recorded at the 6,000 year old Kourion Theater in Limassol, Cyprus and is packed to bursting point with 2.5 hours of metal, the set list covering the band’s entire career and vocalist Stu Block’s charisma and voice never waning.
Opening with the title track from 2011’s “Dystopia” the set quickly moves into classic Iced Earth territory with ‘Burning Time’ and ‘Angel’s Holocaust’ all played tightly and with passion like they’re the same band they’ve always been. It’s a testament to the band that they don’t skimp on their set length to make sure they include a lot of the longer songs from their back catalogue, such as ‘When the Night Falls’ and ‘Melancholy’, but I wonder if it’s only that part of the world they could get away with it and perhaps a UK audience might be checking their watches after a time.
The second half of the gig steps things up a notch with the frankly awesome ‘Ten Thousand Strong’ from the Ripper Owens era of Iced Earth and then the rabble rousing ‘Anthem’ and ‘Declaration Day’, the audience lapping up every note and singing along with even more passion than the band are putting out there and it’s nothing short of amazing to think that after a set like they’ve just put on Iced Earth are able to close the show with the triple threat of ‘Damien’, ‘Watching Over Me’ and ‘Dante’s Inferno’ before finally signing off with ‘Iced Earth’ and ‘The Hunter’. I’m not sure it should even be possible to perform like that but somehow Iced Earth pull it off and show all how it’s done.
As the crowd chants of “ICED FUCKING EARTH!” fade out you are once again reminded of just what a fantastic metal band Iced (fucking) Earth really are and I know if you have read this and heard this album I’ll be seeing you on their UK tour in 2014.
The DVD features the same track listing as the CD, in a rare example of not wrangling as much money out of fans as possible, and allows you to witness Stu own the stage and wonder just how much hair loss is Jon Schaffer hiding with that bandanna?
There is also a 30 minute “Making Of” section showing how the show was put together at such an unconventional venue – no electricity and 40o heat being particularly challenging – as well as a short documentary from the rest of the world tour.