Released: 2013, Century Media
Iced Earth’s new live album is one of three I am reviewing this month from Florida bands, or former Florida bands (Absolon and Artizan are the other two). Iced Earth was founded in Florida in 1985 and has unwaveringly carried the flag of modern American power metal ever since. LIVE IN ANCIENT KOURION is a massive production, containing 29 songs and clocking in at close to 2.5 hours of music. The complete product includes CDs and DVDs, but this review is strictly for the CDs portion of the set. Many would consider ALIVE IN ATHENS one of the great live metal statements to emerge in the last 20 years. That three disc set was likewise massive, but was released fourteen years ago and is thus missing material from the last 5 albums. Jon returns to the area of the world that has embraced his band the most, this time in an ancient 6000 year old theater in Cyprus called Kourion. With temperatures hovering around 104 degrees, and the venue not even remotely designed for a metal concert, Iced Earth fulfilled their mission and the new live album is the stunning result.
Songs from all of the band’s studio albums are included, the 6 from DYSTOPIA being the most from any one album. From the Ripper era albums, there are five songs, but only one from GLORIUS BURDEN, and new weapon Stu Block proves he can sing the songs the way they were intended, with “Declaration Day” being an intense and incredible tour de force. Curiously, only one track, “In Sacred Flames” is culled from THE CRUCIBLE OF MAN while there are three representatives from HORROW SHOW. All told, there are 15 tunes that were not on ALIVE IN ATHENS, giving fans plenty of live versions of the more recent albums, but certainly not equally distributed. However, with an immense and impressive back catalog, the difficulty of picking songs to include must be difficult. Musically, the band sounds outstanding, the production and quality almost identical to ALIVE IN ATHENS if a bit muffled in places. With the advances in live recording techniques, I still cannot help but feel that some doctoring was done in the studio, but to what degree is anybody’s guess. Regardless, few live albums are truly “live” but the energy of the crowd and Block’s amazing performance are clearly the real deal. Add to that the integrity of Schaffer, and it is reasonable to assume that any doctoring was minimal and used only to correct obvious quality degradation and enhance the final value of the product for fans. Even still there are a few missteps but, this is only human.
It is real treat to hear Stu Block tear through the older material, as well as the tunes on DYSTOPIA. Say what you will about Iced Earth’s revolving personnel door, but Schaffer knows how to pick singers. Sure, Block's spoken parts and in-between song monologues are nothing original, but listen to “Dracula” and the previously mentioned “Declaration Day” to hear how awesome the guy is. The Cypriot fans give South America a run for their money, singing the music as well as the lyrics, fulfilling their part of the bargain as rabid and loving fans. As always, live albums are for a select group of fans. If the studio albums do the trick for you, then LIVE IN ANCIENT KOURION does not offer any surprises, but it is the only official release where you can hear Stu Block sing from the entire Iced Earth catalog. Plus, this is another affirmation of the commitment to metal that Iced Earth exemplifies, a band that delivers for the fans and worthy of your respect even if you are not a fan.