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Live In Ancient Kourion

(Century Media)

Reviewed by : Mark Gromen
Rating : 9.0

Even though mainman/guitarist Jon Schaffer and drummer Brent Smedley are the only returnees, there must have been sort of a déjà vu moment, in recording another live album/DVD in the Aegean region (temperatures in Cyprus topping 100). Listening to the audio portion, on headphones (guitars recorded on separate channels), there are moments where one forgets Matt Barlow is no longer in the band. Singer Stu Block stamps his own brand on the massive length set (24 songs on two CDs, complete with pre-recorded intros), covering all aspects of Schaffer’s vision, and the vocal gymnastics, from bellow to sustained high pitch within seconds, is something of a marvel. In addition to the expected hits (‘Angels Holocaust’, ‘Stormrider’), there’s the long forgotten (especially on these shores) and rarely aired: entirety of ‘Dante’s Inferno’ and the tumultuous half-decade of the Barlow-Owens-Barlow carousel, surrounding the Something Wicked concept albums. Six selections from Dystopia are also included. Even though it’s almost fifteen years since Alive In Athens, about half that content is reprises here and from the five studio albums since, only ‘Declaration Day’ comes off The Glorious Burden, an album still viewed with askance overseas. While a few Barlow classics, either penned during his tenure, or songs identified with him, like ‘Travel In Stygian’, ‘Last December’ and ‘Vengeance Is Mine’ are absent, the show was already 2 ½ hours long and all are available on the earlier live package.

It easy to see/hear why Schaffer picked this locale, apart from the rustic historical setting, the fans go ape from word one, even singing the guitar melodies during instrumental bits. Of course that’s not the only place on the globe where that happens, but the exclusivity virtually guaranteed an over-the-top response. With a trip around the kit, staccato riffs and explosion of pyro, a rousing ‘Dystopia’ opens the chaos. Tolling bells and audience sing-alongs greet ‘Burning Times’, but by the aforementioned ‘Angels’s Holocaust’ the crowd’s unamplified voice rivals the band’s sound level. Block does an admirable job with crowd direction and minimal between song banter. No need to waste long wind-ups on non-native English speaking throng. ‘When The Night Falls’ shows a more emotive side, even morseo than ‘I Died For You’, which follows. Block screams are piercing and powerful, particularly on ‘V’, ‘Dracula’ and ‘Days Of Rage’. The pre-recorded chanting (‘Invasion’) and invading noisescape (‘Motivation Of Man’) that precede ‘Setian Massacre’ on disc, are reprised here, as are the backing tapes in the 18:03 ‘Dante’s Inferno’. With a trio of Dystopia material, ‘Damien’ and the massive ‘Inferno’ amongst the ten proper tunes on the second disc (also the encore introduction and 87 second, acoustic ‘In Sacred Flames’), definitely the weaker sister of the two, but ‘Melancholy’, ‘Watching Over Me’ and the concluding pair are some of the most recognizable ICED EARTH material. Although they typically end with their signature tune, Schaffer reappears afterwards, talks to the crowd (“Two and a half hours isn’t enough for you?”), before offering ‘The Hunter’, as a second (unscripted?) encore. Maybe this one should have been a triple disc too! Now it seems time for a tour with The Dark Saga in its entirety.