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Iced Earth Alive In Athens – The DVD

By Newsferatu, Writer
Tuesday, January 23, 2007 @ 9:00 PM

(Century Media)

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I suppose it’s better late than never for the DVD release of Iced Earth’s concert film Alive In Athens — unless, that is, you’re band mainman Jon Schaffer, who’s pretty much disavowed himself of the whole thing.

“In my opinion, this is purely a money grab on behalf of Century Media Records (Iced Earth’s former label). The reason that it was never released before is because the footage is substandard,” Schaffer wrote in a posting on the band’s website last year.

“I want you all to be aware of what it is that they are releasing. This is a very low-budget, badly edited video of an amazing concert and an awesome period in the history of Iced Earth. ... I don’t want to make it sound like it’s some horrible bootleg, because it’s not — it’s just not up to the standards that you’ve come to expect from us.”

Granted, Schaffer does have a well-earned reputation/notoriety as a pain-in-the ass perfectionist whose ambitions for everything are off the charts — indeed it’s telling that he is the only performer that remains from the lineup performing on the DVD, which includes singer Matthew Barlow, guitarist Larry Tarnowski, drummer Brent Smedley and bassist James MacDonough — although Smedley did, only recently, rejoin the fold. But it doesn’t take a very practiced eye to see why he’d be less than thrilled that Alive In Athens is seeing the light of day on DVD — seven years after a band-sanctioned triple-CD of the same name was released.

Filmed over two nights at Athens’ The Rodon for a German music television channel in January 1999, Alive In Athens has the look and feel of a show/documentary you might have seen during the first incarnation of The Headbanger’s Ball. It’s a no-frills, warts-and-all production that could have been any of the other club shows Iced Earth played during their Something Wicked This Way Comes tour.

There’s nothing about it that says “special event” — no fancy camera work, big stage set/light show and very little in the way of “bonus” footage like interviews/backstage antics/band history. It’s pretty much just a band playing for a bunch of people — not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with that. But it is, in essence, a professional-quality bootleg, even the DVD liner notes are cadged from the CD.

And since this was never meant as an “official” Iced Earth DVD, it’s got some technical glitches that come as a result of patching together two nights worth of footage from three cameras into one “concert.” The sound and video don’t always sync up, which makes for some moments reminiscent of old kung fu/Japanese monster movies. There are also some continuity issues, most noticeably with Barlow, whose leather jacket magically disappears and re-appears every now and again.

However, all that said, even with its myriad deficiencies, Alive In Athens still delivers more than two hours worth of Iced Earth giving a top-notch performance (actually performances) to several thousand very enthusiastic Greeks, which is probably good enough for the band’s fiercely dedicated fans. What it may lack in technical savvy and accoutrements, the DVD more than makes up for in sheer quantity and performance quality.

Alive In Athens might not always look great — although, to be honest, it never really looks awful — but it sounds fantastic and the band is in fine form, charging through 28 tracks of epic power metal including “Burning Times,” “Dark Saga,” “Dante’s Inferno,” “Stormrider” and the poignant “Watching Over Me,” with an almost casual effortlessness. And it captures a period in Iced Earth’s career that not a whole lot of people got to see here, as the band was far more popular in Europe at the time and focused much of their touring efforts on that part of the world.

There’s also a certain charm to the bare-bones presentation, since too often concert DVD’s go way overboard with effects, seizure-inducing edits and sheer self-indulgent cheesiness. But if that’s really what you’re after, you shouldn’t have to wait too much longer.

As Schaffer notes at the conclusion of his dismissive missive for Alive In Athens: “Iced Earth will be filming a real DVD on the next world tour. This will be what the fans have been waiting for. It will consist of a 16-camera crew with cranes and a real stage show and all of the things necessary to finally bring to the fans a state-of-the-art DVD that will really give you the feeling of being at an Iced Earth show.”


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