Iced Earth - Festivals of The Wicked

Century Media
Produced by Jon Schaffer

Two years in the making, Festivals of The Wicked is the documentation of one of the most interesting and musically controversial periods in US metal institution Iced Earth's career.

After a number of quiet years following the departure of revered vocalist Matthew Barlow Iced Earth finally released a new album in 2004 called The Glorious Burden with former Judas Priest singer Tim "Ripper" Owens. Although reaction to Ripper singing for Iced Earth was mixed, praise for the quality of the material on The Glorious Burden was quite forthcoming. A few years later the band recorded Framing Armageddon (Something Wicked Part 1), the first of a two-part, epic project founder and guitarist Jon Schaffer had been envisaging for many years. This was however the last album Ripper would complete with the band as Barlow was asked to return in 2008, recording the second half of the planned brace of albums, titled The Crucible of Man (Something Wicked Part 2). The change of singers half-way through like this severely hampered the grand effect of the project, but Barlow's return was what Iced Earth fans really wanted.

Festivals of The Wicked centres primarily around the 2008 European festival tour, the first with Barlow back in the band. The two DVDs, with a total running time of over five hours, comprise a documentary about the band at that point in time, two complete shows from that tour, and one complete show from the 2007 tour (when the band also included bassist Dennis Hayes from Ripper's band Beyond Fear). The deluxe edition adds a CD (also sold separately) which collects tracks from each of the three live shows.

The documentary starts in far too familiar territory. How many more music documentaries with sped-up footage of gear being unloaded and stages being set up are really needed? At least one more, apparently. But things do get better. Where most similar tour films fail to add anything interesting at all, this one actually bucks the trend. Many parts of its near-hour length are still boring and unnecessary. More or less any time the members of the band other than Schaffer pitch in they offer very little. In fact, their segments are exceptionally brief when they do come around, mostly for pointless short parts focusing on each member of the 2008 band (the same line-up to last through to the Summer of 2011 when Barlow will leave again) where they do little more than pat each other on the back for 30 seconds or so.

Other montages of buses on the road and guitar techs at work, or slow-motion shots of band members walking either to, or from a stage, also add nothing, but where the real value of the documentary comes is in the lengthy interview segments with Schaffer at his studio. Some of these are several minutes in length and talk candidly about many aspects of the band's career, portraying Schaffer, it has to be said, in a much more favourable light than his reputation would otherwise have suggested. It may never bear more than one watch, but that's one more than most bands' DVD documentaries, and actually contains a lot of very interesting comments from Jon which will be of interest to all fans.

Paired with the documentary on the first DVD is the show from the 2008 Metalcamp Open-Air Festival in Slovenia. Of the three shows included this is the longest, but also the poorest in terms of the video and sound quality. Washed-out colours, tiny sound and annoyingly rapid editing make it a frustrating experience, given that it is the lead show of the package. The performance is good enough, although Barlow sounds croakier than usual, but the footage itself is sub-par.

The second DVD starts off with the performance from the Rock Hard Festival, also from 2008. As the show is from the same year, and is nearly the same length, the setlist is identical to the Metalcamp one apart from the absence of I Died For You, and benefits from slightly better video quality and sound mix. Rock Hard film all of their main stage acts every year for syndication to TV stations, so it is likely this footage that Iced Earth licensed for the DVD. They are rarely the best though, and are therefore often consigned to bonus content rather than used as fully-fledged live DVDs (Kreator and Rage have both done this, for instance).

By far the best of the three concerts in terms of the quality of the footage is the last one, recorded on the 2007 tour with Tim Owens on vocals. Even if Ripper couldn't honestly claim this is his best performance, the video and sound quality is much better than the two 2008 recordings. Like Rock Hard, Wacken is filmed every year, but it benefits from being handled by German TV film crews (that year several sets were broadcast on pay-per-view station Premiere Direkt). The colour, definition, sound mix and editing are all significantly better than both the 2008 recordings and in all likelihood, had this show had Barlow on vocals, it would have been the package's centre-piece. It also features a very balanced setlist, including highlights like the live premier of A Charge To Keep, Jon Schaffer taking lead vocals for Stormrider, and a run-through of the entire 'Something Wicked' trilogy from the Something Wicked This Way Comes album.

On paper Festivals of The Wicked is what Iced Earth fans have wanted for some time. A comprehensive, official (the Live In Athens DVD is not an official release and was never filmed with the intention of being one) live video document. Incorporating both singers in this way, with a full three concerts, is an incredibly lavish way of achieving that. Indeed on paper it's a five-star idea. However, the quality of the two 2008 recordings, while still very good and very watchable, is enough to lose a point. This is something every Iced Earth fan should own.

“ will be of interest to all fans ”

Tracklist:
DVD1 - Documentary / Live at Metalcamp Open-Air 2008: Dark Saga / Vengeance Is Mine / Burning Times / Declaration Day / Violate / Pure Evil / Watching Over Me / Ten Thousand Strong / Dracula / The Coming Curse / I Died For You / Travel In Stygian / A Question of Heaven / Melancholy (Holy Martyr) / My Own Savior / Iced Earth

DVD2 - Live at Rock Hard Festival 2008: Dark Saga / Vengeance Is Mine / Burning Times / Declaration Day / Violate / Pure Evil / Watching Over Me / Ten Thousand Strong / Dracula / The Coming Curse / Travel In Stygian / A Question of Heaven / Melancholy (Holy Martyr) / My Own Savior / Iced Earth
Live at Wacken Open-Air 2007: Burning Times / Declaration Day / Violate / Vengeance Is Mine / Ten Thousand Strong / The Hunter / Stormrider / A Charge To Keep / My Own Savior / Prophecy / Birth of The Wicked / The Coming Curse / Iced Earth
Video Clips & Pictures: Ten Thousand Strong / The Eagle Cries / The Reckoning / Declaration Day / Ten Thousand Strong - Commercial / Photo Slideshow Ross Halfin / Photo Slideshow Rudy De Doncker

CD - Dark Saga* / Vengeance Is Mine* / Burning Times* / Declaration Day** / Prophecy** / Birth of The Wicked** / The Coming Curse** / Ten Thousand Strong** / Travel In Stygian*** / Dracula*** / A Question of Heaven*** / Iced Earth
(* Live At Metalcamp Open-Air 2008, ** Live at Wacken Open-Air 2007, *** Live at Rock Hard Festival 2008)

Photo(s): Andy Lye

Written by Andy Lye
More: 2011, DVDs, Heavy Metal, Live DVDs,

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