Iced Earth

Iced Earth were originally formed as Purgatory by guitarist Jon Schaffer in 1984, the band spent five years paying their dues in the clubs. Their 1988 "Enter the Realm" demo was an underground favorite, and after changing their name to Iced Earth, the band recorded their first CD. Their sound is a combination of 80's thrash with the classic metal approach of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest.

After 1991's "Night of the Stormrider," Schaffer decided to call it quits due to any lack of recognition, much of which had to do with poor marketing. However, Iced Earth would re-emerge three years later with 1995's "Burnt Offerings," released on Century Media Records and featuring extraordinary vocalist Matthew Barlow. Barlow is to Iced Earth what Bruce Dickinson was to Iron Maiden, defining and refining their sound to perfection.

I didn't discover this band until after "Days of Purgatory" was released in 1998. Shortly afterwards "Something Wicked This Way Comes" was released which, in my opinion, is a phenomenal true metal disc. While the music is reminiscent of many different classic metal bands, they still somehow sound fresh. Fashion trends may come and go, but Iced Earth have remained committed to flying the heavy metal banner through through thick and thin. After years of laboring in obscurity and undergoing countless line-up changes they have emerged as one of the greatest hopes for classic metal in America. After the 9/11 tragedy in 2001, Matthew Barlow left the band and was replaced by ex-Judas Priest vocalist Tim "Ripper" Owens.

Jon Schaffer, along with Blind Guardian vocalist Hansi Kursch, released a couple CDs under the title of Demon & Wizards as well.

Enter the Realm Iced Earth - Enter the Realm (bootleg) 1988

1. "Enter the Realm" [instrumental] (:54)
2. "Colors" (5:03)
3. "Nightmares" (3:38)
4. "To Curse the Sky" (4:41)
5. "Solitude" [instrumental] (1:43)
6. "Iced Earth" (5:28)

HA! Now this was the deal of the century. All those who trade on the PM Board missed out. Ralf Walter offered this VERY HIGH QUALITY bootleg of the original Iced Earth demo/EP. Everything is included right down to the full-color glossy cover with the original demo artwork and all the original liner notes, lyrics, thank you lists, and song credits. I mean, if I did not know this was a bootleg, I would have swore it was a Century Media release. Even the cd itself is printed like any other Iced Earth cd. The sound quality is spectacular as well. Anyhow, as I was saying, Ralf was offering these for trade one time only on the PM Board and apparently no one bit (except me). Well they missed out because the one other copy of this that made it onto eBay sold for $30. Thanks again for the trade Ralf and for helping to round out my Iced Earth collection.

Iced Earth Iced Earth Iced Earth (Century Media) 1991

1. "Iced Earth" (5:22)
2. "Written on the Walls" (6:03)
3. "Colors" (4:49)
4. "To Curse the Sky" (4:39)
5. "Life and Death" (6:04)
6. "Solitude" [instrumental] (1:43)
7. "Funeral" (6:14)
8. "When the Night Falls" (8:59)

Not a bad album, but compared to the rest of Iced Earth's catalogue, this one falls by the way side. By the next album these guys were just outstanding. This is not to say that this album sucks by any means. The songs "Iced Earth" and "Colors" were still being played by the band live as of 1999. The rest of the material is good as well. Perhaps for me it's just that I had heard this disc after hearing incredible discs like "Stormrider" and "Dark Saga" The cover above is the re-issue cover. The original cover is much cooler, but is harder to find.

I wrote the review above a few years ago and I am still not sure what the story is on the two different covers. I have read that the cover with the falling angel is the reissue cover and that the other is the "extremely rare original." I have also read more recently that the "rare" cover is not really that rare, but is just the European version. Well which ever it is, I now have both. Personally, I like the European cover better.

Also, after living with this disc for a few years now, I have changed my opinon of this disc and can honestly say that I like it as much as the next two. Looking back over the last few months alone, this disc has had more play time in my cd player than both "Stormrider" and "Burnt Offerings" together.

Night of the Stormrider Iced Earth - Night of the Stormrider (Century Media) 1992

1. "Angels Holocaust" (4:52)
2. "Stormrider" (4:47)

3. "Path I Choose" (5:52)
4. "Before the Vision" (1:35)
5. "Mystical End" (4:44)
6. "Desert Rain" (6:56)
7. "Pure Evil" (6:33)
8. "Reaching the End" (1:11)
9. "Travel in Stygian" (9:31)

True metal excellence! "Travel in Stygian" is an inspired power metal song, and one of my all time favorites. Not sure which I like better, the original version or the version with Matthew Barlow on vocals on 'Days of Purgatory.' Great follow-up to the self titled album and one of the finest power metal albums ever released. Bought this copy on the right for $8 on Century Media's web site. The other is the original cover release that a good friend found for me in Germany.

Burnt Offerings Iced Earth - Burnt Offerings (Century Media) 1995

1."Burnt Offerings" (7:22)
2."Last December" (3:24)
3."Diary" (6:03)
4."Brainwashed" (5:22)
5."Burning Oasis" (5:59)
6."Creator Failure" (6:02)
7."The Pierced Spirit" (1:54)
8."Dante's Inferno" (16:29)
...I. Denial, Lust, Greed
...II. The Prodigal, The Wrathful, Medusa
...III. The False Witness, Angel of Light

The first album to feature the incredible Matthew Barlow and one of the best power metal discs to ever grace my cd player. "Burnt Offering" is a metal classic in every aspect. Long live metal!.

Dark Saga Iced Earth - Dark Saga (Century Media) 1996

1. "Dark Saga" (3:43)
2. "I Died for You" (3:48)
3. "Violate" (3:38)
4. "The Hunter" (3:55)
5. "Last Laugh" (3:46)
6. "Depths of Hell" (3:01)
7. "Vengeance Is Mine" (4:22)
8. "Suffering Scarred" (5:54)
9. "Slave to the Dark" (4:03)
10. "Question of Heaven" (7:40)

The Dark Saga is a concept album based on the Todd MacFarlane comic series Spawn. (Todd MacFarlane also does the Kiss "Psycho Circus" comic series) Though the album is a bit more laid back than past albums, Jon Schaffer's songwriting is phenomenal! The first two tracks are slow-to-mid paced, but still excellent. It's not until track three ("Violate") that the band kicks in the furious double bass assault. This song almost sounds like Testament to me. The interplay between the two guitarists, Schaffer and Randall Sawver is most impressive especially on the dual harmonies of "The Hunter." The production is outstanding, the album being recorded at Florida's metal factory Morrisound Studios. Of course Matthew Barlow's impressive pipes bring it all together. If I had to pick a favorite, this would probably be at the top of my list struggling for first place with "Something Wicked."

Matthew Barlow
Matthew Barlow

Days of Purgatory Iced Earth - Days of Purgatory (Century Media) 1997

1. "Enter the Realm" [instrumental] (:55)
2. "Colors" (5:04)
3. "Angels Holocaust" (5:46)
4. "Stormrider" (3:56)
5. "Winter Nights" (3:55)
6. "Nightmares" (3:38)
7. "Before the Vision" (1:24)
8. "Pure Evil" (6:18)
9. "Solitude" [instrumental] (1:45)
10. "The Funeral" -instrumental (6:16)
11. "When the Night Falls" (7:50)
12. "Burnt Offerings" (7:24)
13. "Cast in Stone" (6:00)
14. "Desert Rain" (6:38)
15. "Brainwashed" (5:23)
16. "Life & Death" (6:07)
17. "Creator Failure" (6:05)
18. "Reaching the End" (1:10)
19. "Travel in Stygian" (9:28)
20. "Dante's Inferno" (16:20)
21. "Iced Earth" (5:30)

One thing that Iced Earth's early material lacks is the strong voice of Matthew Barlow, so they re-recorded much of their older material with his vocals. The sound quality is slightly superior to the old material as is the musicianship. All the aspects of the band that make them so impressive to me are present on this disc: energetic staccato riffing, dual guitar harmonies, melodic acoustic passages, complex arrangements, loads of double bass and superior vocals. My favorite track "Travel in Stygian" is a nine-minute epic tune that shows Iced Earth at their creative best. Have wanted the double disc, import version of this disc forever. Special thanks to the German Metal Giant for hooking me up with a mint used copy.

Melancholy EP Iced Earth - The Melancholy E.P. (Century Media) 1998

1. "Melancholy (Holy Martyr)" (4:46)
2. "Shooting Star" (5:15)
3. "Watching Over Me" (4:28)
4. "Electric Funeral" (4:53)
5. "I Died for You" (3:49)
6. "The Ripper" (2:43)
7. "Colors" -live (5:13)

I found out a bit late that Iced Earth had released a limited edition EP called "The Melancholy EP."  I went direct to the source, Century Media, and ordered a copy for $5 as it was still available according to their web site. I was bummed when I got an email message back that they had sold out. Checking eBay, I found out that the stinking thing was already selling for $50. That is a bit to rich for my blood, especially since it only contains five songs, only two of which are exclusince to this disc. Well, patience payed off because in the winter of 2001, Century Media released a European version of "The Melancholy E.P." with two extra tracks not on the American version.  "The Ripper" is a Judas Priest cover taken from the "Judas Priest-Legends of Metal" tribute. "Colors" is an unreleased live track from the "Alive in Athens" sessions. The two exclusive tracks from the US release are cover versions of Bad Company's "Shooting Star" and Black Sabbath's "Electric Funeral."

Something Wicked This Way Comes
Iced Earth - Something Wicked This Way Comes
(Century Media) 1998

1. "Burning Times" (3:44)
2. "Melancholy (Holy Martyr)" (4:47)
3. "Disciples of the Lie" (4:04)
4. "Watching over Me" (4:29)
5. "Stand Alone" (2:44)
6. "Consequences" (5:37)
7. "My Own Savior" (3:40)
8. "Reaping Stone" (4:02)
9. "1776" [instrumental] (3:33)
10. "Blessed Are You" (5:06)
11. "Prophecy" (6:19)
12. "Birth of the Wicked" (4:16)
13. "Coming Curse" (9:34)

A great follow up to the inspired "Dark Saga." Of course with each new Iced Earth album, comes a new line-up, but as long as the team of Barlow & Schaffer remains intact, Iced Earth's sound remains intact. While"1776" is an instrumental that sounds very Iron Maiden-ish, "Disciples of the Lie," "Burning Times," "Stand Alone," and "My Own Savior" are of the power metal / thrash combination that the band has become known for. Mixed together with the clean production, once again attained at Morrisound, "Something Wicked" is one of Iced Earth's finest. I saw Iced Earth on this tour with Nevermore and Destiny's End opening. It was once of the best shows I had seen in a long time. I woke up with a neck ache the next morning. Angel Rot closed the show. I didn't stick around for them, nor did anyone else.

Iced Earth 1998 tour

Alive in Athens Iced Earth - Alive in Athens (Century Media) 1999

Alive in Athens Disc 1 Alive in Athens disc 2

Alive in Athens disc 3

1. "Burning Times" (4:06)
2. "Vengence Is Mine" (4:53)
3. "Pure Evil" (6:25)
4. "My Own Savior" (3:44)
5. "Melancholy (Holy Martyr)" (4:54)
6. "Dante's Inferno" (6:23)
7. "The Hunter" (4:17)
8. "Travel in Stygian" (8:54)
9. "Slave to the Dark" (3:50)
10. "Question of Heaven" (8:17)
11. "Angels Holocaust" (4:35)
12. "Dark Saga" (4:01)
13. "Last Laugh" (4:38)
14. "Last December" (3:43)
15. "Watching over Me" (4:47)
16. "Stormrider" (4:45)
17. "Path I Choose" (5:44)
18. "I Died for You" (4:44)
19. "Prophecy" (6:10)
20. "Birth of the Wicked" (5:42)
21. "Coming Curse" (8:55)
22. "Iced Earth' (6:58)

23. "Stand Alone" (3:31)
24. "Cast in Stone" (6:03)
25. "Desert Rain" (7:20)
26. "Brainwashed" (5:13)
27. "Disciples of the Lie" (4:12)
28. "When the Night Falls" (7:48)
29. "Diary" (5:52)
30. "Blessed Are You" (5:46)
31. "Violate" (3:54)

"Alive in Athens" is three CDs of live metal recorded over two nights on the supporting tour for "Something Wicked this Way Comes." This is a great live package. Each disc is packaged in it's own individual digi-pack, each with a different cover and packed with live pics. The American version, of course, only has two discs, so I had to pay the $25 to get this import version. It was well worth is to hear these great songs; all pulled off with perfection on the stage. Certainly not a cheap live album, this band gives the fans their moneys worth.

Horror Show Iced Earth - Horror Show (Century Media) 2001

1. "Wolf" (5:19)
2. "Damien" (9:11)
3. "Jack" (4:14)
4. "Ghost of Freedom" (5:11)
5. "Im-Ho-Tep (Pharaoh's Curse)" (4:45)
6. "Jeckyl & Hyde" (4:39)
7. "Dragon's Child" (4:19)
8. "Frankenstein" (3:50)
9. "Dracula" (5:53)
10. "The Phantom Opera Ghost" (8:41)

1. "Transylvania" [instrumental] (4:23)
2. "Jon Shaeffer Interview" (69:27)

Iced Earth 2001

Horror Show is a concept album based on many infamous monsters. Drawing from legend, literature and film, each song off "Horror Show" tells the story of creatures like Frankenstein, the Mummy, Dracula, the Wolfman, the Phantom of the Opera, Jekyll and Hyde, Jack the Ripper, Damien (The Omen) and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. An excellent cover of Iron Maiden's "Transylvania" was recorded as well, and is included on the limited edition first pressing of the album on a bonus disc that also contains an exclusive interview with Jon Schaffer! Musically, this disc continues in a similar style as the last two discs, but with more symphonic elements, bringing in the Blind Guardian influences. Also new to this disc is the addition of some female vocals to some of the epic songs, including my favorite song of the disc, "The Phantom Opera Ghost." I must add that unlike the last two studio discs, which just clubbed me over the head and had me hooked, this one took a few more listens to get into. After listening a couple of times however, I can honestly say that this is an awesome true metal disc.

Iced Earth-Dark Genesis (Century Media) 2001

Disc 1-Enter the Realm (see track listing above)
Disc 2-Iced Earth (see track listing above)
Disc 3-Night Of The Stormrider (see track listing above)
Disc 4-Burnt Offerings (see track listing above)
Disc 5-Tribute to the Gods
(see track listing below)

As has been the case with the past few Iced Earth releases, the band knows how to make a nice package. This five disc box set is no exception. There is a 30 page full color book complete with lyrics, bio, commentaries, photos, and new artwork for all five albums. Disc one, which has never before been officially released on CD has been remastered and sounds a bit different from the bootleg copy I have had for a few years. Discs 2 through 4 are remastered versions of the band's first three cds. "Tribute To The Gods" is disc number five from the box set and features covers from Schaffer's most inspirational bands. Absolutely stunning collector's box set. Unfortunately a few months after the release of this set, Century Media released all the remastered discs in single CD packages, first as digi-packs, then later in jewel cases.

Iced Earth - Tribute to the Gods
(Century Media) 2001

1. "Creatures Of The Night" (4:01)
2. "Number Of The Beast" (4:33)
3. "Highway To Hell" (3:24)
4. "Burnin' For You" (4:26)
5. "God Of Thunder" (3:57)
6. "Screaming For Vengeance" (4:38)
7. "Dead Babies" (5:40)
8. "Cities On Flame" (4:00)
9. "It's A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock n' Roll)" (4:42)
10. "Black Sabbath" (5:31)
11. "Hallowed Be Thy Name" (7:08)

Jon Schaffer
Jon Schaffer

I already have the original "Tribute to the Gods" that was released as part of the box set (see above). However, I really wanted this individual disc so that I wouldn't accidentally destroy the box disc. (I know, I'm anal!) Since I payed premium for the box, I waited to find a good used copy and finally found one for a mere $5.99. The CD and digi-packaging are in perfect shape.

"Tribute to the Gods" features covers of some of Jon Schaffer's favorite bands, and apparently the ones that inspired him the most to become a musician. 1. KISS - Creatures Of The Night; 2. IRON MAIDEN - Number Of The Beast; 3. AC/DC - Highway To Hell; 4. BLUE OYSTER CULT - Burnin' For You; 5. KISS - God Of Thunder; 6. JUDAS PRIEST - Screaming For Vengeance; 7. ALICE COOPER - Dead Babies; 8. BLUE OYSTER CULT - Cities On Flame; 9. AC/DC - It's A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock n' Roll); 10. BLACK SABBATH - Black Sabbath; 11. IRON MAIDEN - Hallowed Be Thy Name. Of course what can be said of one of my all time favorite bands covering songs by many other favorites of mine? After all they cover two KISS songs, two AC/DC songs and two Iron Maiden tracks. What more could I ask for? The booklet also includes lengthy notes about how each band inspired Shaffer.

The Reckoning EP Iced Earth - The Reckoning (SPV) 2003

1. "The Reckoning" (4:57)
2. "When the Eagle Cries" [unplugged] (3:34)
3. "Valley Forge" (4:47)
4. "Hollow Man" (4:40)

Having one of your favorite bands change a key member, especially one who helped define a bands sound like Matthew Barlow did for Iced Earth, is a bit risky. However, let me say without a shadow of a doubt that Iced Earth and Tim "Ripper" Owens is a perfect match. The new EP rules! RIPPER sounds great on these new Iced Earth tunes and once again Jim Morris does an outstanding job mixing and engineering. "The Reckoning" is heavy, but has an obvious Blind Guardian influence in parts. The rhythms are unmistakably Jon Schaffer. Owens tears it up on this song. Halford comparisons are inevidable, but most metal fans will be able to hear the distinctions in Owens voice. "When the Eagle Cries" (unplugged) is a cool, but mellow song. Apparently this track is exclusive to this pre-release EP? Once again Owens sounds great. He sound just as good on mellow songs as he does on the heavier songs. If you've ever heard the live acoustic version of "Diamonds and Rust" on Priest's "Metal Meltdown," you know how good he can sing. "Valley Forge" returns to heaviness of "The Reckoning", although this song is not quite as manic. It is a a dynamic song that mixes melancholy acoustic passages with heavier power metal sections. Oh, and yes, Owens rules this song too! The lyrics here recall the great American Revolutionary War for Independance. Growing up in Trenton I have heard the story of the Battle of Valley Forge many times over about the men who suffered starvation and sickness and gave their lives for America's Independence. "Hollow Man" sounds like something off "Something Wicked this Way Comes." It is a melodic power ballad. Listen closely and you can hear Matthew Barlow in the background vocals. At least I think it's Matt that I hear. Great song to finish the EP off as you will walk off singing "Don't wanna be the hollow man..." for hours after turning the disc off. All in all, a great teaser disc for the forthcoming ""Glorious Burden" CD. Can't wait for it to be released.

The Glorious Burden Iced Earth - The Glorious Burden (SPV) 2004

1. "The Star Spangled Banner" [instrumental] (1:14)
2. "Declaration Day" (5:00)
3. "When the Eagle Cries" (4:07)
4. "The Reckoning Day" (4:57)
5. "Greenface" (3:02)
6. "Attila" (5:36)
7. "Red Barron/Blue Max" (4:05)
8. "Hollow Man" (4:26)
9. "Valley Forge" (4:46)
10. "Waterloo" (5:49)
11. "When the Eagle Cries" [acoustic] (3:34)
Gettysburg (1863)
1. "The Devil to Pay" (12:14)
2. "Hold At All Costs" (7:06)
3. "High Water Mark" (12:36)

Jon & Tim
Iced Earth 2004 (Tim Owens, center)

Seems there are two schools of thought on this CD. Either people love it or hate it. Apparently some old fans are upset but the departure of Matthew Barlow and think his replacement, Tim "Ripper" Owens is to much of a Halford clone. I must admit I was a bit bummed about Barlow leaving as well. He was a great singer who gave Iced Earth character. However, all I have to say after hearing this CD is that all you complainers need to get a ladder and get over it. Barlow is gone, Ripper rules! This album is G-R-E-A-T! Tim Owens has come out from under the shadow of Halford. This is an Iced Earth CD and not a Judas Priest (circa 97-02) CD! I've also heard complaints about "When the Eagle Cries." Some claim the lyrics are just to corny, while others say the song is pure propaganda. "When The Eagle Cries" corny? HELL NO! This song absolutely annihilates. The emotion that this song portrays is incredible. The lyrics absolutely bring a sense of pride to this red blooded American. INCREDIBLE is how I would describe it. Only the heartless couldn't see the sincerity in these lyrics."The Reckoning" is incredible as well and well deserving to be the single from this CD. Once again, Ripper rules! OK, so he sounds like Halford at times. SO FREAKIN' WHAT! The guys can sing, and scream like no ones business! There is not a weak spot on this CD. Almost the entire CD is based on American and World History. It opens with a cool, electric guitar rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner", then launches into "Declaration Day". Apparently the fact that the band has moved away from the darker themes of past albums has also upset some fans. Again I say, get a freakin' ladder and get over it. Personally, I think the lyrics here are refreshing. "Valley Forge", a song that also appeared on the Reckoning EP, is a galloping, Maiden inspired tune with more some smokin' lead guitar work by Ralph Santolla laid on top of Schaffer's signature rhythm work. Other highlights includes the ballsy ballad "Hollow Man", in which Owens sounds incredible, and "Red Baron" which is another heavy, ballistic track. Must also make mention of the 30-minute 3-part opus, "Gettysburg (1863)" which is beautifully written, masterfully played and quite intruiging. Complete with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and the cannons of war, this trilogy is one of the finest, epic tracks that Schaffer has written yet. This album features the BEST songwriting of Jon Schaffer's career though, and Gettysburg (1863) is the pinnacle of it. This is the epic that all others will be measured by for years to come. So all you complainers and grumblers can sit around and mourn the loss of the great Matthew Barlow. As for me, I will be sitting here jamming to one of fine metal albums!

Overture of the Wicked Iced Earth - Overture of the Wicked (SPV Records) 2007

1. "Ten Thousand Strong" (3:54)
2. "Prophecy" (6:00)
3. "Birth of the Wicked" (4:31)
4. "The Coming Curse" (8:00)

It's been a while since we've heard anything new from Iced Earth. This teaser EP offers up a little of what is to come, as well a hearty nod to the past. The new track presented here is titled "Ten Thousand Strong". This track just grabs you by the jugular and doesn't let go. Full throttle heavy metal built on Jon Chaffer's set of heavy riffs and Owen's soaring vocals. The song rides a fence between thrash and traditional metal. The updated version of the "Something Wicked This Way Comes" trilogy is an unexpected gem. The song isn't an exact duplicate of the original with new vocals. Rather there are subtle differences. This version seems more atmospheric, symphonic and orchestral, yet without coming off as completely cheesy. Rerecording this track with Owens was a bit risky and will inevitably garner grumbles from Barlow die-hards. However, Owens does a fantastic job in his own right. It's pretty cool to be able to compare Barlow and Ownes in terms of their performance, pitch, and overall singing ability on these three tracks, but to say one is better than the other is simply a matter of taste. Personally, I like both versions and am having a hard time saying which I like better. I've read some negative comments about the production on-line and I am failing to see what the problem is. The guitars are crunchy, the bass and drums bring the bottom end and the vocals soar over top of it all. Sounds like metal to me!

Framing Armageddon Iced Earth - Framing Armageddon-Something Wicked Part 1 (Steamhammer) 2007

1. "Overture" (2:24)
2. "Something Wicked pt. 1" (5:02)
3. "Invasion" (1:00)
4. "Motivation of Man" (1:34)
5. "Setian Massacre" (3:48)
6. "A Charge to Keep" (4:24)
7. "Reflections" (1:50)
8. "Ten Thousand Strong" (3:56)
9. "Execution" (1:27)
10. "Order of the Rose" (4:51)
11. "Cataclysm" (1:30)
12. "The Clouding" (9:18)
13. "Infiltrate and Assimilate" (3:48)
14. "Retribution Through the Ages" (4:32)
15. "Something Wicked pt. 2" (2:59)
16. "The Domino Decree" (6:36)
17. "Framing Armageddon" (3:40)
18. "When Stars Collide (Born is He)" (4:17)
19. "The Awakening" (2:01)

OK, first of all, I must admit up front that I am a bit disappointed in the direction that Iced Earth have taken with this album. I have long been a fan of Iced Earth, but with "Framing Armageddon", Shaeffer is taking the band into a more symphonic, progressive direction and basically following in the footsteps of Blind Guardian. It almost seems to me like Shaffer has something to prove. Personally, I prefer the more straight forward heavy metal approach that the band is known for. Also, while I am sure people are tired of hearing about Matthew Barlow's absence, it is just a fact that his absence has changed Iced Earth's sound forever. He gave the band character. Tim Owens is a great singer in his own right, but he is very different from Barlow, so naturally he makes the band sound very different. (Notice I said "different", not "bad).

So, what of the album? Well, almost a decade ago Shaffer announced plans to record the "Something Wicked" concept with its anti-hero Set Abominae. Well in 2007 we get the first part of the story, with the second part scheduled to be released on the follow-up CD. As mentioned things have changed considerably for the band in those 10 years. Aside from the obvious change in vocalists, the music steps away from the borderline speed and thrash metal that Iced Earth were doing and heads into a more progressive direction. Shaffer's signature rhythm playing is still a fixture here, but much of it is more mid-paced, although the occasional fast riff is also included (see "Ten Thousand Strong"). The entire focus of the songwriting here is basically geared much more towards the epic and atmospheric. Of course Iced Earth have always written epic length songs, but something is different here. The story and how the lyrics are worked into the songs seem to have become more of a priority than on past epics. Also, between each song there are interludes that I suppose are suppose to help build the story. These might help the story, but don't really help the overall enjoyment of the music. Personally I find some of these to be incredibly boring. The instrumental "Something Wicked pt. 2" for instance seems to go on forever without ever going anywhere, yet it's really only three minutes long. However, there are some good songs mixed into all this. Frankly, however, I find myself getting bored with this CD. The good songs are intermixed with far too much story line. I particularly like the 70's influences in the title track. Unfortunately for me, the overall atmosphere of the CD just doesn't hold up well for a listen that is around 70 minutes long. I guess I've never been one who is more into the story line behind the music than the music itself. As good as the story may be, if the music isn't as interesting, or more so, I usually am uninterested. That seems to be the case here. Perhaps with more spins this CD will grow on me. I think this one is gonna be a grower. It certainly doesn't quite hit you between the eyes like "Night of the Stormriders", "Something Wicked" or "Dark Saga".

I Wal Among You... Iced Earth - I Walk Among You (SPV) 2008

1. "I Walk Alone" (4:00)
2. "Setian Massacre" (3:44)
3. "The Clouding" (9:13)

This 3-song EP marks the return of Matt Barlow on vocals. I"ve always been of the opinion that Tim Owens was a worthy replacement, but the fact is, Barlow helped define Iced Earth's sound, along with Jon's unique rhythm guitar playing. With this three song EP, I've already listened to it more times in one week than I have the entire "Framing Armageddon" CD after owning it for a year. This is not just because Matt is back on vocals, but also because the brevity of this EP, along with the absence of all the little interludes. Frankly, I just think it makes for a more interesting listen. I actually wanted to hear this EP again after it was finished, whereas with "Framing Armageddon", it was laboring to even get through the entire CD. The odd part about this is, two of these three songs are on "Framing Armageddon", only with Barlow re-recording the vocals. This just tells me that there was too much fluff on "Framing Armageddon" and that it might have been a better listen without all the interlude and wankery. Whether one vocalist performs these songs better than the other is simply a matter of opinion. I can't say which I like better, frankly, as I was never even able to really digest the original versions.

The real meat of this EP, however, is the new track "I Walk Alone". Musically, the song is exactly what you would expect from Iced Earth in 2008. It's a meaty metal number that is brought to life by Matt's vocals. I suspect that it would have worked as a single with either vocalist, but at the same time, I am just so giddy that Barlow is back, that I ate this EP up like it was the first Iced Earth release since "Something Wicked."

In an annoying act to promote the iTunes version of this release, an extra track was released. This version included an re-recorded version of "A Charge to Keep" with Matt on vocals. Since I don't care for the direction the industry is taking with MP3s over CDs and records, I won't be purchasing this song, even though I'd love to hear it.

Crucible of Man Iced Earth - The Crucible of Man-Something Wicked Part 2 (SPV) 2008

1. "In Sacred Flames" [intro] (1:28)
2. "Behold the Wicked Child" (5:37)
3. "Minions of the Watch" (2:06)
4. "The Revealing" (2:40)
5. "A Gift or a Curse?" (5:34)
6. "Crown of the Fallen" (2:48)
7. "The Dimension Gauntlet" (3:12)
8. "I Walk Alone" (4:00)
9. "Harbinger of Fate" (4:42)
10. "Crucify the King" (5:36)
11. "Sacrificial Kingdoms" (3:57)
12. "Something Wicked (Part 3)" (4:31)
13. "Divide devour" (3:15)
14. "Come What May" (7:23)
15. "Epilogue" [instrumental] (2:20)

"The Crucible of Man", part two of the "Something Wicked" series, features the return of vocalist Matt Barlow. As much as I think that Tim Owens is a great vocalist who really shined on "The Glorious Burden", there is no denying that the loss of Barlow was a big blow to Iced Earth's identity. Barlow had stepped down and switched careers to become a law officer several years ago, but had gotten back into music with Pyramaze, then again with Iced Earth. His voice is a welcome return. This alone helps "The Crucible of Man" to be a more interesting album that part one of the series. Frankly, I grew bored with "Framing Armageddon" rather quickly, which is a shame being that Iced Earth have long been one of my favorite bands. What I didn't like about that CD was that the songs tended to suffer to the storyline and all the little interludes in between each of the actual songs. That has been remedied with "Crucible". The orchestration has been toned down considerably. This is a step in the right direction, in my opinion. Within a few listens I found myself enjoying this album more than I have any Iced Earth album since the original "Something Wicked" CD. The heavy songs are quite good, a few of them even sporting some incredibly fast double work. After a short intro, the album opens with "Behold the Wicked Child" a heavy song that features layers of vocals and a good hook. Now this is the Iced Earth that I was hoping for. From there on out, the CD flows very well with plenty of peaks and valleys. In particular I found the ballad "A Gift or A Curse" to be an incredible song. Barlow delivers the vocals with such an intensity that I was immediately drawn into the song. I also quite liked the addition of the bongo drums for some added percussion in this song. As well, the speed metal of songs like "The Revealing" hearkens back to the power/thrash metal combination that band mixed so well in the past on songs like "Violate".

"The Crucible of Man" is suppose to be the conclusion of the story started on "Something Wicked" and "Framing Armageddon". Frankly, the storyline isn't as important as the music for me. I actually hope that "Crucible" does conclude this storyline so that Jon Schaffer can move on to something different.

It's great to have Matt Barlow back in the band. There seems to be a new energy to Iced Earth. Part of that energy is certainly due to Barlow's return. The songs feel more focused and the vocals are full of passion. "The Crucible of Man" may not top the Iced Earth catalog but it most certainly is a worthy addition to their catalog.

Dystopia Iced Earth - Dystopia (Century Media) 2011

1.  Dystopia (5:49)
2.  Anthem (4:55)
3.  Boiling Point (2:47)
4.  Anguish Of Youth (4:42)
5.  V (3:39)
6.  Dark City (5:42)
7.  Equilibrium (4:31)
8.  Days Of Rage (2:17)
9.  End Of Innocence (4:07)
10. Soylent Green(4:20)*
11. Iron Will (4:15)*
12. Tragedy An Triumph (7:44)
13. Anthem [String Mix] (4:52)*

Iced Earth 2011

After a three year absence, Iced Earth returns with the much-anticipated "Dystopia". The band has always been the brainchild of founding member/guitarist Jon Schaffer who is the only element of  continuity, with other band members coming and going more than Spinal Tap has gone through drummers. Longtime vocalist Matt Barlow exited the band for the second time. This really isn't a surprise to anyone who has followed the drama of Iced Earth over the years. Barlow couldn't commit to longterm touring, and thus it was only a matter of time. Unfortunately for artists like Iced Earth, their bread and butter is in touring as album sales alone can't support a band full-time. This time around, Into Eternity's Stu Block steps behind the mic for Iced Earth. Before hearing this album I wondered how well Stu's vocals would work with Iced Earth's power metal sound. Into Eternity is a very different band and Stu tended to use a lot of death metal growls. Surprisingly, Stu fits into the band's sound as well as Barlow or Tim "Ripper" Owens. As a matter of fact, Stu's voice falls somewhere between the two. When he's singing the lower register stuff, I hear some similarities to Barlow, sometimes the similarities are striking. However, his higher register and falsetto vocals have more in common with Ripper.

There is a lot to like on "Dystopia". Thankfully Jon Shaffer has moved away for the whole grandiose, concept/story based album and focused more on individual songs. I hear a lot of the past reflected in this album, which some may see as a bad thing. Frankly, I prefer this approach. Iced Earth is mostly known for their mish-mash of thrash metal and power metal. With "Dystopia" that sound is restored. The title track gets things started in fine fashion. It's a very catchy, bold and heavy song and a great way to open the album. A song like the speed injected "Boiling Point" would have fit well on "Dark Saga" or "Something Wicked". The song features furious double bass and those chugging riffs that Shaffer is known for. The same holds true of the fury-fueled thrasher "Days of Rage". On the other hand, "Anguish of Youth" and "End of Innocence" are more melodic songs that still fits neatly into the Iced Earth mold, right down to the layered vocals. "Anthem" is a tremendously catchy song. If it's not the single for the album, it should be. For the most part, the song lengths are all around the four to five minute mark. It's not until track twelve that we are given a more epic song, but even this song is more straight-forward heavy metal, without orchestration overkill or overly progressive tendencies. Though the track clocks in a 7:44, the actual song is only about 6:35 and then several seconds of silence before some a cappella 'hidden track' silliness. Overall, I can honestly say that I enjoyed this one on the very first spin, which is something I cannot say about the past few Iced Earth albums.

I picked up the Deluxe Edition of "Dystopia", which includes three bonus tracks, making the album a bit longer than the regular version. The regular versions clock in at around 45 minutes long making the album a bit more streamlined, but the deluxe edition puts the album at about an hour long.  The "String Mix" version of "Anthem" doesn't seem all that different than the regular version, though I never did a side by side comparison of the songs. The other two songs, "Soylent Green" and "Iron Will" are both prime Iced Earth. Apparently there are different deluxe editions depending on what part of the world you live in. The copy I picked up in the good 'ol USA contained a poster and sticker as well. Other packages contain a patch and a free MP3 downloadable cover song of Iron Maiden's "The Trooper". My copy is 591/1000.

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