Top positive review
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Today's torchbearers of classic heavy metal.
on November 22, 2001
Iced Earth has their fair share of detractors who accuse them of being unoriginal. It's impossible to deny that they are not a groundbreaking band, but at the same time they are entirely unique. A combination of 80s thrash Metallica and Iron Maiden's storytelling and melodic songwriting, they work for me on many levels. For one thing, there are not many bands around making this kind of music...that is, down-to-earth heavy metal. Furthermore, no band of comparable style can compare to Iced Earth's stellar songwriting ability, passion, and integrity. Jon Schaffer's soul is in this music. Also, there is no rhythm guitarist who can match Schaffer's unique style, which is bone-crushingly heavy with intricate use of triplets and 16th notes. Awesome stuff! But is Iced Earth a genre-smashing, innovative band? Not really.
"If you don't do it first or better, you shouldn't do it." So Iced Earth didn't do it first. What becomes important is how Iced Earth -- in pretty much every way -- transcends the music of their influences. Credit guitarist Jon Schaffer, who merges muscular, dense, thrash-inflected riffery with a melodic subtlety that few metal bands in history have matched. The thick, fiercely heavy grooves are inescapable -- the devastating thrash-driven "Stand Alone"; the machine-gun like riffing of "My Own Savior." However, that melodic quality persists, especially on dynamic tracks that balance big riffs with quiet acoustic moments. "Watching Over Me" layers clean notes of electric guitars over soft acoustic chords. For the chorus, it kicks into high gear with massive, anthemic power chords. For music with such brutal power, it's amazing how the songs possess hooks that snag your ears.
Then there's vocalist Matt Barlow, whose sonorous baritone voice is unique, ferocious, and powerful. If you don't think he's one of the best, most dynamic voices in metal, you must come from another planet. (A planet I won't be visiting any time soon!) When you compare the emotive, soulful performance of "Watching Over Me" to the nigh-feral screams of "Disciples of the Lie," it's difficult to imagine that this is the same singer. This dynamic quality, along with the sheer richness of his tone, is incredible. "Watching Over Me" also shows that Iced Earth is a metal band capable of showing human warmth, which is due in no small part to Barlow (Schaffer's personal lyric -- about the death of a close friend -- helps, too).
The songs soar, and they're indelible too. Rarely can music so heavy be coupled with choruses you want to sing along with. "Stand Alone" has a hook that's impossible to resist, with the kind of rousing chorus that makes you want to raise your fist into the air. "Blessed Are You" is one of the many songs balancing quiet acoustic passages with massive, concentrated riffing. I never thought a song that talks about "children of the night" could have such an inspiring chorus. ("Blessed are you | Blessed am I | Children of the night...") "Disciples of the Lie" is pure, unadulterated thrash...something I haven't heard in a long time! The lyrics to "Consequences" read out more like a speech than poetry (subtlety, Schaffer, subtlety!), but the music is incredible, a powerful rock ballad. "1776" is a Maiden-esque instrumental, but with way heavier guitars. Big, anthem-like riffing, nuance-filled drums, and delicate overlays of flutes make for one of the finest straight metal instrumentals in years. "The Reaping Stone" reminds me a bit of Metallica's "The Thing That Should Not Be," but with an explosive fast & heavy section that hits you like a derailed train.
Some bands like to save the best for last. Iced Earth arguably does so here, concluding the album with a trilogy of songs that tells the possible story of "something wicked" that will bring about the downfall of the human race. (Uh oh!) Part 3, "The Coming Curse," brings forth Schaffer's progressive leanings. The 9-minute track starts with a harrowing piano overture setting a dismal tone. This mood is shattered by mammoth, aggressively-paced riffing. A quiet interlude brings back a theme from part 1, "Prophecy," and melds it with male & female opera vocals for atmosphere. You have to hear this song.
Well, take that recommendation further. You have to hear this album...and this band. If you were into heavy metal in the 80s and are disgusted with the corruption of the genre, don't walk, RUN and buy this album. Iced Earth may become your bastion of hope for the survival of true, uncompromising heavy metal.