Anyone who knows me personally realizes that I'm quite possibly the biggest Iced Earth fan in the free world. Since their early beginnings, I have followed the band through every lineup change, questioning Jon Schaffer's strange decisions at times, but for the most part always standing behind the band's performance.
In 2003 it was disclosed that Matthew Barlow would no longer be singing for the band, replaced with ex-Judas Priest shouter Tim Owens. I hated to see Barlow leave, as the last four albums have been highlighted by Barlow's excellent vocal melodies. I loved his range, his stage prescence, and most importantly the passion and emotion that a simple chorus can bring with his "speak-easy" tone.
At the same time, I have been a huge supporter for Tim Owens. Following his footsteps from underground sensation Winter's Bane to the "big city lights" of Judas Priest, I have grown very fond of Owens' superior vocal talent. Metal fans flocked together in hatred of his only studio works with Priest, "Jugulator" and "Demolition". While Priest fans rebuked the Owens era material, I embraced the albums, ranking them near the top of the Priest catalogue. With that being said, I felt that Tim Owens would be the perfect candidate for Iced Earth. Owens understands the term "filling a vacancy" well, and has already learned the fine craft of ignoring the critics (one that Schaffer himself may want to educate himself on). The group along with new frontman Tim Owens have embarked on a new Iced Earth journey, one that distances itself from the past, but makes huge waves for the future.
"The Glorious Burden" is the debut record for the SPV-era of Iced Earth. Until now, every album has been released on Century Media. Schaffer's label negotiating prompted a good dollar amount to land this album on the SPV label. From the looks of the packaging and artwork, the label must have shown a great interest in this still "up and coming" band. This album is based on the great epics of mankind's history, from the blood-soaked battlefields of Gettysburg to the rampage of Attila "The Hun". Schaffer does a good job here telling mankind's struggles and failures through a comprehensive and rather addictive use of melody, speed, and ample aggression. One would think of European greats like Grave Digger (Tunes Of War to be exact), Blind Guardian (Somewhere Far Beyond), and even Rhapsody with its huge chorus factor. At the same time the band keeps its mainstay intact, that being the fast chug-chug-chug rythmn of Schaffer and new string-man Ralph Stambolla's stance on soaring solos and twin guitar drives. This is somewhat of a catch-22 however, as some songs on this record just seem too retro for my liking.
Take for instance a track like "The Reckoning", with its fast crunchy rythmn and pounding double-bass battery. This is a prime example of Schaffer's never-ending supply of recycled riffs, this one sounding like a blend of Stormrider and Something Wicked material that is just being rehashed for lack of fresh creativity. Lets face it folks, Schaffer isn't the best guitar player around, and certainly hammers the point home with rehashed, borrowed riffs that rip off Iced Earth for the sake of new Iced Earth. The same can be said for "Greenface", which sounds just like "Jack" from "Horror Show". "Declaration Day" seems to have its own identity though, with its refreshing harmony chorus and Owens' ability to deliver a heartfelt patriotic look at America's creation.
I greatly enjoyed "Red Baron, Blue Max" although it sounds a bit borrowed and dated. "Attila" is epic in every sense of the word, and I really enjoy the use of "Gladiator" type sounds and screams. "When The Eagle Cries" is by far the worst ballad ever performed by this band and really deserves no place on this album. The same can be said for "Hollow Man", a track that was initially left off of the last album because Schaffer felt the song was "too good" for Century Media (what an ego-maniac!).
Now, with the majority of this record sounding rehashed and simply out-dated (all but Attila, Waterloo, Declaration Day, Valley Forge, and Red Baron-Blue Max can be thrown out in my opinion), we move forward to the Gettysburg epic. This masterpiece, and I mean that in every sense of the word because that is what it is, is broken into three parts creating a trilogy. This trilogy focuses on the trials and tribulations of Union and Confederate soldiers during three bloody days of intense fighting in the town of Gettysburg. Never, and I do mean NEVER, have I heard Iced Earth this damn good.
This epic is just an astonishing, jaw-dropping history lesson put to music. Everything is covered here, from the first moments of battle to the last crusade of General Lee's brigade into the Union center. This is heart-wrenching and moving with every note, with Schaffer orchestrating his best creative work to date, combining a symphonic orchestra sound with the rich textures of CLASSIC heavy metal enhanced with the sounds of battle, the sounds of the dying, and the bonebreaking weight of what really happened and what those soldiers went through for three full days on those fields. In my opinion, this trilogy is the best musical piece ever written by any artist of any genre. I mean that with all sincerity, but this story has purpose and meaning, with Schaffer's love of history put to the ultimate musical test. This masterpiece really has it all and shares with the listener for a half-hour how our country has stood the test of time. Liberty and freedom is not free and this group of songs proves that very point. This is mandatory listening for every American son, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.
Alot of questions were answered with this release. Can Owens pull it off as well as Barlow? I would say he certainly has, but he is quite a different singer than Barlow. Can Iced Earth take metal to the next level, and deliver traditional power metal to the nu-metal fans? I really think so, and from the sales numbers thus far the album is doing well. The new guitarist sounds decent, with plenty of great breakdowns and solos. I think the future looks bright with this lineup, but the group really need to focus and make the next record solid.
"The Glorious Burden" is a very difficult album to take in however. I'm still a bit "wishy-washy" and probably always will be. One-third of this record is simply good, one-third is an absolute masterpiece, and one-third is simply just there as filler. I've never heard an album quite like this, and probably never will. To say the album is rather complicated would be an understatement. Instead, let me say this: "The Glorious Burden" is just what it is. There are plenty of glorious songs here, but there is quite a burden sorting through the bad songs to get to the real goods. I wish we could have lost some of the filler and shortened the record. Then, its quite possible this would be the album of all albums. Nevertheless, this is an enjoyable look at history and a great look at the new Iced Earth.
About this Writer: Eric Compton // Eric Compton lives in the most haunted city in the world, St. Augustine, Florida with his family and two yorkies. He has contributed to MaximumMetal.com since it's conception in 2003. His reviews, interviews and social commentary has been featured on websites like Brave Words, Blabbermouth, Metal Temple, Metal Rules, Ultimate Metal, Metal Maniacs and Wikipedia. You can also find him on his paperbackwarrior.com blog discussing all things action and adventure.
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