This review should have been easy.
When Jon Schaffer (guitarist and lead song writer) of ICED EARTH announced that Matt Barlow would be returning to the fold as vocalist it was a wet dream for fans. Despite my undying dedication to Tim Owens (their previous singer of two albums), I had to admit I was excited. Matt Barlow has always been the unofficial voice of ICED EARTH and it was wonderful to hear he was coming back. But the timing could have been better. This is where it gets messy. But let’s just start with the album itself.
“The Crucible Of Man”, the second part of ICED EARTH’s “Something Wicked” story line, is a testament to the epic. The album is epic in songwriting, conception, and is a very artful and crafted ending to the story. But with Matt Barlow coming back, I expected the band to use him in a more fulfilling manner. His range isn’t exploited to the extent it could have, and has been before. He uses his unique style to really bring forth a lot great vocal melodies but his slower delivery and extension of notes really slows down any speed the instruments pick up.
The album itself might be well crafted as a concept album but its presentation isn’t as powerful as it could have been. Almost all the songs (there are less interludes and instrumental tracks on this album in comparison to the last) have a general mid-tempo galloping rhythm to them. But the band never really speeds it up past that. And the variation from song to song suffers because of it. We have a band that normally plays Power Metal with lots of Thrash tendencies but the Thrash energy is almost all gone on “The Crucible Of Man”. The highs are higher when the lows are lower, but we never get the extent of high or low on this album – it just remains right in the mid section. Even though every member of the band performs beautifully if the song writing doesn’t catch you then it might all be for naught.
Not to mention that I, as a fan, feel that the story of “Something Wicked” feels split. Because it was done as two separate albums, one needs to have consistency for the story to bridge the time period over. But with two different vocalists the story feels as though it’s not matched up. And as someone who really wanted this two album concept to pay off in the end, it is kind of disappointing. I would have rather had ICED EARTH keep Tim Owens for one more album and then bring Barlow back.
Now after all of this complaining, I must say that it is a pretty solid release. One of the weaker ones in the ICED EARTH catalog but that doesn’t mean that it is bad. It has some great performances on it, with Jon Schaffer taking the trophy for his great guitar work. It’s the song writing and end product that I have my grief with for the band. This review should have been easy. Bringing Barlow back should have blown my socks off but instead this review wasn’t mostly praise – it was mostly criticism. Now I’m waiting eagerly for an album that really uses the band’s potential.
Songs to check out: “The Revealing”, “I Walk Alone”, “Come What May”.
(Online October 2, 2008)