Jon Schaffer’s got a new boy to lead the ICED EARTH Metal charge into 2004. And if you’ve been living in a cave or in the mind of good ol’ Dubya Bush you won’t have failed to notice that the new boy used to front JUDAS PRIEST (a marginally famous up beat Metal group from Birmingham, UK who have a had a little bit of success in their time) .
So Halford re-joins the PRIEST and the Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens gets the boot. Matt Barlow leaves the ICED EARTH vocal seat vacant and in steps the Ripper with not a conspiracy in sight to contend with.
In terms of facing up to the job, Owens, on the strength that ICED EARTH is not a prominent force in world Metal, can’t lose. He’s not doing a Blaze Bayley but then again it’s not a job he can go in to with anything less than one thousand percent dedication and devotion.
Matt Barlow focused the power and melodic muscle of Jon Schaffer’s music. He gave the band a strong focal point. Schaffer needed a top notch singer to keep ICED EARTH afloat and there can’t be many who would argue that the band’s defining moment, the glorious „Something Wicked This Way Comes“ (1999), would have been severely restricted if Barlow had not sung on it.
That’s all history know and Tim Owens has got the job. What do we make of it?
Owens vocal register is somewhat higher than that of Barlow so that does take some getting used to wailing over the ultra tight riffing of Schaffer but Owens can drop down a gear or two to deliver smooth and clean vocal lines for the music of ICED EARTH ain’t the straight down the middle Metal of latter day JUDAS PRIEST. This is complicated, over blown, technical, invigorating and revitalising Heavy Metal.
Those familiar with ICED EARTH will find solace in the fact that Schaffer has changed very little in the way of the sound. Tight, tight guitar play with old school melodic riffs a la MAIDEN, the sharp technical riffing of MEGADETH and prime era METALLICA and now coupled with a singer who has experienced life in a big band.
The ICED EARTH sound is epic and very traditionally Heavy Metal. And Schaffer knows how to write a bloody good Metal song.
Kicking off with the „Star Spangled Banner“ (Sounds very KISS like, another big Schaffer influence) „Declaration Day“ offers Owens the chance to prove his quality and within ten seconds the name of Barlow is despatched to ICED EARTH history. His voice is an almost perfect match for the titanic riffing and pounding drums. Strangely we get hit with the first power ballad rather early but no matter as „When The Eagle Cries“ is first class ICED EARTH complete with catchy soaring chorus. The album’s first single, „The Reckoning (Don’t Tread On Me)“ complete with „Master Of Puppets“ riff intensity could easily have sat on „Horror Show“ and displays the hallmark Schaffer guitar style. „Green Face“ and „Attila“ are nods to the old days of ICED EARTH and features many a riff that lurked on „Night Of The Storm Rider” and „Burnt Offerings“ „Red Baron/ Blue Max“ is a corker of a Metal song with Owens’ on fine form screaming out the chorus in true JUDAS PRIEST style. The second ballad sees „Hollow Man“ follow on from „Horror Show”’s „Ghost Of Freedom”, a mainly acoustic affair with a guitar attack for the chorus. Not the albums heaviest moment but still hugely enjoyable and a chance for Owens to rest the screams and wails to deliver a clean vocal. „Valley Forge“ is a bare knuckle Metal rid and to finish with a mini epic in the shape of “Waterloo” which does nothing to diminish the ferocity and onslaught of the ICED EARTH sound.
Which leads onto the thirty minute plus full scale epic „Gettysburg (1836)“. Metal is well known for its complex, long and demanding songs but never in my Metal life have I heard anything remotely as special or engrossing as this piece. It is truly magical and inspirational from beginning to end. Split over three parts „Gettysburg (1836)“ manages to convey the horror and desperation of the American Civil war when brother fought brother and father fought son. It is a body of work that demands a better critique than I could ever hope to give it. „Gettysburg (1836)“ is without a doubt the finest piece of music ever written by Schaffer and „The Glorious Burden“ should be purchased solely on the strength of it. I cannot praise it highly enough. (Online February 11, 2004)