Produced by Jim Morris
Many years in the planning, many years in the waiting for fans, this is the first part of a double-album set telling the full story of 'Something Wicked', a tale briefly told via the 20-minute trilogy at the end of the album Something Wicked This Way Comes back in 1998.
The first single from the album, Ten Thousand Strong was released in June on the EP Overture of The Wicked. The EP was completed by the original Something Wicked trilogy, re-recorded with the current Iced Earth line-up, the most notable difference being the vocals of Tim "Ripper" Owens replacing Matt Barlow.
Following the string intro track Overture an all-too-familiar guitar riff heralds Something Wicked Part 1 and the first thing that's clear is what a background role Owens' vocals take. The guitars are very up-front in the mix and Tim sounds like he's singing from behind them. Owens is a remarkable vocalist, and many would sooner see him back in Judas Priest than Rob Halford. His new band, Beyond Fear are also proving very popular, and their debut album, released earlier this year, is a monumental slab of first-class metal where he can really let loose with his vocals.
Live too his ear-piercing screams are paramount to the Iced Earth spectacle. So, with such a lethal vocalist in the band, why bury him behind what have become exceptionally overused, stock guitar riffs? They (Jon Shaffer) did this on The Glorious Burden as well, but the songs on that record were mostly so good it didn't notice so much. This time around the songs seem so focused on telling that story that they forget the basic principles of song-writing.
Iced Earth are not a progressive band. They simply don't have enough strings to their bow. Therefore taking on a project of this magnitude was always going to be a tough call. A catchy chorus is rare across the nineteen tracks of Framing Armageddon (of which only eleven are proper songs), as is a guitar solo, something Iced Earth fans are becoming increasingly used to, and it takes some time to reach something that really sparks any interest.
Schaffer has always liked to use instrumental passages to tell parts of his stories, but in practice no one knows what they mean except him. This means Something Wicked Part 2 contributes nothing to the album. It's a good piece of music that is very far removed from normal Iced Earth stuff (it's mostly eastern-influenced acoustic guitars and flutes), but means nothing to the listener in terms of the story. Execution is similarly unnecessary. An ambient instrumental for just over a minute, the final 20-seconds of heavy guitars and Ripper screams really belong on the beginning of Order of The Rose, and indeed would have made an excellent beginning to that song.
Invasion and Cataclysm are just 60 and 90-second sound effect tracks respectively, so again are pointless. That's four of the nineteen down, plus the intro track, so already we've only got 14 tracks of potential interest. Closing track The Awakening is nothing more than lots of chanting and choral female vocals with very little instrumentation. Six down. Motivation of Man and Reflections are both proper songs in that they have actual music and vocals, but at less than two minutes each they don't have enough time to do anything more than fill in a bit of story, a story which isn't the clearest piece you'll ever listen to.
Essentially everything began with The Grand Architects of The Universe and their direct descendents, the Setians, occupied Earth and are its oldest culture; wise and peaceful. Man invades (Invasion) and kills them all (Setian Massacre) in the quest for absolute knowledge and power (Motivation of Man). A prophecy tells of The Ten Thousand chosen who wait for something called The Clouding to overtake man and for the birth of something called Set Abombinae (which will presumably be the focus of the second album, currently under the working title Revelation Abomination), before they rise up and defeat the invaders.
Most of the bona fide songs here don't get away from the standard Iced Earth mould and really aren't worth talking about individually. Some however are suitably different to normal to warrant further investigation. The first of these, just about, is A Charge To Keep, which chugs along with a slower riff around an actual singable chorus. Ripper's verse vocals are more melodic and continue into the short Reflections before letting fly in Ten Thousand Strong. Order of The Rose is similarly slower paced and benefits greatly from a Troy Seele guitar solo.
The big three songs, the ones this album is really worth listening to for are The Clouding, The Domino Decree and When Stars Collide (Born Is He). The Clouding is the album's only epic song, at just over nine minutes. It opens slowly with wonderfully mournful clean guitars, highlighted by some clean slide playing on a second guitar, a sentiment mirrored by Owens' vocals. After five minutes heavy guitars build and Owens vocals turn positively evil, much more like his performance on Judas Priest's Jugulator and Demolition albums. It is probably the best track Iced Earth have recorded to date with Ripper in the band.
The Domino Decree and When Stars Collide (Born Is He) are less groundbreaking, but still of interest. The former is fuelled by excellent mimicry of eastern melodies with an electric guitar before more vicious vocals and a much more jagged rhythm to a normal Schaffer-penned track. Not much in the way of a chorus but a solo later on helps to give the track some depth. When Stars Collide (Born Is He) makes a return to the chugging feel of A Charge To Keep and Order of The Rose, but at a slightly faster pace. As with so many other choruses throughout the album however, Ripper's vocals are diluted by unnecessary harmonies. It will be a sing-a-long concert piece though, if they choose to play it.
Overall this album is a disappointment. When Barlow left and Schaffer recruited Owens, hopes were high. But since he joined they have not produced anything to rival the older material. Schaffer doesn't make enough good use of Owens' voice and seems to fast be running out of ideas. Some things on this album, The Clouding in particular, do hint that he has a few things still up his sleeve, and if he could just tear himself away from drab affair like Ten Thousand Strong, the title track and Setian Massacre in order to produce more varied songs he might still be able to create that masterpiece he's looking for.
“ standard Iced Earth mould ”
Tracklist: Overture / Something Wicked Part 1 / Invasion / Motivation of Man / Setian Messiah / A Charge To Keep / Reflections / Ten Thousand Strong / Execution / Order of The Rose / Cataclysm / The Clouding / Infiltrate And Assimilate / Retribution Through The Ages / Something Wicked Part 2 / The Domino Decree / Framing Armageddon / When Stars Collide (Born Is He) / The Awakening
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