Produced by Jim Morris
The return of Iced Earth's most popular vocalist Matt Barlow isn't quite the monumental event it could have been because Pyramaze beat them to it, but he has returned, and most Iced Earth fans are rejoicing.
Simply, this album is the second half of the concept Iced Earth main-man Jon Schaffer started in 2007 when Tim "Ripper" Owens was still in the band with the Framing Armageddon album. The original concept was something he wrote over the course of three songs on the Something Wicked This Way Comes album in 1998, and he has now expanded it into two full-length albums.
It's difficult to connect the two records because of the different singers, and although both men are capable of singing each other's material (as Ripper demonstrated when re-recording the original trilogy of songs for the Overture of The Wicked EP, and live throughout his time in the band, and Matt more recently when he re-recorded three songs from Framing Armageddon for the I Walk Alone EP), they do sound very different and having half the story told by Ripper and half told by Matt feels very disjointed.
So, they need to be considered as separate albums if they are to be appreciated fully in their own right, but that's also quite hard because, even more so with this one than with the last one, all the songs sound like stock Iced Earth songs. For years fans and detractors alike have been commenting (some more vehemently than others) about the lack of variation in Iced Earth's more recent music and, possibly more so than ever before, those accusation hold very true on this record.
Framing Armageddon had just three or four songs which followed a different pattern to the majority of the rest of Iced Earth's catalogue, and this one only has three as well; the delicate ballad A Gift Or A Curse?, aggressive single I Walk Alone and the slow, ominous Crucify The King. The problem was evident in many of the songs on 2005's The Glorious Burden, the first album with Ripper, but that album also contained the monumental 'Gettysburg' trilogy, which many rightly hailed as one of Iced Earth's finest moments. So the problem was overlooked for a couple of years.
Of the standard Iced Earth stuff Harbinger of Fate is probably the best, while Sacrificial Kingdom, Divide And Devour and the quick-fire brace of two-minute songs Minions of The Watch and The Revealing are probably the most "carbon copy" tracks here. Much of the rest is largely forgettable as being too similar to so many other songs, but without the hooks. There's nothing as "adventurous" as The Clouding from the last album either.
Thankfully Schaffer hasn't repeated the use of meaningless sound effect tracks here, nor has he over-used instrumental passages to tell parts of the (less-than-clear) story, which is something he's done before and fans have found they don't really know what he's getting at (but usually enjoy the passages as they tend to be more expressive). Unfortunately he hasn't turned the time vacated by these tracks into better songs, many of them feeling very laboured in the lyrics department.
What you get out of a new Iced Earth album depends on what you're looking for. If you want more old Iced Earth, the way they always did it, then this album will be what you've been waiting for since Barlow left. If you want them to prove they're still a creative force in metal, you're going to need more conclusive evidence.
“ standard Iced Earth stuff ”
Tracklist: In Sacred Flames / Behold The Wicked Child / Minions of The Watch / The Revealing / A Gift Or A Curse / Crown of The Fallen / The Dimension Gauntlet / I Walk Alone / Harbinger of Fate / Crucify The King / Sacrificial Kingdoms / Some Wicked (Part 3) / Divide And Devour / Come What May / Epilogue
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