Iced Earth, "The Reckoning"
Since I don't have the full version yet (it's in the mail), I figured I might as well review the EP from Iced Earth. Of course, the big hoopla regarding the latest material from Jon Schaffer is the loss of long time vocalist Matt Barlow and the addition of ex-Judas Priest singer Tim "Ripper" Owens. I got onboard the Iced Earth ship late, "Something Wicked This Way Comes" was the first CD of theirs that I got, but upon hearing it, I quickly bought their entire back catalog and became a fan. I love Schaffer's traditional yet thrashy approach to metal and thought that Barlow was a fine and constantly improving vocalist. I'm apparently one of the few people who thoroughly enjoyed "Horror Show" (well, not thoroughly, I could have done without "The Phantom Opera Ghost") and felt that Barlow had once again broadened his scope and abilities, to the point where he was now one of the premiere singers in the genre. Hence, I was upset when he announced that he was leaving the band. Soon after, rumors continued that Halford was back in Priest and Ripper was working with Schaffer, and eventually it all proved to be true - which lead to "The Reckoning."
This being the first time that the world would hear Ripper sing with the band (disregarding the whole illegal MP3 thang), they wasted no time and pulled no punches. The first track, appropriately titled "The Reckoning" is a ripping (okay, pun intended - sorry) and familiar Iced Earth arrangement with tons of chugging triplets that features Owens screaming his guts out in his higher, Halfordesque range - something that the two albums he recorded with Judas Priest sorely lacked. The chorus itself is very reminiscent of the multi-tracked vocal arrangements from "Horror Show" and until the verse kicks in, it could be easily mistaken as something from the Barlow era - not a criticism as much as an observation. Basically, Tim steps into some big shoes (yet again) but this time the songwriter he's working with allows him to fill them well.
"When the Eagle Cries" (Unplugged) is a bit problematic. Ripper can definitely sing, but he lacks the emotive power that Barlow had, so a cut that would have come off as warm and (melo)dramatic in the old days just feels cold and distracted here. This is your notes-by-numbers Iced Earth "power ballad." I've never been a big fan of their mellower songs, but they are necessary to pace an album... however, I don't know how necessary it is to pace an EP, so this song falls flat for me. I assume that the "plugged in" version of this track on the full CD will pack more punch.
"Valley Forge" is a well done, mid-paced head-bobber with a nice solo section in the middle while "Hollow Man" favors the slow, psuedo power ballad style, with a catchy, repetitive chorus.
All in all, this release got me excited enough about Ripper's new role that I ordered the full length as soon as I saw it online. Ripper can't emote like Barlow, but he certainly has a full range and Schaffer knows how to put his talents to use - too bad Tipton didn't. In the end, since this EP only features one "unreleased" song, and it's simply a rearranged track from the album itself, it can easily be skipped by all except the most ardent Iced Earth fans... who, like me, probably already have it.