Iced Earth, "The Glorious Burden"
I've finally gotten my grubby little paws on the full disc - well, actually, I dropped some extra coin and got the two CD, super-deluxo version because the secondary disc has the much vaunted "Gettysburg (1863)" on it... alotta folks seem to think this track is the only worthwhile thing about Schaffer's new release. Say it ain't so, Jono!
Well, since Mr. Schaffer ain't here to say it ain't so - I will. By now, if you're at all familiar with the band, you know what to expect: the thrashy gallops interspersed with the mid-paced chugs and occasional Maidenesque high speed romp. Oh yeah, and don't forget the obligatory, emotional ballad bits that are all over the place here. Schaffer hasn't changed his style over the years, which is cool by me. Change doesn't always mean progression, sometimes it just means excess and suckcess - and thankfully Iced Earth hasn't gotten so far into its Metallica worship that Jon has decided to "rock" - they're still a metal band, thank heavens (or hells for ye Satanist types. I dunno what to thank for you atheists, sorry). The main difference on this release (all join in now) is vocalist Tim "Ripper" Owens taking over for the departed Matt Barlow (who is apparently on his way to patrol the borders of the USA or something like that). As the fates would have it, Ripper is a major reason why I truly enjoy this disc, although he still makes me miss Barlow on the emotional bits.
It's truly great to hear Owens belt it out, teeth gritted and balls clenched firmly betwixt his spiked leather glove. Glen Tipton forced Tim to sing most of the Judas Priest stuff like a second rate Layne Staley wannabe impersonating Phil Anselmo (how's that for a strained analogy?), but Schaffer gives Ripper more than enough space to explore his full Halford range, and Owens is definitely no mere Halford wannabe, he's got all the bases covered in that style. I dunno, color me shallow, but everything I missed about those two Priest discs that Owens sang on is in full force here, and that's good news. It's just cool to hear Tim finally get the chance to shine in the spotlight that's been put on him, which is a much better ending than that "Rock Star" movie came up with.
Musically, "The Glorious Burden" is pretty much par for the course. If you've enjoyed the past three Iced Earth discs, you'll dig this. If not, you'll find that this record is nothing more than the same sort of stuff that you hated before. I'm a fan, so I dig it. Much ado has been made about the heart-on-my-sleeve patriotism of the album, and while blind nationalism annoys the bejeezus out of me, the lyrics are tolerable. September 11 had a major impact on my life (I won't be running out to patrol the borders, however), so I can understand where the thought behind the morose "When the Eagle Cries" comes from, even if it's heavy handed. Not my favorite song by a mile or three, but Jon needed to get it off his chest, so good on 'im.
"Gettysburg (1863)" is another emotional romp, but it's a true epic, spanning over half an hour and encompassing all of Iced Earth's trademark riffage with orchestral interludes to spice things up. Split into three sections, the song tells the tale of the American Civil War's bloodiest battle. Jon's linear notes really help this track hit home, and it's every bit as good as many critics are claiming it to be. Well worth the extra coin if you're debating it. I have two qualms about it, however. The orchestration isn't as effective as I'd hoped it would be, and Owens lacks the emotional range to make the track a complete success. Of special note is the last verse, where General Lee laments his poor strategy that caused the death of so many men. Ripper's phrasing choices just sound ridiculous to me here, especially the whispered beginnings of a few lines. Of note, Schaffer points out in the booklet how well Tim sang this particular bit, so perhaps I'm being hyper critical... but I can't help but think how much better it would have sounded if Barlow was still around. Ah well, Matt's gone, Tim's in, and the results are impressive, if not perfect. There's plenty of time to work the bugs out in the future, let's just hope Jon and Ripper can keep it together while Matt keeps the U.S. borders safe.
The Reckoning (Don't Tread on Me)