Iced Earth, "Horror Show"
I walked into this disc ready to hate it and walked out seriously impressed. Expecting more power metal nonsense, I was instead greeted with an album that overcame the silliness of its topic with rock solid musicianship, inventive ensemble composition and powerful vocals.
All the songs are based on horror - mostly horror movie monsters - with each song tackling a different story and styled to musically reflect it's subject. There's no continuing storyline as with most concept albums, so the band is free on each song to create moods that suite the song instead of being obligated to create moods that suite the story. This results in an album that is very diverse, from the pounding intensity of Wolf, to the choirs that open Damien, to the eastern feel of Im-Ho-Tep to the operatic storytelling of The Phantom Opera Ghost. It was a smart move by the band and helps make Horrow Show better paced than most concept records and more enjoyable to listen to.
It's not all roses though, as singer Matthew Barlow can certainly butcher a quiet passage just as easily as all those other damn power metal singers, making the sensitive parts of the album over-dramatic, postured and laughable. They also fall back on cliched vocal techniques with backwards masking, dramatic readings [Damien], those octave-dropped "monster " vocals [Wolf] and I bet they even put some "crazy laughing" in there somewhere as well.
But as surely as Barlow can cheese up a track, he can also make them soar. When he's screaming and really pushing himself, his performance is mesmerizing and he's created some very good vocal arrangements. He's also one of the few "classic" singers that is really talented singing in his entire range,with his low end coming close to Chuck Billy and his screams, ear-piercing.
The band itself is another impressive part of the album, as Jon Schaeffer had the good sense to hire Steve DiGiorgio [oh, he of the fretless bass] and Richard Christy for the rhythm section on and they certainly crush when pounding along with the guitars, but really shine when acting as a true rhythm section, like on the opening riff of Frankenstein, where they offer rhythmic counterpoint to the guitar riff and turn a simple power chord progression into something much more challenging.
Everything is wrapped up in a wonderful production that captures the impeccable performances cleanly, but leaves some room for warmth and humanity.
At the end of the day, I'm not comfortable saying this is a new classic or anything like that, but I do find myself listening to it more than I'd like to admit. I just might have been won over here.