Iced Earth, "Framing Armageddon (Something Wicked Pt. 1)"
Iced Earth's latest opus has been out for awhile now, so the fans already have their copy and the haters have already damned its contents to eternal blazes, so that leaves only the fence-sitters who this review may be of service to. If you're sitting there wondering if it's as good as some say or as weak as others claim, allow me to further cloud the waters that Jon Schaffer and crew have set sail on.
Iced Earth is now on its fourth vocalist, and this album is the first one written and recorded with the knowledge that Tim "Ripper" Owens would be the man behind the mike. I'm old (school), I grew up thinking high-pitched, shrieking vocals were the epitome of Metal, so I'm fond of Ripper's style, whether he's belting it out in his gritty mid-range or wailing away like a cat in heat. I realize many of you young whipper-snappers that grew up from the late-'80s-on think cookie-monster death gurgles are the epitome of Metal and all this screeching is "gay" - so I'm not gonna bother trying to convince you otherwise since first impressions are the longest lasting. I can only say that Ripper is really sounding like he belongs in the band now - whether that's because the music has been written with him in mind or simply because Matt Barlow has been gone so long, I cannot say - but Tim delivers a tour de force of trad metal vocals on here, and he does introduce some vocal cadences that sound new to the band (while delivering plenty that have Jon's usual style of following the melody).
Of course, this has always been Schaffer's band. That said, there's little different going on musically than in the past (but isn't that what having a signature sound is all about?). Jon's various guitar stylings are all present and accounted for, as is his penchant for penning long, multi-faceted (if not multi-dimensional) songs. The band's trademark rapid-fire rhythm guitars still abound as does the meaty chugga-chugga riffage and deep, resonating acoustics. Schaffer remains a rock solid guitarist and few of the songs here are interrupted with any leads, but those that do crop up are melodic and bluesy or somewhat flashy and pyrotechnic. There are a handful of cool accouterments like violins, massive crowd chants, bells, bongos, organs, Middle Eastern-tinged vocal choirs and spooky storms that add spice to the quieter sections.
"Framing Armageddon - Something Wicked Part 1" is yet another concept album, a sequel (prequel?) to 1998's "Something Wicked This Way Comes" - so there are various musical motifs found here that cropped up in the first chapter of the story (or whatever chapter it was - I have a lousy voice-over cardboard promo with no lyrics, so I don't know what the band is actually up to here and frankly don't care enough to research it. Ya wanna pay me to write these reviews, I'll spend the time and delve through the bullshit, but when the label sends out crap, I'm not motivated to do the work for them). The overall pace of the record is on the slow and plodding side, hinting at the upcoming maelstrom that may arise in the next chapter of the story (slated for release early next year). That said, there are still speedy sections, but they are in the relative minority. The album as a whole is an epic beast, thanks to the massive production, superb mix and use of all those aural accents.
As far as I'm concerned, this is another fine slab of traditional metal that every fan of the genre should enjoy on numerous levels. Love him or hate him, Jon Schaffer knows how to make a killer metal album, and so does Ripper Owens. If this record is any indication, the future is very bright for this team of metallic vets. Pretty cool that guys that have been around the scene so long are still committed to making traditional metal and doing such a remarkable job of making it sound vital and rich. Yup - I'm a fan. Haters be damned.
Ten Thousand Strong