Later this year Iced Earth will release the first part of a double album concerning the band's mascot, Set Abominae. That cd will be titled Framing Armageddon (Something Wicked Pt 1). However, these releases refer back to an album from earlier in Iced Earth history, when Matt Barlow still sung for the band. The disc of which I speak is none other than Something Wicked This Way Comes.
The band introduces Set Abominae at the end of the album with a trilogy of songs relating to the birth of this man. And it is here that the band shows some of its best material (although the rest of the cd is chock full of good songwriting), and it culminates in the awesome The Coming Curse. Perhaps not matching the length of that other Iced Earth classic, Dante's Inferno, but it definitely rivals the song in intensity, melody and strength. From the beautiful piano beginning to the evil riffs in the chorus, the band again fully manages to pull off its trademark sound without ever giving off the vibe of repetition. Of course, it's a formula, but it's a unique one that works for the band, and it's no different here.
Matt Barlow is perhaps the exemplification of the effectiveness of this formula. His ability to hit notes on either end of the musical spectrum is just fascinating and nearly unprecedented. He shouts and screams in insane falsetto vocals one moment, then returns to earth for some melodious beautiful singing (yes, this man can SING), and on top of it he can do the aggressive thrash vocals too. The best example of this is perhaps Blessed Are You. He sings some gorgeous versus, but bellows terrific singalong notes in the chorus.
And he is accompanied by one of the best rhythm guitarists in metal. Jon Schaffer has a penchant for thinking up riffs that always work no matter what, and his trademark guitar sound is deep and chugging, a bit like Metallica riffs, but with better production and just more chunky overall. Check out Disciples Of The Lie for example, or Stand Alone: the songs are driven by Schaffers powerful chords and riffs, and they just give the band their signature sound. Larry Tarnowsk's lead skills are not out of the wazoo, but he can certainly shred out his notes, and displays a quite satisfactory degree of technicality to ensure he is more than just another band member on here. It also ensures he isn't drowned out in the rhythm guitar violence and overwhelming vocals that just tend to dominate all over the place.
That signature sound is just all over the album. It ranges from thrash monsters like Disciples Of The Lie to epic tempo-changing masterpieces such as the coming curse, and culminates in probably the most emotional song the band has ever put out in Watching Over Me. A lament dedicated to a good friend of Schaffer's who died in a motorcycle accident, Barlow's powerful vocals and Schaffer's guitar skills carry the song to extreme heights without ever sounding cheesy. Sure, lyrically, you could want a little more, but the song is pulled off with aplomb, and there aren't many bands who could tackle a heavy topic like that effectively, I take my hat off to the lads on this one.
All in all this combines to a great Iced Earth release. It isn't as overly bombastic as Burnt Offerings, but it's pure ***ing heavy metal the way Jon likes to play it, and in my opinion should be played. In a world of spoon-fed emotion, intelligence can save, as Barlow shouts on Stand Alone, and truer words were never spoken. Iced Earth take their own advice and in doing so deliver another milestone of their career that can and should be hailed as a classic album in their impressive discography.