Review Summary: Iced Earth release their most tepid, unmoving album in years. A classic example of concept album bloat syndrome.
The change of a vocalist for a band usually is a breaking point in the career of that same band. For example, the addition of Bruce Dickinson really catapulted Iron Maiden into the mainstream. Now what does this have to do with Iced Earth, you ask? Well, Iced Earth lost their Matt Barlow to the police force in 2003, who was revered as the singer that brought success to Iced Earth, and took records such as the classic "Burnt Offerings" and "Horror Show" to a new level. Replacing him was Tim Owens (ex-Judas Priest), who for the second time in his life, had to step in the shoes of a highly acclaimed vocalist.
We can safely say, with the second record since this change, that Iced Earth have not recovered from the loss of Matt Barlow. Whereas The Glorious Burden had some gems in a sea of mediocrity (Declaration Day, the Gettysburg trilogy), on this album all of those gems seem to have been forgotten. Every single actual song (don't worry, I'll get to the interludes soon enough), revels in a slow, plodding tempo, unmemorable vocal lines, and uncreative song structures. There is not a single chorus stuck in my head after the duration of this 70 minute disc. It's not that Owens is a bad singer, either; he is neither annoying to listen to if he uses his regular voice nor does he hit any notes that sound offkey, it's just that whatever he's singing is instantly forgettable.
Musically this album doesn't fare any better than it does vocally. Riffs sound recycled, drawn out, or they are quite simply boring and lack the fury of earlier releases. Where is the Schaffer that wrote riffs like the one for Violate, Angels Holocaust, Last December, or Jekyll & Hyde? Where is the thrashing, the palm muting, the heaviness, the aggression? On most songs it should be sacrificed for melody, but next to aggression there is no melody either: it's all quite, quite, well, boring. A prime example would be "A Charge to Keep." The chorus is unmemorable (the use of a choir hurts more than it helps), the song is slow and plodding, and no lead guitar or melody brings the song up either: by the end you've forgotten and skipped to the next track (assuming you made it to the end.)
Adding to the sea of misery found on the rest of this album is the fact it's actually a concept album based on the history of mankind, in some sort of extraneous, ridiculous science-fiction setting. As if that wasn't enough typical power metal cheese for one year, Schaffer decided to add several useless one-minute interludes that "should help further the story". With the exception of the instrumental Something Wicked Part 2, which has a cool folky tribal atmosphere, the rest is just as annoying as all the 30-second interludes from Schaffer's German comrades Blind Guardian (Nightfall in Middle-Earth, anyone?). Why, Schaffer, why did you not use all the time to create one memorable song for the album, rather than five minutes of extra boredom?
Luckily the album picks up somewhat towards the end. After we've passed the "epic" (read: boring 5 minutes of acoustic pseudo-melodic trite and four minutes of uninspired midtempo riffing) The Clouding, the album finally shifts into high gear. The sole highlights of the album, are the instrumental Something Wicked Part 2 (I mentioned that before), and finally two thrashers by the names of Domino Decree and Framing Armageddon. Sadly they don't close the album on a high note as the need is felt to draw out the album to 70 minutes with yet another uninspired, tepid song about the rise of Set Abominae, and a bonus ***ty outro with some Gregorian chanting.
Forget that this is a concept album. Forget that this is the once mighty Jon Schaffer who released this album. Forget that this is Iced Earth, a band with one of the most solid legacies in heavy metal. This album is an example pur sang of concept album bloat syndrome, and the worst bit is there is going to be a part two. Here's hoping that will be a lot more interesting, captivating, and inspires a motivation of man to listen to it. This one doesn't.