Review Summary: Iced Earth delivers a riveting ride on horseback through a bloody American History.
"Revenge is not Justice. It's the Reckoning. This time it's for blood. Don't tread on me."
I feel the need to sing praise to this album since it's nice and fresh in my mind. I heard the entire thing today. And, what's most impressive about this recording is obviously the one thing that everyone calls attention to - - The 'Gettysburg 1863' Trilogy. Weighing in around 32 minutes, I sincerely think this might be the BEST Progressive/Epic Metal that I've EVER heard. And, no, I'm not exaggerating. Neither would it be an overstatement to cite and revere the production value on this album. It’s the very best obtainable with the current technology. Hats off to Jim Morris and John Schaffer for delivering an incredibly tight product here. If ya'll have the time and the desire to listen, the best way to take in this powerful Epic is from start to finish, through a nice pair of headphones. I rode the cross-trainer today at the gym, so I got to hear every subtle nuance of this masterful recording, unencumbered. And this thing is loaded with nuance, although I doubt anyone would refer to what goes on here as 'subtlety‘. This is a full-throttle, traditional Heavy Metal recording with Thrash underpinnings. Yet, being full and rich, it's not overpowering like a 'Blind Guardian' album. No wall of sound here. That would have clouded and destroyed some fantasic writing and arranging. There's plenty of separation amongst the instruments. And, there’s plenty of instruments to be had, as Schaeffer chooses to employ a full orchestra, in lieu of a litany of keyboards. I think the reason why this particular recording succeeds so admirably, and possibly proves to be Schaffer's finest moment, is because of the writer's intense interest and involvement with the subject matter. Inside and out, this guitarist knows his Civil War History.
Schaffer knows this particular era in American History well, and, has taken great effort to document and detail one particular battle, during one particular weekend, towards the end of the Civil War. I think that the writer completely captures the darkness and intensity of this extremely bloody time in our nation’s past. This piece is highly emotional. Each movement flows seamlessly into the next, keeping the tension building throughout. The epic structures he uses here are very successful in keeping the listener pinned to the speakers, anticipating what just might be coming next in the storyline. And, the Metal is unrelenting too. Not one minute of down-time during the entire outing. Progressive Metal is usually a solitary experience, used by the listener as a decent background while surfing the net and such. Usually heard at a time when the sprawling patterns and shifting tempos can be fully digested without interruption. This piece is more concise than typical Prog-Metal and doesn’t warrant as much cerebral attention. Today, this album kept me riveted from beginning to end in a Gym full of people. Pumped me up for a good, thorough workout. So, it’s not what one typically equates with the genre. But, deeply progressive, nonetheless. Instead of being a clumsy and turgid burden like many progressive Epics quickly become, I was actually dismayed when this piece came to a close.
And, what a strong, strong close as well. The ending where General Lee realizes that he’s been beat and begins to retreat is the most intense part of the entire three sections. The closing lyrics, and riveting vocal delivery by ‘Ripper’ Owens as the character of General Lee are emotionally moving, and, at the same time, deeply disturbing. You are left with the imagery of a battlefield full of dead soldiers when the piece finally closes. Vibrant and clear imagery. Not a pleasant picture, but nonetheless, an event that actually transpired. And, once the piece was finished, I was literally filled with the desire to start the thing right back up again. And, besides this recording, there hasn’t been any other music that I've wanted to hear twice in a row. Schaeffer and the rest of Iced Earth pull off a monster, Progressive Metal feat with this ‘Gettysburg 1863’ trilogy. And, it’s done with the utmost class and sophistication. This thing could stand alone as a piece of Classical Music, or as a Heavy Metal Symphony. As I stated above, Schaeffer chooses to use a ‘full orchestra’ instead of keyboards here. But, if you haven’t heard this recording yet, please don’t fret. The orchestra is used sparingly throughout the Trilogy, and only enhances the overall intensity of the piece, without detracting in the least from the pounding metallic riffs. This trilogy, first and foremost, is a nice fat slab of Heavy Metal. The distinctive Iced Earth brand of galloping, staccato rhythms are present everywhere. And, the rest of this album is nothing to scoff at either. There’s at least two other songs that sound just like they might have been part of this Trilogy - ‘Declaration Day’ and ‘Valley Forge’ capture the same core sound and direction. ‘The Reckoning’ is the best choice for a single, even though it’s by far the thrashiest thing on here. There’s melody to be had everywhere. And, tracks like ‘Red Baron/Blue Max’ and ‘Green Face’ absolutely just flat out destroy. Overall, a really satisfying album, steeped in the recurring themes of war. Totally worth experiencing.