Review Summary: A great blend of power and thrash metal featuring one of metal's most amazing rhythm guitarists
Before all the Triviums, the Avenged Sevenfolds and Bullet for my Vallentines of this world, and all those bands tagged as the "new Metallica" or the "new Iron Maiden", the first band to be claimed as such was Iced Earth, about 16 years ago, after the release of their second album, Night of the Stormrider.Of course it was a different time back then and the metal world was not as eager to find Metallica's and Iron Maiden's heirs. So instead of a boost from Kerrang or Metal Hammer, Iced Earth only got themselves a hardcore fan base that got bigger little by little and after years of hard work on behalf of the band. Eventually, Iced Earth managed to make a relevant commercial success but they made it having changed significantly their style, and certainly they didn't succed as "new Metallica" or "new Iron Maiden". But that's a whole other story.
Released in 1992, Night of the Stormrider surely confirms the proclamation(new Metallica/Maiden). From the Carmina Burana variation intro of Angels' Holocaust to the last moments of Travel in Stygian, it is an album full of fast galloping riffs(performed by Hetfield- like thrashy guitars), long epic tracks, numerous instrumental sections and melodic lead guitars, either twin or solo. No surprise critics soon compared them to the aforementioned legendary bands.
Lyrically, this concept album tells the story of a man who turns away from religion betrayed, and whose anger becomes the instrument for evil forces to bring destruction to the world. When his task is accomplished, he is damned, and only then he realizes what he's done. It's an average story. Nevertheless it helps the band's epic and angry sound unfold.
What strikes you immediately about this album is the guitar work. Jon Schaffer played his complex riffs so accurately and fast that he soon became a rhythm guitar legend (second only to James Hetfield, because the latter could sing over his riffs at the same time). For all rhythm guitar players, this is a trully endearing record. However, it's not Jon Schaffer's ability to perform his riffs that matters here. It's his ability to write overwhemingly powerful guitar parts, to create the right dynamics, to tie every riff with each other creating long tracks with relatively few vocal lines and long instrumental sections that somehow could not get boring (with few exceptions).
In that sense, tracks like Pure Evil, Desert Rain and Travel in Stygian can only impress. Incorporating 3 records worth of riffs and melodies, the instrumental power of these tracks makes the vocals feel complemental or (for those who actually enjoy John Greely' s voice) mere icing on the cake. Still, Iced Earth don' t always need 7 minutes or more to display their power; Angels' Holocaust, with its vicious riffing and dark atmosphere into which you' re drawn by the very intro and the title track with Jon Schaffer's vocals and the heavy Powerslave vibe became instant power metal classics and a must for every Iced Earth live since then.
Now I know many will disagree , but in my head Night of the Stormrider is an album of obvious flaws as well. First of all, the album seems to drag a little during The Path I Choose and Mystical End.They seem to be the least coherent tracks, as far as structure is concerned.But the most important flaw to me is John Greely' s vocals. He is not a bad vocalist, he's better than the band's previous singer, still his performance cannot help elevate the songs, like Mat Barlow (or Tim Owens) would latter do. For this reason (and for the better production), I believe Night of the Stormrider 's songs showed their true strength in 1997's Days of Purgatory, with Mat Barlow doing a great job.
Given that the first half of the 90's wasn't the best time for metal bands, especially for those with a somewhat more traditional sound, it's easily understood why Night of the Stormrider didn't meet any instant success, forcing Jon Schaffer to put the band on hiatus for more than two years, before he returned enraged with 1995's Burnt Offerings and then gradually changed the band's style, drawing away from its riff- centered sound. It remains though that Night of the Stormrider is a great blend of power and thrash metal. And to me it seems that if an album like that (or the next one even more) were to be released today, the whole quest for next 'Tallicas and Maidens would have ended abruptly.