Review Summary: The Stormrider is coming for you! Combining thrash, progressiveness and power metal to create an all-around memorable experience, this album slays.
Iced Earth emerged in the late 80's and in 1991, they released their self-titled debut. Combining thrash with the NWOBHM, it showed that Iced Earth had potential. Unfortunately, it was marred by poor vocals, average drumming and a nearly non-existent bass, and it faded away quickly in the scene that was dominated by bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. However, just a year later, the band released the fantastic, Night of the Stormrider
, which improves every single possible element where the other record faltered. Powerful vocals, much more effective drum work, and excellent, audible bass lines were all included, producing one of the best albums of their career to this day. Of course, one should not forget the guitar work, which features some of the best rhythm guitar work the genre has to offer from Jon Schaffer and enchanting leads from Randall Shawver.
The album begins on a strong note with the aggressive, speedy, gruff "Angels Holocaust". Right away, vocalist John Greely (who would later be replaced by the even better Matt Barlow) introduces his fantastic range and riling delivery. Throughout the album, he alternates (sometimes combining) between passionate, melancholy, melodic cleans and a harsher, shouting, thrash offering. Weaved into these are shrieking, Rob Halford/Bruce Dickinson-esque, banshee-like howls (Check "The Path I Choose" and "Travel In Stygian" for some of the best examples) and low, gravelly, growl-like croaks. Greely shows that he is adept in all these fields and delivers them with unbridled intensity throughout the record. As far as lyrical content goes, the album tells a story of a man (The Stormrider) who experienced religious betrayal, then used nature as a weapon to bring hardship to Earth and then was condemned to an eternity in hell, only to realize his mistake when it was already too late. Lines such as "Storming demons travel through the night, The time is almost here, I lay in a jacket of steel, My scream no one hears"
(From "Stormrider") and "Through the sands of time I'm marching on, The blistering rays of hate strengthen me, The violent mass has shown my destiny, Does all of this justify the rage inside"
(From "Desert Rain") bring the story to life. A truly exemplary performance behind the mic, a trend that would continue for Iced Earth for several years.
It is a rather rare sight in metal when the rhythm guitarist gets mentioned before the lead shredder. This is one of those times, as Jon Schaffer writes and performs some of the finest rhythm guitar riffs heard up until this point (This would continue through several more Iced Earth records). They match the theme of the music perfectly and at times even overpower the solos when they are churned out. Two short, acoustic ballads also make themselves known, "Before the Vision" and "Reaching the End". These are terrific and are accented by Greely's soaring clean vocals. Lead guitar duties are held by Randall, and his solos and leads are enthusiastic and melodic. However, he does get overshadowed at times by Schaffer's spectacular rhythm guitar wizardry. Schaffer also provides backing vocals on the tracks, matching Greely with precision and adding to the force that the vocals portray. Overall, the guitarists impress on every facet, and this record should be picked up by all rhythm guitarists looking into thrash or power metal, the riffs are phenomenal.
The rhythm section produces a tight, balanced attack for the fret-boards and vocals to bounce off of. Drummer Rick Secchiari delivers a solid, reliable showing that speeds the album through its length. Proficient double bass licks and ambitious, rapid fills dominate his performance on the kit. Check "Desert Rain' for one of his best presentations on the album. Last, but not least is bassist Dave Abell, who yields several memorable bass lines that are completely audible when they make themselves known. The record is a consistent performance from all the band members. Keyboards, performed by Roger Huff, also infiltrate their way into some of the songs, adding extra atmosphere into their respective offerings. Another noteworthy section is the choir-led orchestra piece that emphasizes "Angels Holocaust's" aura and adds a new level of enjoyment to the track.
On the topic of noteworthy tracks, one of the most memorable would have to be the closing, nine minute and nineteen second "Travel In Stygian". This track shows all of the elements that the album has to offer and really emphasizes them to great effect. Greely churns out one of his best vocal showings on the album, the beginning of which really reminds one of the title track of Judas Priest's Painkiller
. Some of the lyrics include, "Was all of it worth eternal pain, The path you chose to live in vain, The river Styx is calling your number, The hot winds of Hell breathe your name"
and "I couldn't move, couldn't scream for help, Out of the darkness it reached for me, And that's when it planted the evil seed, And that's when I saw my destiny"
. These embody the song's image perfectly and enhance its mood significantly. Other powerful songs include the opening trio of "Angels Holocaust", "Stormrider" and "The Path I Choose", and the duo of "Mystical End" and "Desert Rain", the second of which challenges the aforementioned "Stygian" for the best song on the album. As with all albums of this talent though, the entire album is devoid of weak tracks, and is entertaining from top to bottom.
To all fans of thrash, NWOBHM and power metal, check Night of the Stormrider
out right now if you haven't. Standout guitar work and terrific vocals dominate the sound of the album from beginning to end, and really make it a must-have within the genre. Many different ambiances are added to this album, and it makes for an enjoyable listen throughout. Night of the Stormrider
gets a 4.5 out of 5.