Iced Earth – The Crucible Of Man (Something Wicked Pt.2) (2008)

Iced Earth – The Crucible Of man (Something Wicked Pt.2) (2008, SPV)

  1. In Sacred Flames
  2. Behold The Wicked Child
  3. Minions Of The Watch
  4. The Revealing
  5. A Gift Or A Curse
  6. Crown Of The Fallen
  7. The Dimension Gauntlet
  8. I Walk Alone
  9. Harbinger Of Fate
  10. Crucify The King
  11. Sacrificial Kingdoms
  12. Something Wicked (Part 3)
  13. Divide And Devour
  14. Come What May
  15. Epilogue

Band Lineup:
Matt Barlow – Vocals
Jon Schaffer – Guitars & Backing Vocals
Troy Steele – Guitars
Brent Smedley – Drums
Freddie Vidales – Bass

Total Time = 59:15

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I have had such a hard time being an Iced Earth fan for the last decade. The material that founder/guitarist Jon Schaffer has been a bit lackluster since 1998′s opus SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t get into the HORROR SHOW album in 2001 even though I did like the monster concept. I thought TRIBUTE TO THE GODS was a decent record of covers but an unnecessary stop-gap in between studio albums. Then we got a new record, and a new singer, with the Civil War themed/Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens sung THE GLORIOUS BURDEN (2004). I thought that was a terrible album so, when Schaffer announced plans for a continuation of the SOMETHING WICKED concept in 2007 with FRAMING ARMAGEDDON, I was skeptical. FRAMING ARMAGEDDON was another collaboration with Tim Owens and it turned out to be a solid album, an album that sounded like it was made a decade earlier but with a different singer. Part two of the SOMETHING WICKED concept is the new album, THE CRUCIBLE OF MAN, that marks the return of vocalist Matt Barlow to the band…..something many fans have been waiting for. I’m sure many fans will debate the album’s merits as they pertain to Matt Barlow’s vocal style compared to Tim Owens’ style, Barlow is the classic Iced Earth singer and his leaving the band in 2002 to pursue a career in law enforcement was stunning. It’s obvious that the sound of Iced Earth has a lot to do with Barlow, the band’s best albums have been recorded with him at the mic, but there also seems to be a creative chemistry that Schaffer and Barlow have that has been missing the last few years. Not taking anything away from Tim Owens, he did a good job, but Barlow is the natural fit.

The sound of the album is typical Iced Earth, who have been described at times as being the American version of Iron Maiden. I’m not sure I would put Iced Earth close to Maiden’s legendary status but the influences are definitely there. Most of the album is full blown Power Metal full of powerful guitars, galloping rhythms and bombastic choruses but there is also orchestration and choir vocals that add another layer to the band’s sound. Honestly, the band isn’t really breaking any new ground with their sound. You could go back and listen to SOMETHING WICKED from ’98 and there really wouldn’t be much of a difference between both albums, they are both done well. The main difference for the rejuvenation of the band is the return of Matt Barlow, his deep voice just suits the band so well, not taking anything away from Ripper Owens who also has an amazing voice.

‘In Sacred Flames’ is an instrumental intro, complete with male & female choir vocals and strings, that builds music until the opening riff of ‘Behold The Wicked Child’, the song that signals Barlow’s triumphant return to the fold. hearing that opening guitar and Matt’s vocals soaring, I knew right away that this would be a special album. I also like the female vocals and choir accompaniment that are included to give the song an epic feel. This is a concept album so every song continues along a certain pattern and style and sometimes into each other: ‘Minions Of The Watch’ flows right into ‘The Revealing’ and both are fast Power Metal marches that are signature Iced Earth. The band slows things down a little with ‘A Gift Or A Curse’ but it is still heavy as it builds up, Barlow’s deep style is perfect for the ebb and flow between the slower passages and the faster ones. This is the type of song that I really enjoy because it gives the band another dimension, some diversity from straight up Power Metal.

It’s toward the middle of the record that I start to get the feeling that I’ve heard it all before. ‘Crown Of The Fallen’ and ‘The Dimension Gauntlet’ sound like continuations of previous songs rather than individual songs. ‘I Walk Alone’ is the first single (as heard on the I WALK AMONG YOU E.P.) and it’s a solid song that gives a solid overview of the album as a whole: plenty of guitars, multi-tracked vocals, Matt Barlow’s delivery. Same goes for the slowed down ‘Harbinger of Fate’, it’s basically the same formula except at a slower pace. Nine songs have passed with six to go and everything is getting predictable, all the songs are starting to sound the same. ‘Crucify The King’ and ‘Sacrificial Kingdoms’ sound like combinations of the previous tracks and they aren’t that good. ‘Something Wicked (Pt.3)’ is mid-paced and follows the same formula while ‘Divide And Devour’ gets faster and more aggressive. Of the last six songs, it’s the best one due to it’s heaviness and there really isn’t much orchestration, etc. until mid-way through the solo section. At over 7 minutes, ‘Come What May’ is the album’s longest song and I’m pretty much done by the time it’s over because there really isn’t anything new. ‘Epilogue’ is the closing instrumental.

Bottom Line:
I really wanted this album to be great and it is if you want a complete retro package of songs that sound close to the songs from 1998. Maybe that’s the whole point? Maybe the pressure from the fans (and it’s been there for years) to bring Matt Barlow back and return to the older sound made Schaffer and company get too retro? Listening to this daily for close to 2 months now I find myself really liking the record one day and getting bored with it the next. Some days I find it expertly done and better than FRAMING ARMAGEDDON and other days I think it’s not as good. I’m on the fence I guess so I’ll call this a “grower”, it’s going to take more spins to get through the second half of the album when it all starts to sound the same. It’s definitely a solid album through the first nine songs and better overall than THE GLORIOUS BURDEN and HORROR SHOW. What I’d like to see is the Schaffer/Barlow team get into something other than concept albums, maybe NOT doing one is a good idea?

Favorite Songs: ‘Behold The Wicked Child’, ‘Minions Of The Watch’, ‘The Revealing’, ‘A Gift Or A Curse’, ‘I Walk Alone’, ‘Divide And Devour’