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When one thinks of thrash metal, fans immediately think of the big four: Metallica, Slayer, Megadeath, and Anthrax (maybe to a lesser extent Testament as well), and upon thinking of those bands, fans will most likely remember cornerstone albums such as Master of Puppets, Peace Sells..., Reign in Blood, Rust in Peace, Ride the Lightning, etc. But the success and influences of those albums often overshadow another important, yet underrated thrash band: Iced Earth. True, they're often thought more of as a power metal band, but mixing elements of both thrash and power metal is their claim to fame, and they did so almost perfectly with Burnt Offerings.
As the scary looking album art and title Burnt Offerings would suggest, the music is very dark, often with doom-inspired lyrics which would make one question: this is a power metal album? Not quite. The riffs and drumming are speedy, heavy, dark, and intense, making this more of a thrash metal album, but instead of relying on aggressive hardcore punk-inspired power chords, the guitars have a cleaner and more polished sound rather than being overly crunchy or grinding. The band also throws in a few dashes of keyboards to give it a bit of melody to its overall dark and brooding sound. Then-debuting lead singer Matt Barlow also avoids relying on aggressive rasps and barks like James Hetfield or Tom Araya, rather using a majestic sounding baritone often more traditional in power and progressive metal mixed with high shrieks reminiscent of Rob Halford along with dark and evil-sounding growls.
A good number of the songs also often offer soft, brief moments of ambiance and tranquility, most notable in Dante's Inferno, the power ballad The Pierced Spirit, Last December, and the title track. However, these soft moments are dark and brooding, foreshadowing the eventual blistering riffs and fierce double bass pedaling. It is these moments as well as more melodic singing by Matt Barlow that really sets this album apart from other thrash metal outfits. Instead of over-relying on fierce power chords and aggressive vocals, the action is split up into periods of power and tranquility and presents surprising creativity through progressive-like changes in melody and tempo midway through songs. This is what prevents the album from peaking halfway through or ever sounding repetitive, which is unfortunately a trap many thrash bands fall into. If one needs proof, this style is most evident in the final song, the sixteen minute-and-a-half epic Dante's Inferno. By utilizing the soft/loud technique with suspenseful ambiance followed by relentless aggression and gradual changes in tempo and in melody as well as the vivid descriptions of the circles of Hell, one truly feels as if they are traveling with Dante and Virgil.
While metal fans will always look to Metallica and Slayer as the kings of thrash metal and their early releases as the epitome of the genre, Burnt Offerings will always remain an underrated, yet rightful candidate for one of the best thrash albums of all time. Excellent rapid-fire instrumentation with flares of melody, majestic and dark vocals, and masterful storytelling make this album an unrecognized classic.
The first I ever heard from Iced Earth, the band surrounding mastermind Jon Schaffer, were a couple of songs from “Night of the Storm Rider” and I immediately started loving the band’s intricate, thrashing riffs combined with a gloomy, epic feel to the general mix. The singer was good, but nothing outstanding. A few years later I got “The Dark Saga”. A different singer was on board and this time I was impressed by the vocals. Matt Barlow is to me to this day one of the best singers in metal. His very deep tone as well as his capability of combining melody with aggressiveness is truly a force to be reckoned with. I really liked the album, but to a certain degree I also missed the riffing style of “Night of the Storm Rider”. Anyhow, eventually I came across “Burnt Offerings” which was actually recorded before “The Dark Saga” and that was it!
Probably Iced Earth’s “meanest” album, “Burnt Offerings” overflows with aggressiveness and darkness and includes the two things that truly got my attention from the band in the first place: the aforementioned intricate, powerful riffing and Barlow’s vocals. All instruments are played very proficiently and besides taking care of his guitar duties, Schaffer also acts as a backing vocalist in several tracks, and he has a more than decent voice for that role.
The title track is meant to be scary, and at least at the beginning it brings to memory the music of several horror films like The Omen and The Exorcist (which comes as no surprise, since the very title of the song/album is taken from a horror film), and after the spooky intro it hits the listener with a massive, brutal guitar riff. Other songs that I’d like to mention here are “Brainwashed”, a powerful attack against organized belief systems, and “Diary” that's heavy, powerful, and also introduces melodic, though not at all mellow, passages, which add to the dark and sinister atmosphere of the music. However, the obvious highlight of this record is the epic, 16 minute track “Dante’s Inferno”. Inspired by the “Inferno” section of Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy, this track, as in the book, takes one through the nine levels of hell, both lyrically and musically. Many may consider a piece this long quite hard to digest, but it has so many rhythm changes, build ups, and tension and release dynamics that at least for me it’s really appealing.
Mythology, dark fantasy, anguish, terror, anger, and a bit of social criticism. All in all, this is a truly remarkable effort by a great band and the debut of Matt Barlow in Iced Earth. That alone is worth a listen.
The subject of Lucifer and metal music is all but joined at the hip. The persona surrounding the figure in question is, by far, the most conducive to the notion of dark imagery and the Byronic hero type which captures the rabid individualism that has always defined the style. But somewhat less considered is the other version of this ubiquitous specter, that being the colossal adversary and his terrifying domain rendered in more of a classical Greek/Roman style, such as Dante's Inferno. The crossroads of ancient Mediterranean paganism and Augustinian theology make for an enticing tableau, one that is capable of both admiring and also criticizing the various institutions of Christianity and the lore surrounding them, as ironically many Augustinians have ended up doing in light of constant ideological shifts within the churches.
Jon Schaeffer's rendering of this classic piece of Medieval literature, alongside a host of related subjects in "Burnt Offerings", does a strong justice to the "between two worlds" mentality that Dante Alighieri channeled from Augustine's many literary works, along with that of the epic Roman poet Virgil's "Aeneid". It is built off of a very similar collage of rapidly galloping riffs that structured the foundation and many columns of "Night Of The Stormrider", but translates them into a denser atmosphere and marries them to a different harmonic tendency that is closer to classical chamber or even church music. From an overall complexity standpoint, it is a bit simpler and more modern than its predecessor, but melodically it is actually a bit more elaborate, as well as twice as dramatic.
The assertions of this being the band's first representation of power/thrash metal is misleading, as it fails to account for the latent power metal tendencies of previous works, and also undercuts the massive paradigm shift that occurred immediately following this album. It can be qualified as transitional in that it showcases a slightly catchier tendency, and it also presents the polarizing figure in Matt Barlow, the soon to be voice of what is regarded by most as the glory days of Iced Earth, in all his bellowing baritone glory. To be fully forthcoming, Barlow's voice is not in line with the traditional thrash metal paradigm of a gritty snarl with only occasional clean singing the way John Greely or Gene Adam were, nor does he fully fit into even the rawer German power metal sound as exemplified by Hansi Kursch and Rolf Kasparek. He's sort of off in his own realm, sporting a deep and forbidding operatic voice with a surprisingly capable high range that rivals a number of Halford imitators, particularly when considering the glass shattering shrieks heard on "Burning Oasis" and "Creator Failure".
As this album is unveiled, a latent tendency towards a ballad atmosphere plays back and forth with what is otherwise a uniform exercise in neck snapping mayhem. The opening title song reaches back the most blatantly towards the "Stormrider" sound, featuring Schaeffer's own gravely shouts alongside Barlow's melodramatic wails, but with it comes an intro that sounds like it was lifted off the soundtrack to "The Exorcist" and a flood of melodic lead guitar elements. "Diary" and "Brainwashed" have a little bit more of a slower groove tendency mixed in, but play heavily off of atmosphere and fully exploit Barlow's vocal capabilities. It is actually strange that Barlow's supposed vocal instruction occurred after this album, because this is probably his most impressive showing as a singer in his near 20 year career.
But for all of the incredible elements that are laid out during the various chapters in this impressive book of religious and societal peril, nothing comes close to rivaling the massive closer whose namesake inspired the various art works littering this album's jacket. "Dante's Inferno" arguably stands as not only the most ambitious work that Schaffer has ever put together, but as one of the crowning achievements of any thrash metal outfit. From the dreary intro that begins Virgil's and Dante's descent to the various spine-ruining twists and turns that follow, conjuring up a mishmash of Bay Area riffs and marrying it to an epic exterior not all that far off from "Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son", there is virtually no stone left unturned. Each level of Hell is brilliantly reinterpreted through a concise lyrical approach that allows Barlow to fully exploit his more aggressive capabilities, and here he actually comes the closest to sounding like a genuine thrash vocalist.
The best way to approach this album from a standpoint of Iced Earth's recent reputation as purveyors of a backward looking form of power metal is as a transitional effort, albeit one that sounds more like the better respected debut and sophomore efforts rather than what came later. The only thing that kind of hampers this album is that Jon Schaffer literally throws every idea he has at the listener, making for an album that can come off as ambitious almost to the point of arrogance. Much like the epic poem that this album draws influence from, the audience for it may be of a slightly more sophisticated disposition of most thrash and power metal fans, but it is still largely accessible. If nothing else, it beats most other editions of Cliff's Notes offered for anyone looking to brush up on Dante's masterpiece.
Jon Schaffer sure has had a long, ponderous career in making heavy metal; from the riff-a-minute tedium of Iced Earth’s first two albums (the highpoint of which being that guy’s voice that sounds like a parody of Tim Baker), to the trailer park “rockers & ballads” subtlety of Something Wicked This Way Comes. Yes, we’ve heard it all and found it quite amusing. And just when sane minds were wondering how Schaffer would make his band even more ridiculous; the trailer park metal heavens parted, and he gave them the answer: unabashed ‘what would the founding fathers do?’ patriotism, the likes of which heavy metal had never seen. Anyone who can refrain from laughing at the likes of, post-9/11 shitey ballad, ‘When the Eagle Cries’ or even its music video alone certainly qualifies as “hard to amuse” in my book. Sadly, though, Schaffer’s reigned himself in a little lately -- when not content with completing trilogies that should have never been started -- since he’s releasing his Sons of Liberty project as a separate entity to Iced Earth, and through free downloads (if you name a cat “Barack” and drown it in the name of all that is Glenn Beck) meaning, sadly, that it won’t qualify for the archives -- so we’ll have to laugh at it in review format elsewhere, that is, unless he releases it on “true patriot only” collectors’ edition vinyl).
So what of Burnt Offerings, then? Well, it’s widely thought of, even by some of the band’s many detractors, as Iced Earth’s finest, and perhaps the sole testament to the band’s astounding popularity ( good distribution and bargain-bin prices, certainly play their part I think). Is there any truth in this? Hmmm, well, Matt Barlow’s certainly less astoundingly ridiculous than his two predecessors; but he doesn’t really have a great voice. Passable, sure, but hardly moving -- “unremarkable” does him justice, and at least his precursors had the gall to be amusing/awful. Barlow is mediocrity incarnate; a decent range, and he certainly doesn’t use his ‘talents’ to offend like some of his band-mates -- but that’s the end of it. Randall Schawver still is persisting with lead guitar (folks, if you’re going to learn how to play -- don’t do it during your allocated recording time); he’s more enjoyable that previous attempts, but still nowhere near touching greatness or even being enjoyable (unless we’re counting his somewhat comic leads in ‘Burning Oasis’). It’s beyond me why a band would hire such an astounding untalented guitarist. Schaffer, too, seems to have improved in that he’s given less licence to just hammer his way through anything that might have been construed as a good idea long before he decided that James Hetfield’s …And Justice For All guitar style wasn’t quite in-your-face enough for his liking. Ha, that’s probably why this is his least favourite of all their albums. And though they’ve improved on some of their flaws, it simply isn’t enough to cover up their downright shoddy craft from the discerning listener.
I like it how Iced Earth are given praise, in some very easily amused quarters, for playing power/thrash metal when it was hardly at its peak of popularity. Yes, the common phrase would be “Hey, Iced Earth played true metal when it was dead in the water!” Again, this is a quaint little phrase, as it seems a little misguided -- metal is all about the spirit (see: ‘Denim and Leather’) and Iced Earth have approximately none. Trying to find something that isn’t contrived, by-numbers and just strikingly uninspiring on an Iced Earth album is like searching for Tartan Paint in a hardware shop; completely and utterly fruitless (much like Scotland itself). If the only real pride one can find in Burnt Offerings is in some against-the-grain mentality -- then it is again fruitless as it neglects the important fact that going against the grain is only truly noteworthy when it produces something with artistic merit. So, indeed, praise Burnt Offerings for not being Anthrax-goes-grunge or Sepultura’s rather ‘interesting’ nineties experimentation with tribal music. You’d still have to get up pretty earlier in the morning (as in half-an-hour before you go to bed) before you’d convince me that this collective of mongoloids and their ‘true’ tepid metal is even halfway worthwhile.
Still, it’s not all bad -- some of it is rather middling, passable enough to be some sort of trailer part metal anthem; nothing excessively exciting, but reasonable. Indeed, the title-track is probably the highpoint of the band’s career. It doesn’t get too caught up in other peoples’ good ideas like ‘Angel’s Holocaust’ did and as such avoids being unduly cluttered (by their own messy standards, at least). It’s somewhat catchy, and even halfway sinister in places -- and whilst most of Iced Earth’s attempts at “dark power metal” come across as comic and rather quaint, this has its heart -- if Schaffer’s heart of stone counts -- in the right place. Sure, they still manages to ruin its own effectiveness with quasi-Hetfield riffs that really seem to be there to up the riff count. Other than that, though, the only other noteworthy song I can think of is ‘The Pierced Spirit’ which -- and this might be telling you something -- features no heavy riffs, shrieking vocals or anything but ho-hum piano and guitar work in the vein of, say, one of Black Sabbath’s earlier instrumentals. It’s pretty ok, really! Shame, then, that it leads into another one of those misguided “Heavy Metal For Dummies” epics that Iced Earth are so woefully reliant on.
It’s a common criticism that Iron Maiden are often accused of ponderous epics that have something of a primary-school-book-report vibe about them. I don’t personally follow the said viewpoint; ‘Rime of the Ancient Marinere’, for instance, is one of the greatest songs ever written… true to the poem it was inspired by, but “book report”? Never! The criticism does ring true of Iced Earth, though. It’s perhaps that Iced Earth are a touch too goofy to ever allow yours truly to get into some sort of escapist mindset -- but I’d say it’s just because Jon Schaffer couldn’t write a truly good song even if the beloved, hazy memory of the “Founding Fathers!” depended on it. Musically, it’s a step back to Night of the Stormrider, and we all know what a massive fan I am of that bloated ‘masterpiece’. Again, Schaffer regurgitates the thrash patterns and Randall Schawver goes “meedley meedley mee!” when the opportunity presents itself… and it all adds up to a big ball of nothingness. I suggest you imagine your very own heavy metal song -- it’ll certainly be more exciting that actually listening to another erroneous ‘epic’. Sure, it’s got riffs -- but none of them are particularly good, and it certainly doesn’t flow particularly well: ideas are changed because it seems like the right thing to do rather than any actual natural development in the song itself. Whilst doing some rather amusing ‘research’ for this review -- I looked into a couple of interviews with Iced Earth members; funnily enough, he-of-average voice, Matt Barlow said Mr Schaffer wrote like a fine horror writer. Presumably, however, I don’t think he meant like Garth Marenghi, I suppose if this can be considered fine song-writing then ‘Blood, blood, blood and bits of sick!’ is Shakespearian in contrast.
Whereas, Night of the Stormrider occasionally got its head in the right place when it came to less demanding material, Burnt Offerings fails even to do this. How much can go wrong in 3 minutes? Well, a whole lot if you happen to be Jon Schaffer. ‘The only way out is teenage suicide’? Love turned to obsession sounds like a pretty good topic for a song -- it should be wrought with passion and what have you. But, again, this is Iced Earth they sing about the apocalypse and still make it sound run-of-the-mill. I know, I simply expect too much!
What more can I say? Ponderous ‘epics’, riffs that rely on quantity rather than quality and a vocalist who seems far more pompous than passionate! Ha! Fuck off, Iced Earth!
There are many mysteries out there in the world. One of them would be why I keep buying Iced Earth albums considering how they have only released one good album this whole millennium (Horror Show). So here am I’m at home with one of the better Iced Earth albums Burnt Offerings. This album isn’t even my favorite Iced Earth album. This is more like my fourth favorite Iced Earth album (and they only have four albums out that I would rate higher than sixty percent).
This album is probably their slowest album now that I think about it. Pretty much every song on here opens up with some sort of acoustic intro or interlude. The verses in the songs are also slow especially when compared to most of the songs on Night of the Stormrider. It is a slower album; thankfully it has Matt Barlow on vocals to make up for that. He’s not overdramatic or anything on this album like he was on The Dark Saga, this album is hands down his strongest performance. He is a baritone singer, so his voice in generally low, although he does hit some high notes in a lot of songs, “Burning Oasis” and “Creator Failure” he sings at his highest. “Creator Failure” is the weakest song on here though, it’s too damn slow. Also in the last minute when Barlow is hitting those ridiculously high notes he sounds just annoying.
I don’t know why they decided to make this album so slow, for atmospheric reasons I guess. Yeah it does have a nice dark atmosphere, better than most thrash bands. Even though it is atmospheric it does get rather boring kind of fast. The guitars are mostly chugging, sometimes mid-paced other times slow as hell. Maybe they were going for groove or something for this slow album, but that only makes me ask why. Let’s face it, when you think about hell and damnation your thinking about groove.
If you wanted to sum up this album just listen to “Dante's Inferno”. It’s got it all, it’s slow, it has a good vocals performance, and it’s overlong. The song pretty much goes intro, slow verse, faster chorus, and another slow verse, another faster chorus only this time with chanting, slow verse and finally a demonic finale. The flaws in the song other than the fact that it’s overlong, the guitars mostly are chugging along the whole time excluding some solos. The acoustics five and a half minutes in feel unneeded, and it gets a little overdramatic before the ending of the song. With that being said it is one of the better songs on this album.
It is rather slow and sometimes feels a tad boring at times, but I can still see why this is considered to be their best album. But let’s face it, almost everything after this is pretty much boring and worthless…and I’m dumb enough to buy it all.
Sorry, NotS fans, but this is Iced Earths peak. Their best material is on this album, with a new vocalist to pick up the slack Greely left and push the bar to new heights (Though Schaffer would go downhill from here, but that's another story.) Burnt Offerings has got atmosphere, from the demonic title track to the mourning Pierced Spirit, you can feel an undercurrent of betrayal, vengeance and mysticism.
Starting out with a bang, BOs title track and opener is, as said before, demonic, but that really fails to describe how good this is. Matt Barlow (not sure if he did the actual lower pitched stuff, but whatever) goes first from an accusing, almost hurt type of voice, to demanding the 'offerings' described in the lyrics. The effect is just fantastic, and leaves the listener torn about whether the demon is a terrible creature or just a betrayed being.
After this, though, the songs aren't quite as unique for awhile. Last December is great, but seems kind of lacking after the stellar title track, Diary picks things up a bit with another solid performance by Barlow, and Brainwashed pushes it further with an excellent chorus (And maintaining Barlows streak of perfection) but the two songs after that just seem boring in comparison, mostly due to the fact that the songs start sounding samey at this point. Don't get me wrong they're still solid, but I can see how someone would get bored even earlier on, especially if they don't like Barlow.
Luckily, The Pierced Spirit shakes things up. This song is a solid ballad, but is really more notable for how it goes perfectly into the next track. Dantes Inferno, is quite simply the crowning achievement here. It contains all the peaks of this album with almost none of the lows. Granted there are some moments where it does drag out a bit, but it just seems to make what is good that much better.
Burnt Offerings does require a little warning though. Alot of what makes this album is Matt Barlow, if you don't like him, for whatever reason, you probably won't like this album. The rest of the band members don't really give nearly as much of a performance as Barlow. If, like me, you love Matt Barlows singing, then this album will be great for you as well.
Highlights: Burnt Offerings, Brainwashed, Dantes Inferno
Burnt Offerings was Iced Earth’s third album, released April 18, 1995, by Century Media Records. This album marked the introduction of legendary metal vocalist Matt Barlow. This album is incredible. Why? This album is pure evil ( pardon the pun ) and I will explain you why.
The album starts with a haunting keyboard intro to set the mood. You will hear a spoken line from Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the atmosphere created by the keyboard gets smashed by a aggressive riff. As it builds up, you will feel that something’s coming, and when it comes, it will knock you of your chair. Schaffer does some insane riffing and you will hear him sing, and after that you will hear Barlow. They switch with singing during the song as the riffing continues throughout the song. And I didn’t even mention the lyrics. According to interviews with Jon Schaffer, the title track is about the band’s struggles with Century Media. Well, Jon was probably very pissed at them when you hear those lyrics. ( ‘’True vengeance is on the rise The traitors shall be damned Cast their bodies to the flames ‘’ ). I didn’t even mention the crazy guitar solo after the softer part. This song is fantastic, one of the best Iced Earth songs.
Matt Barlow’s voice really stands out at the beginning of the following track called Last December. This song starts off with a nice acoustic intro, but after a while it gets a bit more heavy with some riffs and Matt’s voice gets a bit more aggressive. This song has a catchy chorus and great melodies. Matt Barlow’s scream halfway through makes this song even better. Diary kicks in with a slow and heavy chugging riff and gets interrupted by a creepy melodic section after a minute. When the first verse ends, a great drum fill introduces a much faster part, where Matt performs one of the highlights of this song with a primal scream. This faster part is once again driven forward by Schaffer’s riffing as the song continues to go uphill. Shawver plays a blistering solo during this track and a slow passage follows shortly after that, only to be followed by another fast part ending the song. This song is very catchy ( I will have her she’s mine! ) and is one of my favorites of the album.
The next song called Brainwashed is one of the slower songs of the album and starts with a eerie intro. After the intro the riffs enter the scene ( how surprising ) and Barlow starts singing. This song deals with the fallacies and hypocrisy of religion. Matt delivers a solid vocal performance on this song, he sounds pissed (”Do as I say or burn in Hell!” )and Jon does a good job with some backup vocals as well. The song has an acoustic break and it really fits in this song, this break is a great build-up to the last chorus.
“Burning Oasis” is probably the most underrated song on Burnt Offerings and I can’t say that I disagree. Don’t get me wrong, this song is killer, but not as good as the other stuff. Matt performs some high pitched screams during this song, he really shows his vocal range in this track. This song gets really good near the end with amazing vocals, cool lyrics and good riffing. The next song Creator Failure explodes right from the beginning ( there is even an explosion sample during the beginning ) and is another underrated song. The song has some enjoyable riff changes and Matt’s vocal performance is once again solid. The guitar work is once again very good and Matt delivers a demonic good performance near the end ( ‘’ Come to me my demon brother ‘’, I gotta say that part is a bit cheesy though. ).
Just like the previous album, Night of the Stormrider, the final track has an interlude. The interlude on this album is called The Pierced Spirit. This is the shortest song on the album, and plain brilliant. Barlow sings with plenty of emotion and sadness during this slow song. Jon Schaffer’s acoustic guitar adds to the atmosphere, accompanied by a piano. This is the perfect introduction for the grand finale of this album.
The final track of this album, Dante’s Inferno, is based on the famous epic poem The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. This song, is the best Iced Earth song, EVER. Seriously, Schaffer will never top this demonic, epic, brilliant song. This song has everything from the entire album, the evil, the hate, the anger, the sadness and of course fantastic riffs and manic soloing sections. The demonic nature of the album increases tenfold with this track as well, which is very good. This song grabs you by the neck and refuses to let go. And did I mention that this song is 16+ minutes long? Damn, this song is plain perfect. Each verse covers one of Dante’s Nine Levels of Hell as Schaffer does some grinding, thrashy riffing. The drumming is very good in this track as well, just as, like always, the vocals. The song even has some slow acoustic/melodic parts, only adding to the amazing atmosphere. The song gets even more evil near the end. Somewhere around 13 minutes the song starts building up towards the final layer of hell, the one with Lucifer. You will hear chants as the song continues a bit slower, with Matt describing the horror. The song reaches its most epic moment at around 14.40 with the LUCIFER part with both Matt and Schaffer singing. This part is the final section of the song and the eerie keyboard intro from the first track makes a re-appearance.
Conclusion - It’s been said that Jon Schaffer hates Burnt Offerings, but why!? This album is one of the best things he ever did, there is only one Iced Earth album that beats this one, and that is Night Of The Stormrider. My rating for this album shouldn’t come as a surprise. The only songs that don’t interest me that much are Burning Oasis and Last December, the rest is plain fantastic.
Rating – 92/100
Review written by me for my metal site, Metal Mania Online
During my days of metal infancy this was one of my favorite albums. It was accessible, and a lot of fun (at the time), and there's nothing wrong with being either, lots of the albums I enjoy now are too. I recently pulled this one out, remembering how much I used to enjoy it. Unfortunately, the flaws of this album were what my ears registered, and by the end of Dante's Inferno I was thoroughly pissed.
This album has potential, and loads of it. Iced Earth has potential - potential that they realized to superb effect in the previous album. But something goes drastically wrong in Burnt Offerings. It feels like they had a bunch of 3-4 minute songs and one 8 minute song that they weren't satisfied with - they felt they had to stretch em out, and did so by inserting random meaningless acoustic sections and interludes. And the result is a very confused mess. Maybe Jon Schaffer felt that it added to the atmospheric character of the music, but rather than that, they tend to become distractions.
Night of the Stormrider was a riff driven album; at not point did they seem short of another riff to fill the gap or to push the songs in new directions. They attempt something different with this album, and fail to pull it off. It may simply be the case of an unfinished debate on how to develop their music which shows here, but whatever it is, they seem on several occasions to merely drift along, devoid of ideas, devoid of interesting things left in their locker, but just pulling the song along for the sake of it. Coherent development is the key to good metal music, and if you can do it effectively with acoustic interludes such as on Burnt Offerings and Creator Failure then I have no problem with it. But meaningless meandering such as on the direction-less Last December or the hugely cumbersome Burning Oasis serves no purpose other than to run the album into the ground.
Yes, Matt Barlow has one heck of a voice, and his style of delivery perfectly suits the acoustic interlude, but the problem is that most of the time the interludes aren't compatible with the songs. Most of the time the interludes come after the song has outlived its worth, and is just chugging along aimlessly, which doesn't help their cause one bit, and that they invariably simply return to the old patterns after the interlude without even a hint of development worsens it. The notable exception on this point is Dante's Inferno, where I can't fault them for development, but here they fail on another count, which is keeping the listener's interest. It is understandable, given the size of the theme they chose to deal with, that the song would be fairly long, but there're too many ups and downs in it, and the listener gives up hope after a point.
Thrash metal Iced Earth are not, not since the end of Travel in Stygian, whatever their pretensions towards it are, and their brand of melodic music is driven by precisely that, melody. So when the melodies get stale and begin to fail them, there's obviously a problem. The interludes represent the nadir of the problem. And it’s not just one problem, its several. Take track 2 - "Last December" as a case in point. They start off with a mildly interesting acoustic guitar intro, and the song takes a while to pick up pace, which it does manage to do, eventually, but it just goes on and on and on. There's no variety to the song, no moment which makes you sit up and take notice. I'm not expecting a full fledged thrash break out of Iced Earth, but the odd time change or a slight structural shift wouldn't have hurt them. Last December drones on and on in the same vein as it started for 3 and a half minutes and after the magic of Burnt Offerings takes away all the enthusiasm one may have developed for the album. Diary is a bit of an iffy song - it takes a long long time to get anywhere, and if you've managed to stay awake till then it’s enjoyable and gets quite good towards the end - on one of the few occasions where they manage to get the interludes to work. Brainwashed and Burning Oasis are the point where this album fails though. They display a total lack of focus, a lack of interest even, at certain points, and a disappointing feeling of filler about them. Filler is something an album shouldn't have, and two in a row is very hard to sit through. Particularly the musical quagmire that is Burning Oasis, with two, identical acoustic sections, with very little apparent purpose, apart from keeping the clock ticking. Creator Failure, as I mentioned earlier, works, with the acoustic bit, as on Burnt Offerings starting an interesting shift in the song, and I still fall for that heavenly falsetto section every time I listen to it. But with The Pierced Spirit one really gets a feeling of "Haven't I heard enough of this already?", and Dante's Inferno, as I mentioned earlier, while fun in parts, is really too long.
All in all, this album is too long, too stop-start, and too full of meaningless blather to make the enjoyable parts, which there are a fair few of, worth it. Especially to the more experienced metal head who's explored much more of the realms of metal and has begun to expect a sense of flow, direction and coherence of his albums, this represents a major failure. Not because it’s that bad. But because it could have been so much better with a little effort. It may sound good to the beginner, but that’s as far as it gets. A couple of years on, and it won't sound all that good anymore. I'm giving it a 55 only for its starter value, and the brilliance of Burnt Offerings and Creator Failure.
As I often make quite clear, I am not an Iced Earth fan, and I often take to bashing and making fun of them whenever they come up in the course of conversation. Well, this album is the one album where they did pretty much everything right, with none of the repetitive riffs or boring, overdone aesthetics of later works, and I have no qualms with proclaiming this one of the best metal albums of the 90s.
Burnt Offerings is a brooding, dark, epic stomper of an album with a thick, heavy guitar tone and a crunchy, raw bass sound that really hits home and gives Iced Earth their own sound here. Dark melody lines fuse seamlessly with thrashy riffs to form a morass of gleefully evil goodness that is both compelling and headbangable at the same time. The production just rules all around, smothering you beneath a gargantuan wall of crushing, sludgy riffs, skull-pummeling drums and slithering, razor-sharp bass lines, not to mention the deep, operatic rumble of Matt Barlow's fantastic voice - this is the best performance he's done to date. For anyone who thinks he sounds cheesy or overdramatic, look no further than this album for proof that he is (or was) neither. This band has always had a unique, hard to classify sound that doesn't really liken them to any other band. They were rooted in thrash metal at the beginning of their career, but even then, you won't find many semblances of Megadeth, Exodus or Slayer here - Iced Earth were much darker than most Thrash, and they also had a tendency to slow down to an evil groove that really fucking ruled. The slow parts of Burnt Offerings are the best parts, and it's a shame that the band abandoned them later for a more straightforward and pugilistic Heavy Metal style. The songs here do tend to blend together if you're not paying close attention, and it will indeed require such close attention to "get" this album - it's not a catchy collection of singles. This is meant to be heard in its entirety.
Weak songs? Not here. As I mentioned, this is the only album in the band's entire career where Iced Earth did everything right and produced a viable, well-made metal album without any glaring flaws. Every song here rules without exception, and there are only great songs that are better than the good songs here; no filler at all. For songs that rule the most, I'd have to name the epic, sorrowful title track, the sizzling "Burning Oasis," the massive, kinetic stomp of "Creator Failure," and of course the mandatory 16 minute epic "Dante's Inferno," which may go on for a bit too long, but is an awesome song nonetheless. Eat my shorts, Gettysburg trilogy.
I wish the band had never changed their style after this album. If you haven't heard it, then you need it, especially if you dislike this band in its current incarnation as much as I do. Highly recommended.
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com
Burnt Offerings is one of those records by a band that typically only the people truly dedicated to the metal genre know of an appreciate. Within those circles, Burnt Offerings is almost unanimously considered a masterpiece. In many ways the Master of Puppets of Iced Earth's catalogue, the similarities to Metallica don't stop there. In addition to also being a third release (similar to Puppets for Metallica), Iced Earth take up the mantle where Metallica left off with deep, poetic lyrics and themes, precise and palm-muted riffs, and an accessible, yet very heavy sound.
Burnt Offerings sees the formation of the band's most iconic lineup, or rather, duo, in the joining of then-new vocalist Matt Barlow (replacing previous vocalist John Greely). Along with rhythm guitarist and primary songwriter Jon Schaffer, Iced Earth would cement its trademark sound with Burnt Offerings. Unlike most typical power metal-esque vocalists, Barlow sings in a much less archetypical (read: cheesy) style, opting for a more mid-range shout, not far removed from James Hetfield. However, he is not limited to said bark, and displays his vocal range from higher, falsetto styles, to a lower, ominous tone, all the while doing so in a musical and trained manner. For many, Barlow's voice just might be the element that makes the album as good as it is when contrasted with Schaffer's chugging guitar and well-written, soft interludes. Matt Barlow has arguably the perfect voice for the dark lyrics and tone used in the songs.
There's very little that can be said about the guitar playing, specifically of the rhythm variety, other than it is incredibly tight. Jon Schaffer's picking hand and technique is the stuff of legend. Every rhythm guitar track is clear, articulated, and perfectly timed. Some of the triplet and sixteenth note patterns that Schaffer plays are incredibly technical and syncopated, sounding almost as if they were coming from a machine. For me, it is this man's muscular palm-muted riffing that gives this record its attitude and sheer heaviness. Much the same way that James Hetfield gave Metallica its bite with a similar style, Jon Schaffer ups the ante, providing the record with an incredible degree of balls and attitude. It is this aggressive guitar playing that separates Burnt Offerings from the rest of the power metal pack, treading firmly into thrash metal territory.
Simply stated, the song writing on this album is impeccable. Everything from varied song structure, to contrasting mellow and aggressive song sections, to deep and poetic lyrics brings Burnt Offerings far above the oft-heard cheese metal of European contemporaries. The album also does not rely much on shreddy guitar solos, but instead chooses to let its arrangements do the speaking in their stead. I rarely give an album credit for its lyrics, typically because they are unintelligible or very cliché, but Burnt Offerings excels in this department. Musically, the orchestration is extremely well-done, but the lyrics are what truly shine. Although based on the divine comedy of the same name as the album's last track, Dante's Inferno, the lyrical theme is universal enough that one not have read said poem (I didn't). The lyrics deal with, obviously, hell, purgatory, heaven , sins, and the like, as well as the hypocrisy of upheld religious systems. While not outwardly anti-religious, the theme seems to be one of angst towards organized religious beliefs and systems. The incredible, concluding 16-minute epic, Dante's Inferno, displays these themes most prominently and is a prime example of all of the above elements coming together to form a cohesive masterpiece.
As they say, "if you want it done right, you have to do it yourself." This statement seems to hold true, as Jon Schaffer has always been the one responsible for everything that Iced Earth has ever done. Almost every great band has had one (or two) main members responsible for the majority of the songwriting and arranging (Metallica: James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich; Megadeth: Dave Mustaine, etc.). All of the songs on this piece of art are a cohesive and master-crafted vision of the sometimes-anal Jon Schaffer and are not watered down by the input of other band members' or producers' vision.
There is really nothing I can take away from the album other than when it was first released, it was rather poorly produced. Like most amateur releases of its period, the sound was quiet, the drums were flat, and the overall tone was muddy. While I have not personally listened to the original recording, the remixed/mastered version I am reviewing (from the Dark Genesis box set) is superb-sounding, with crystal clear drums and guitars as well as a prominent focus on Matt Barlow's aggressive voice. Burnt Offerings is an album that may take a few listens to grasp the full scope of its breadth, however, it is by no means a hard listen and is recommended to anyone who likes aggressive, insightful metal.
I had never thought of power metal and thrash metal merging together until I discovered Iced Earth, and I never thought that it could sound so dark and be so dark and not happy like much of power metal. Oh, thank you to O'Sheaman as well for letting me know that there are two camps of power metal: light, keyboard-based power metal like Stratovarius and Sonata Arctica; and heavier/thrashier power metal such as Iron Savior, Gamma Ray, and of course Iced Earth. Iced Earth is definitely not flower metal in any form or fashion, except for maybe on tracks like Dracula off of horror show. Here we have a power metal vocalist that doesn't sound castrated and has some depth and resonance to his voice.
Wow, for a power metal album this is some pretty dark, depressing stuff. These guys are like the antithesis to Sonata Arctica. This is NOT a happy album, so just prepare yourself for that before you buy this.
I'd say the first track(which is also the title track) is the best song of the album because it has the best vocal performance by Matt Barlow(he sure beats Tim "Ripper" Owens any day in my book) and it's the meanest, most vicious song to be found here. It's not the thrashiest, but it best exemplifies the concept of the album I suppose. At the beginning, Barlow sings in some really deep, muted, gruff voice which is really fucking awesome, but I've never heard it before in any other Iced Earth song. Why the fuck not? Dammit, those vocals in the beginning of that song really work and I think he should've tried to sing whole songs like that from time to time.
Every song on here is chock full of emotion, albeit a bit cheesy, and this album is just thrashtastic. Some of the riffs to be found here pretty much knock Metallica flat on their ass, especially in Dante's Inferno. It is the epic song of the album and it has a thrash interlude that is so fucking fast and brutal that it's bound to knock you out of your chair. Thrash doesn't get much better than this, folks. Unfortunately, there aren't enough of those absolutely killer thrashtastic moments, but there's enough good riffing here to satisfy most metalheads.
Well, for power metal this is a very unique album and the integration of thrash is fantastic. Somebody recommended The Dark Saga to me, so that's most likely the Iced Earth album that I will buy next, if I do buy one. Highly recommended.
I think this has many solid songs on it. Unlike previous Iced Earth albums there are no repeated riffs from previous albums either. (I am only using this a half-compliment.) The music is actually, quite incredible and the driving force that brings this such a high grade, from a person who is usually so down on Iced Earth.
Really though, whose idea was it to bring in Barlow? His cheesy "broadway" styled singing is absolute crap all the way through. He makes good songs like "Last December" sound trite and cheesy lyrically as well as sounding so breathy you wish to donate him an inhalter. NO! I will not stand for this. I can only dream that they will do a live recording with Tim Owens to fix many of these wonderful old songs that have long been abused by Barlows awkward singing style. (He sas skill - his style just simply poor.)
The lyrics and songwriter (not to mention the crisp musicianship and production) do all they can to save this record from Barlows whelping wooing of the listener and hammer you in with engaging lyrics (the last time this would happen) and hammering metal epics.
Had they re-done this with Owens on vocals this would be a sure "85" or more but the record with Barlow is a sorry display of great music wasted by cliche metal vocalist who is long outdated to even think of staying in this business.
I appreciate his skill, but I think he was better suited for the broadway stage than a serious (haha) metal band.
Iced Earth have long been recognized as a top-notch metal act of the 90's, and many point to Burnt Offerings as being some of their best work. This is the album that introduced metalheads worldwide to the talents of Matt Barlow, considered to be the best singer Jon Schaffer (guitarist/principal songwriter) has employed in his band. He does not disappoint, either.
This album has some very unique thrash on here, much in the style of early Metallica, Iron Maiden, and maybe even some Slayer. The title track greets us first, and once you hear Schaffer's growls and Barlow crooning "Offer me good omen", you know what you are in for. An epic journey filled with great thrash metal. "Last December" is an excellent track as well, featuring good riffing from Schaffer and Randy Shawver. But the real masterpiece greets us at the end - the 16+ minute "Dante's Inferno", a song about the book of the same name. While the song is very long, there is not one boring second to be found. There are numerous fast-to-slow changes, fast drums, fast guitars, and of course, Barlow's tremendous singing skills. The lyrics are epic-style, covering topics in the book very well. Need I say more?
"Brainwashed" and "Burning Oasis" feature some nasty melodic riffing, while Barlow's voice in "Creator Failure" shows the style he (and the rest of the band) would use on The Dark Saga. And "The Pierced Spirit" shows the band employing a slow, moody style of song.
If you want an album that features epic-style lyrics on top of thrash/speed riffs and drums with great vocals, you owe it to yourself to pick this one up. In fact, anybody in any way a fan of old-school Metallica or Iron Maiden should run, not walk to the record store to pick it up. It will be $15 well spent!
Before ridiculous patriocheese...before The Creature From the Black Lagoon...before riffless inconsistency...before the most boring take on Spawn ever...there was Burnt Fucking Offerings. And it ruled all.
This is one of the most angry, vicious, EVIL albums I've ever heard. Sadly, what makes this album great - the sheer rage and frustration that went into writing it - is also the thing that prevents it from being played live, because it'll bring back bad memories for Jon Schaffer and then he'll lock himself in his room like the dipshit from Weezer and have to go through a year of counseling. But we can always enjoy the studio version...on a side note, it's the remastered version that I am reviewing here, and it's the remastered version that you should definitely buy - way better than the original.
The title track starts out with a chilling keyboard intro before blasting into seven minutes of malevolent thrashing, with one of those great non-triplet-based Schaffer riffs driving "Burnt Offerings" along beneath a violent vocal tradeoff between Jon and Matt Barlow, which is especially successful on the chorus. The breakneck pace of the song stops halfway through for a surprisingly pretty melodic bridge, before exploding in pure rage shortly after the five-minute mark and never looking back. The reason I'm spending so much time describing this song is because it's just THAT good.
The album continues in the same generally thrash-based vein - not quite as ripping as Night of the Stormrider but heavier and with better vocals. Highlights are multi-faceted thrasher "Diary" and its great lead guitar lines, the utterly awesome first minute or so of "Burning Oasis," and "Creator Failure," a brooding, Lovecraftian battle tank of a song...dig those shrieks at the end! The album closes with a gloomy lounge piano-ish ditty leading into Iced Earth's finest hour, the rolling, hellfire-and-brimstone epic "Dante's Inferno." Attempting to describe this song is futile...the closest comparision I can make is Mercyful Fate on steroids for sixteen minutes. Pay special attention to the kick drum-heavy grind of the sixth circle and the ominous buildup of the eighth circle leading to the stomping thrash ending. Brilliant, brilliant stuff.
The major flaw of this album lies not in the sound itself, but how that sound was achieved. Schaffer has mentioned repeatedly that the band's musicianship was not quite up to par with the songwriting, and much studio trickery was needed, especially on the drums. Thankfully, the remaster does a good job of disguising the very "mechanical" drum sound evident on the original; Jon still wants to re-record the album "the right way," however. Up until now, my mind boggled at such a thought, but now I fail to see how any human being (even Tim Owens, good as he is) could do justice to Barlow's alternately enraged, mournful, barely sane, and grandiose vocal performance.
That's depressing to think about. But it's alright, because there is still Burnt Offerings, in all its turbulent, malefic, violent glory. Buy it and remember that there is a reason people started hailing Iced Earth as the new rulers of the metal heap. And it certainly wasn't Dark Saga.
Jon Schaffer hates Burnt Offerings. I have no idea where this hate stems from, since BO is a grade A record and some of IE's best stuff. Somewhere between the crazed riffage of Stormrider and Dark Saga's innate accessibility, Burnt Offerings carries a dour vibe, and contains Schaffer's heaviest material.
An excorcist style piano intro segues into the title track, a flawless display of songwriting and talent. Somehow Jon picked a perfect lineup... no name drummer whose name i do not know rips his fuckin kit apart, and the double bass is dead on. Matt Barlow was new to IE at the time and gives an inspired performance that pales in comparison to later albums. Still, a spotty Matt Barlow is better than 90% of vocalists, and he scores major points for cool falsetto usage on Burning Oasis.
As mentioned earlier, there are mad fucking riffs everywhere. Brainwashed, Creator Failure and Schaffer's magnum opus Dante's Inferno, are non stop feasts for the headbanger's ears. Iced Earth is spelled M-E-T-A-L, dude. Fortunately, Burnt Offerings was before they learned what a ballad was, and there are no vagina-fests. Last December starts off that way but quickly turns thrash, and ends up one of their finest moments.
Dante's Inferno however IS their finest moment... 16 minutes of relentess metallic furor without a fucking second of filler. Instead of a long winded intro, they spend only a minute getting you ready, then bash your fucking skull in. There are 3 such quiet to brutal moments, each of which tops the other. Come on man, if you don't like this you have no business on this site. www.vengaboys.com should suit you well
My only complaint is that Creator Failure is a little not memorable. Asides from that a rockin CD from a rockin band. Possibly my 3rd highest ranked Iced Earth album.
This album is Iced Earth's second in a row of pretty much all thrash all the time. It's not quite as focused on an utter riff onslaught as Stormrider, going for darkness and atmosphere a bit more often, but still it is very, very good.
Burnt Offerings starts us off - probably the best song on here, with a great sequence of riffs. Thrash classic. Last December is also pretty good, except the chorus sometimes gets a bit too over-the-top for me. It is here where Matt Barlow is clearly not as good as John Greely. Greely was a Halford-like shrieker, Barlow is more a bellower, especially in how he sings "Last December!"
The rest of the album goes through above average thrash metal riffs for a while, sounding like Bay Area thrash the most - a bit of what would happen if Testament were actually GOOD, and also Death Angel. "Burning Oasis" and "Diary" are probably the highlights, until we get to the last track.
"Dante's Inferno" - it's epic as Hell, after all it is nearly 17 minutes long. And if you throw in "The Pierced Spirit" before it... the thing with Dante's Inferno is that sometimes the riffs are just kinda thrown in because they feel the need to have a new riff, without carefully thinking out the progression. They tried making the most ultimately thrashy song ever, and just completely went overboard. Unlike the Dark Angel-esque passages in "Travel in Stygian", here they tend to have almost randomly thrown in acoustic interludes, and then when you want a different riff, the same one comes back... especially the last three or four minutes, which are just a waste. It just seems like there is a very good 9 minute song in here... somewhere. (8 minutes and 50 seconds, actually... it's been extracted ;-) )
So my only two complaints are: less emphasis on viciousness of riffs - some death-metal atmosphere is thrown in here, and that kinda detracts from the overall thrashiness. Also, Barlow is no Greely, and while not nearly as bad as on later albums, his attempts to be emotional are not great either. But, other than that, this is a very, very good thrash album. For 1994, when thrash was practically dead, this is indispensable.
You want power metal with some REAL POWER? This is the album to get. Iced Earth, the Florida-based quintet, is known for being a 'power'/thrash band in much the same vein as Gamma Ray or Blind Guardian (you know, basically anyone descended from the "Maiden on Steroids"-era Helloween), but Iced Earth has always been a particular favorite of mine as far as this style goes because of the darker edge present in the music and lyrics. Well, musical mastermind of the band Jon Schaffer must have been in a really dark place when he wrote this, because this is one seriously evil and angry piece of work, and IMO the best they ever did.
The album immediately starts off with a snapshot of what the next 50 minutes will be like with the first two minutes of the title track, "Burnt Offerings" - an eerie keyboard melody quickly cuts into some VERY tight rhythm chugging on a half-step, sinister main riff/progression. Vocalist Matthew Barlow does have quite a 'melodramatic' voice and a wide range, but his talent really lies in the vocal melodies he uses - it's hard to have a high voice and sing something that sounds sinister without sounding goofy, but IMO Barlow pulls it off. Along with the fast, tight galloping riffs, the songs themselves constantly change tempo/mood/texture, but the changes manage to seem quite natural rather than unsettling (something akin to early Mercyful Fate, but MUCH faster and thrashier - again, like Maiden on steroids...).
There aren't any real misfires on the whole album, but the best songs are the aforementioned title track, "Burning Oasis", and the album's centerpiece, the 16-minute thrash epic "Dante's Inferno", a constantly-morphing delight complete with some very descriptive (and surprisingly accurate) lyrics and some of the best guitar work on the whole album. While most IE fans tend to lean towards their second album, Night of the Stormrider, as their best one, I think Burnt Offerings edges it out in guitar work and sheer inventiveness, and anyone with a taste for the darker sides of power metal or even thrash should definitely check it out.
(Originally published at LARM (c) 1999)