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Often described as the band's seminal album, and their best along with 1991's Night of the Stormrider (see my review of that album for a more thorough description), Burnt Offerings was indisputably the start of a new era for Iced Earth, as it brought in longtime vocalist and frontman Matt Barlow, and also saw a shift from the more or less pure thrash metal sound of the first two albums to a more power/thrash direction. Barlow was certainly a step up from Gene Adam and John Greely, respectively, with a much more charismatic voice and an utterly insane vocal range that could rival any of the greats in heavy metal. Behind such a talented frontman, Iced Earth suddenly began to feel like something special, although unfortunately not even Barlow could save every song on the album. What we see on Burnt Offerings are two brilliant Iced Earth songs ("Burnt Offerings" and "Dante's Inferno") bookending 6 mediocre, forgettable tracks which evoke the style and quality of Night of the Stormrider, but with better vocals.
"Last December," for example, starts with a dark, haunting, and emotive intro, but then segues into a mediocre thrash riff which is repeated for most of the song. There are scattered moments and passages of quality throughout these 6 filler tracks, but they're unfortunately dominated by Jon Schaffer's utterly and inevitably mediocre songwriting style. "Diary" has more than one cool passage in it, but is always alternated with super lame riffs (the opening riff is one of the worst Schaffer creations I've encountered, literally just two notes repeated over and over) and thus necessarily inferior vocal lines from Barlow, as in trying to build on mediocre ideas his vocal lines are usually also mediocre in these sections.
"Burnt Offerings" and "Dante's Inferno," however, are quite something to behold. The former is easily the best song John Schaffer has ever written - even beating out the amazing "Heaven Denies" from the first Demons & Wizards album, I'd say. Every aspect of the song is executed beautifully, and rather than Schaffer's usual fare of "let's insert this part here, and now let's randomly shorehorn this in here, and hey! time for the acoustic section!", it actually flows in a coherent manner. The savage, diabolical main riff complements Barlow's ominous, hateful delivery, which flows quite naturally into the huge, catchy chorus - a chorus for the ages, really. I recall after the first time I heard the song, I didn't listen to Iced Earth for 4 or 5 years and one day I was humming a melody I couldn't place, and didn't realize until later that it was the chorus of "Burnt Offerings." This is one of the greatest choruses (and songs) power metal has to offer, which helps me understand why the band is so popular, I suppose. Other power metal bands should take note of this song, and then ignore 90% of everything else Jon Schaffer has written. Even the bridge is incredible, sending shivers down my spine with lines like "Walk carefully my friend, stab my back again, warning from the skies" delivered by Barlow in appropriately chilling manner. Shortly thereafter, the sudden harsher, maniac yelling of "CAST THEIR BODIES TO THE FLAMES!" is perhaps the high point of the song.
That brings us to "Dante's Inferno," which is essentially what "Travel In Stygian" from Night of the Stormrider wanted to be, yet failed. The main riff is almost identical, but here there are actually more new, nonrecycled ideas, a strong keyboard presence that creates a great atmosphere without ever becoming overbearing, an excellent use of Matt Barlow's versatile abilities, and, ya know...there's actually like 6 or 7 riffs in the song, which even for a song that's over 16+ minutes is still significantly above Schaffer's normal riff density of 1-2 riffs per 5-6 minutes song. Again, the song flows wonderfully, slowly becoming more and more malevolent, ominous, and tortured as the listener slowly descends each of the nine planes of hell. This is really captured surprisingly well for someone of Schaffer's normally quite limited talents; you can track the progression from plane to plane and notice subtle changes in intensity, darkness, foreshadowing, pain, etc. It's a story in musical form, and while I somewhat agree with some of the complaints that it was too long and could have been cut down, I think it needn't be cut down by more than 3 or 4 minutes and even those 3 or 4 minutes that could be cut are never annoying or even especially bland, just slightly slowing the pacing of the epic perhaps more than it needs to be. I really only notice this when I'm actively focusing on the song for its entire duration, though, and it's rather a minor complaint.
Overall, Burnt Offerings is certainly not as strong as Iced Earth fans purport it to be, but it is certainly much more deserving of the title of "best Iced Earth" album than Night of the Stormrider, which contains about half as many riffs as Burnt Offerings, doesn't have an especially good vocalist, and fails to engage the listener for virtually the entire duration of the album. Though I personally would give the "best Iced Earth album" title to Horror Show, here we at least have 2 excellent songs, a mostly engaing Barlow throughout, and "Diary" being somewhat listenable, if you don't mind randomly juxtaposed sections of music. Hell, the 2 minute song "The Pierced Spirit" is actually pretty good as an intro to "Dante's Inferno," as well. So, I'd say this album is tepidly enjoyable, but if you simply listen to the best 2-4 tracks it's an excellent selection of music, and certainly one of Jon Schaffer's finer moments. Too bad even Matt Barlow couldn't save most of the subsequent albums (Horrow Show excluded). Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.
Burnt Offerings sounds like the work of a heavy metal band that spent more than their fair share of time prior to recording listening to Mike Oldfield's score for The Exorcist. The tone here is as derived from classic horror films as it is from Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, or any of the other European acts that informed their early sound.
Considering Burnt Offerings was only Iced Earth's third full-length entry, it's pretty impressive their sound had come already. Though the album is nonetheless imprinted in their legend thanks to the propitious introduction here of flagship frontman Matthew Barlow, Burnt Offerings may have been the first Iced Earth record where they had a real, firm grip of their own sound. Though the self-titled Iced Earth from 1990 ranks among my favourite works of theirs, the homogeneous thrash of Night of the Stormrider put a spotlight on how uneven the debut could be at times. Burnt Offerings takes the prog of the first album, and the thrash of the second, and melds them together with a liberal sprinkling of gothic atmosphere. Not only is the resulting effect as devilishly creepy as melodic metal has any right to be; it was the first time Iced Earth sounded like they had finally found the sound they were meant to play.
For a then-new members of the band, it is really a testament to Matt Barlow that the third (though far from final) vocalist of Iced Earth would carry so much of the weight himself. On the two albums prior to Burnt Offerings, the obvious star of the show was mastermind/rhythm guitarist/triplet enthusiast Jon Schaffer, and though he exercised himself quite differently between Iced Earth and Night of the Stormrider, the band's early work marked a rare occasion in heavy metal where the rhythm guitar-- rather than the lead-- was taking up the spotlight. With Burnt Offerings, Schaffer and the rest of Iced Earth are actually less incendiary than they were before, toning down the thrashy aggression in favour of a deeper arrangement. Although I'm not reminded of traditional prog metal a la Fates Warning nearly as much here as I was with their debut, Iced Earth were getting bolder with their music. Considering the less-than-stellar, trailer park power metal the band has been infamously known for this side of the new millennium, it's understandable that people can forget about that ambitious side of them, but nonetheless it is here in major force on Burnt Offerings.
Nothing is more indicative of that ambition than "Dante's Inferno", the album's sixteen minute centrepiece and closer. I don't think I have heard a metal band outside of the most soporific, marijuana-addicted stoner doom that could attempt a track of that length without approaching it with some level of boundaries-stretching spirit on their part. Although it may not be as immaculately structured as the very best suites, "Dante's Inferno" is, in many ways, an adventurous expression of everything that Iced Earth does right. I mean, for fuck's sake; it's a sixteen minute metal epic about descending through each level of Hell. At this point in their career, this was precisely the sort of music Iced Earth were meant to make. As a songwriter, it might be argued that Jon Schaffer bit off more than he could chew with this one; like I mentioned, there isn't the strict impression that each of the movements compliment one another, but it's clear that he was operating a step above his comfort level. If I was wanting to dissuade a friend against the simplistic reputation Iced Earth have garnered for themselves in recent years, I'd have "Dante's Inferno" at the ready.
It's an obvious improvement from the homogeneous chugging that was Stormrider, but Iced Earth's songwriting isn't quite as varied nor inspired as it would be on The Dark Saga. Nor do I think Schaffer's riffs are as individually strong as they were on the debut. Even so, if these elements are less immediately impressive here as they were on some of the other classics, it's because Iced Earth had placed uncommon emphasis on the arrangement and atmosphere. The title track, "Burnt Offerings", is one of the darkest, creepiest songs by a band that has commonly immersed themselves in such things. "Diary", and the deceptively unconventional "Burning Oasis" would also rank pretty high up there.
A large part of my appreciation for Burnt Offerings can be traced back to Matt Barlow. I was aware of his repute as a vocalist long before I'd even listened to Iced Earth, and I was surprised, if not totally sold, by his voice when I finally got around to hearing them. Although I wouldn't describe this band necessarily as power metal, whatever musical family Iced Earth are a part of doesn't tend to favour baritones like Barlow. Not that he's in any way limited to the lower range of the spectrum; the array of howling, shouting, brooding crooning and edgy spoken word places him among the most versatile vocalists in metal. Some of these same tricks were used by John Greely and Gene Adam, but neither came close to executing it as well as Barlow. Within the context of Barlow's own tenure within the band, his vocals are a little more gruff than I'm used to hearing from him. I think he would get even better with the melodic angle The Dark Saga would take, but he befits the creeping tone on Burnt Offerings perfectly.
Although it may not be the best of their career, Burnt Offerings rests at the crux of Iced Earth's classic period. No matter where a band has gone since, it is always exciting to hear musicians spread their wings and push towards greater heights. Even if it doesn't boast the greatest songwriting of their career, it still counts among the most adventurous and significant statements Iced Earth have ever produced.
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.
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
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)