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Solid & mature though an unspectacular effort - 65%

c_zar, January 5th, 2013

The Crucible of Man, a potential crucible for the band itself, stripped of the rather significant vocalist Tim Owens, shows what has become apparent in recent years: John Schaffer has matured as a songwriter.

Not that his staple triplet doesn’t appear, but Schaffer’s lush vocal arrangements, guitar stacking, melodic ideas and overall delivery of classy material are a far cry from the forced quasi-thrash of the Dark Saga and what came before it. Iced Earth’s marginalization of tired tough-guy histrionics and “aggressive” songs as they move towards bigger, panoramic anthems mirrors my interest in them (read: I dig Something Wicked This Way Comes onward). The reintegration of departed singer Mathew Barlow into the fold is seamless, and while I prefer Tim Owens’ voice, the melodies and harmonies on The Crucible of Man are better than what Barlow was singing ten years ago, and his improved upper register (which was really spectacular on Horror Show [esp. in “Dracula”]) is put to good use.

When comparing the two pieces of the Something Wicked duology, I favor the sequel. Framing Armageddon is a very top-heavy album (the only song in the last twenty-five minutes of that album that I fully like is “When Stars Collide”), but The Crucible of Man is always enjoyable, if unspectacular. Actually, the new album is the most consistently enjoyable album Iced Earth made (up until Dystopia), though it lacks the greatness found on The Glorious Burden (“The Devil to Pay,” “Hold At All Costs,” and “Declaration Day,” are still the bands three finest tunes) as well as that album’s tough guy duds (“Red Baron/Blue Max” and “Green Face,” both shitsmears).

Because of this qualitative consistency, and the elimination of any “aggressive” pretense, this album really flows like one giant song. Certain tunes stand ahead of the pack— “A Gift or A Curse?” and “Come What May” are the highlights— but the album is a huge, even, enjoyable and patient experience. With The Crucible of Man, Schaffer’s confidence and aplomb as a songwriter of simple material fleshed out with deep layering is further established and the switch in singers is instantly overcome, despite apprehensions.

Armageddon stalled out in mid flight. - 57%

hells_unicorn, May 11th, 2011

I was hesitant to even touch “The Crucible Of Man” because of the obnoxious hype surrounding it. Regardless of what side of the fence an Iced Earth fan might fall into (I’m more of an early era kind of guy), most of the attention that they received was due to the long run that Schaeffer and Barlow had together, particularly since “The Dark Saga”. The announcement of Barlow’s return was certain to leave an inaccurate impression of how the album would be in the critical field because of how polarizing his work with the band tends to be, but ironically, the generic middle ground medium assessment of the album that came out of fanatics and naysayers canceling each other out is the accurate picture that is painted insofar as the music is concerned.

This is an album that gets from point A to point B completely by going through the motions, riding off the coattails of Schaeffer’s signature riff set and Barlow’s melodramatic vocalizations. Even at its weakest, it works simply by virtue of the foundation that has already been laid on previous albums, both weak and strong, but it falls short whenever it comes into comparison with better works. It essentially comes off as a watered down rehash of its predecessor “Framing Armageddon” where the charm of a heavy mixture of instrumental ambient interludes, acoustic ditties and segues complemented a decent set of power/thrash songs that looked back more than forward. Most of the interludes/segues have been jettisoned, and along with it a fair amount of the power and focus that made several songs such as “Ten Thousand Strong” and “A Charge To Keep” great in spite of their simplicity.

Naturally there are some standout moments on here that showcase a brief gleam of a rekindled flame, but even these fall a bit short of the stripped down, predictable, almost “Black Album” oriented character of “The Dark Saga”. After a somewhat more operatic prelude that reminds of sections of the 3 part series that closed off “Something Wicked This Way Comes”, in comes one of only 2 truly fast and energetic songs in “Behold The Wicked Child”, which is solid for a really tamed and heavily pruned version of what dominated almost all of “Burnt Offerings”. Barlow’s vocals are the chief draw here, as the riff work doesn’t venture much beyond a safe box of post-NWOBHM repetitive simplicity. “Divide And Devour” rounds out the 2 significant ventures outside of mid-paced land, and is more driving, but still pretty repetitive. The chorus actually sounds like something that could have been put together by Blind Guardian, and Barlow even seems to be trying to invoke that gravely shout that Hansi regularly employs.

Unfortunately, the basic rule for this album is to keep it basic and keep it safe. It’s not too much of a stretch to assert that this album sounds rushed, since in addition to being pushed out a mere year after the first part of the series, it feels like it could have been written in a very short time using the previous album as a template. The featured single “I Walk Alone” is indicative of several slower, derivative metal anthems that are easy to recognize, but unfortunately not easy to distinguish amidst a crowded field of Iced Earth songs that aren’t ballads or don’t gallop like crazy. Even the signature ballad “A Gift Of A Curse”, apart from featuring Schaeffer doing lead vocals and doing a standout job at it, could be exchanged for a number of previous ballads, though it is less pop/rock sounding than “Watching Over Me” and isn’t as drawn out as “The Clouding”.

The final word in this stalled comeback attempt is halfhearted, almost in the mold of the last charge in a longstanding war of attrition. It’s not that Schaeffer or Barlow have lost their respective edges, but more that the magic of their musical collaboration is gone. Let’s face it, when a newcomer band like “Pyramaze” or a politically based side project comes out better than the principle attraction, it’s time to give it a rest and move on. I say this with no particularly passionate attachment to Iced Earth as it is or was, but more as an assessment of an album that could have, would have, and definitely should have been better than this. This is something that can be rescued from a bargain bin, but not something to lose sleep over being without.

The Crucible of Dull - 45%

commissar_mp, April 27th, 2010

As I see it, within a genre of music/film/literature/art/etc. you like, you might not like something because it is bad, or it is boring. Bad is worse than boring, but well, at least being bad can bring some trainwreck appeal. The Crucible of Man is boring. The previous album, Framing Armageddon, had some pretty good stuff nestled within a pile of filler and the sound effect tracks between songs. The Crucible of Man does away with the sound effects but also does away with great songs, and Matt Barlow’s return to Iced Earth feels like Framing Armageddon’s filler spilled all over a whole album. It’s not so much plagued with Schaffer’s tendency to reuse riffs and stuff in acoustic breaks though those things happen here, but it’s a midpace album that kind of runs together without feeling like it’s going anywhere.

Ok, there are a few ok songs on here. The opener, Behold the Wicked Child, is probably the fastest song on here. The main riff isn’t that original, but it actually has some energy, and Barlow gets to cut loose and wail. The closer, Come What May, is pretty epic, featuring Barlow at his most emotive and hammy, though it suffers from Schaffer’s recent habit of over-muting and has an nondescript acoustic break in the middle. The single I Walk Alone is decent; despite a main riff featuring the slow sixth string muted power chord chugging that filled Framing Armageddon’s filler, it actually has some anger in it, with Barlow and Schaffer putting some snarl into the vocals. You also can’t have an IE album without a ballad, and A Gift or a Curse, featuring Schaffer doing vocals for almost a whole song for the first time since Stormrider, is ok and has one of the best solos out of IE in a while.

The rest of the album consists mostly of short midpace tracks that kind of blend into each other (not helped by the fact that most literally go right into the next, making chunks of the album run like a continuous song). The songwriting suffers a bit from Schaffer and friends’ tendency to sacrifice poetry for narration, and Barlow’s vocals are often kind of constrained. The production is decent, very similar to Framing Armageddon; you can hear everything though the bass is down in the mix (as is often the case in metal and Morrissound production). This album really isn’t bad... from some bands it might even be regarded as good. However if you’re looking to get into IE, and want to get all their albums, get this one first, because it’ll sound like a disappointment after some of the others.

Iced Earth - The Crucible of Man - 70%

ThrashManiacAYD, September 3rd, 2009

The reunion of long-time vocalist Matt Barlow with his fellow Iced Earth-ians was an occurrence bound to happen as it was always felt Tim 'Ripper' Owens, he of ex-Judas Priest, just wasn't the perfect fit for Iced Earth. Plus, have you heard Mr. Barlow?! As a massive fan of much of Iced Earth's back catalogue you could call me biased but you'd be wrong: Matt Barlow is one of the greatest vocalists Metal has known. Period. The man is a god. He was the frontman of one of the best and most respected pure Metal bands going and he left in 2003 to pursue a career in the police force, but has thankfully come to his senses to grace the world of Metal once again with his presence. The end result is Iced Earth's 9th LP, "The Crucible of Man" and the 2nd half of the 'Something Wicked' story first properly explored with last year's "Framing Armageddon", a mixed effort at best. So how does the next new era of Iced Earth fare?

Overall, it is a more solid effort than "Framing Armageddon". Rather than drastically improving upon the strengths of the aforementioned album, "The Crucible of Man" has instead corrected some of it's deficiencies, reigning in the grandeur and concentrating on what should be the crucial element of any Iced Earth record: the fucking Metal, man. The brilliance of Iced Earth is captured perfectly in 1999's "Alive In Athens", a live album so fantastic I can guarantee you right now it'll still be my favourite live album of all-time the day I die. They have always managed to capture some of the greatest riffs and then combined them with scintillating heartfelt passages of honour and despair, and whilst "Crucible..." doesn't quite have a "Travel In Stygian" or "Last December", it has "Behold The Wicked Child" and "The Dimension Gauntlet" which have the potential to be equally great as they feature the increased emphasis on vocal melodies and backing vocals to be found throughout this new record. Perhaps the influence of working with Hansi Kürsch on Demons & Wizards has taken its toll on Schaffer, as the strong choral melodies in "Crucify The King" and "Divide and Devour" are Blind Guardian all over - layers of melodically-tinged vocal lines that soar right up to the heavens and stick in the mind. The 'chuggy' and more Americanised feel of "Crucify the King" and in particular "I Walk Alone" are Nevermore all over, a true testament to the uniqueness of Warrel Dane and crew.

As hardly needs be mentioned the performance of all in the band is top-notch and has always flourished under Jon Shaffer's metronomic rhythm playing but in the case of "The Crucible of Man" at least, it is all about the return of Matt Barlow. Iced Earth feel more confident in their style with the gingerman back and has resulted in the changes to vocal melody department, by far and away the greatest stylistic difference between "The Crucible of Man" and old classics "Night of the Stormrider" and "Burnt Offerings". Further trimming of the audial fat could still be done on album no. 10 to reach the flow of earlier releases but the now is warm and rosy on this Iced Earth. Barlow is back!

Originally written for Rockfreaks.net

Certainly Better Than Part 1 - 78%

pinpals, June 6th, 2009

I, like many other metalheads, was incensed at how, around Christmas time 2007, Ripper Owens found out through the internet that he had been kicked out of Iced Earth and replaced by Matt Barlow. Granted, Ripper didn't sound so great on "Framing Armageddon," but he sang his balls off on "The Glorious Burden" and I find it difficult to hold him accountable for the patchiness of either album. The music that was written for him was some of the most monotonous and flaccid music of the band's career. Anyone that saw Ripper live and heard him perform the band's earlier speed and thrash songs knows that if given solid material, he can truly shine ("PUUUUURE EVIL!!!"). In dumping Ripper in such an inconsiderate manner, Jon Schaffer, who was already ill-favored because of the direction he is steering the band as well as some cheap-shots he had taken at former members during interviews, pretty much lost the majority of the respect that the metal community had for him, despite his considerable talent on rhythm guitar.

This "Something Wicked This Way Comes" continuation prolongs the story of Set and aliens and killing and all this other stuff I couldn't care less about. The pretentiousness of the whole thing is a big enough turn-off in and of itself; the fact that the story is confusing and boring only makes things worse. In these two albums, Schaffer has failed to come up with as much quality material as there was on the original three-song epic.

The only reason I even listened to this is because no one else at the radio station liked heavy music. I certainly had low expectations, to say the least. Surprisingly, some of the material found here is really good. Matthew Barlow does a fantastic job throughout the album, singing with passion and attempting to inject some life into a totally comatose storyline. "A Gift or a Curse" is a unexpectingly well-done ballad. The guitar solo is absolutely killer. Troy Steele (what a totally metal name) actually does a fine job on all of his solos on this album; unfortunately Schaffer only lets him do three solos, and the album suffers as a result. The entire second half of the album could use some solos to add some urgency to a bunch of songs that plod and plod and go nowhere; this is especially true with the title track and the epic "Come What May."

However, I must give credit where it is due. "Harbringer of Fate" is another good ballad-type song. "Minions of the Watch/The Revealing" have some decent riffing and "Crown of the Fallen/The Dimensional Gauntlet" is solid, helped out by a Troy Steele solo. "I Walk Alone" and "Crucify the King" are decent, if unspectacular songs; the former serving well as the single. However, the riffs on this album aren't just bad, they're lazy. Someone with as much talent as Schaffer has should not be writing riffs that are so stock, simplistic and mediocre. Barlow certainly does his best to save many of the songs, but how could they possibly succeed without a solid riff-base for the song to be built on? The second half of the album is excruciating to listen to, although it's a positive that there are no more trite interludes like there were on the last album.

I really hate giving this album a decent grade, because it would almost indicate that I actually approve of the direction that this band is headed. However, this is merely a case of Jon Schaffer getting lucky and actually writing a few decent songs. This is in no way a return to form and hardly essential; although the first half of the album is a decent-time waster and a couple of songs are actually really good. A return to the excellent thrash/speed metal days of yore is unlikely. As the title says, this is certainly better than part 1, but holding out hope for this band will only breed disappointment later.

A concept album for a pointless concept pt. 2 - 20%

linkavitch, May 11th, 2009

Great news everyone, Barlow is back! Now Iced Earth will kick ass again, Right? Well no, in fact they’re even worse now than before. I don’t get why this album even needed to be released to be honest. The first reason I cannot understand is why Schaffer needed to release two albums. Did he really need to release two albums full of “epic” music to fit the story behind the “Something Wicked” songs? The whole two album concept thing just seems like a total cash grab to me, and that Schaffer has completely run out of not only musical ideas, but lyrical ideas also. He cannot think of anything else to write about so he decides to write about another song idea for two whole albums. Such a dull and tiring concept this becomes quickly.

Well at least it has Matt Barlow back on vocals, well I wish that mattered but it doesn’t really. There is only one and only one reason as to why Schaffer decided to bring Barlow back, money. Come on folks you have to be blind to now expect this to be his main motive. Let’s face it; Iced Earth has had more fans with Barlow on vocals than Adam, Greely, and Owens. And when you’re a world famous (and rich) person like Schaffer is, you would (and will) do what your fans beg, and beg for. So he brings Barlow back and the fans are all like “YAY”, so sales go up, therefore the money making goes up. Now don’t get me wrong, I am totally ok with musicians making money off their work (duh that’s why most people form bands anyways). But, he could have at least waited until the concept was over until he fired Owens for Barlow (the nice thing to do I guess).

Well Barlow is back and all the Owens fans are pissed off now. I doubt that Schaffer cares so you all might as well stop bitching about it. Now his voice isn’t really that good one this album. I find it kind of ironic that Barlow finally returns and that his vocals on the album aren’t that good. He sounds off to me, as if he’s not really trying. He’s not hitting any really high notes, he hits some high notes on “Come What May”, but besides that he does his normal somewhat emotionless bellowing on this album.

Were dealing with Iced Earth here so we all know this album basically has only a gallop riff in it. I’m not kidding either, almost all the riffs are just annoying repetitive gallops riffs. If you don’t believe me just listen to the tracks “Minions of the Watch” and “The Revealing”, they open up with the exact same guitar part. The tone of the guitar is the same on every song except “I Walk Alone” and the guitars are a little distorted on that track and every twenty seconds there’s another booming chorus (like every song) and it gets annoying and hard to even listen to it.

Unless you really loved the last album and are just dying to see how the concept ends (badly), or unless you really need to hear Barlow (this is his worst album also) sing for Iced Earth again, you don’t need to get this album. Judging how their last two albums went before this came out, any sort of concept albums Schaffer writes you might as well skip. And unless he releases an album without a single gallop riff in it, you might as well skip Iced Earth all together. It was a good idea at first (the gallop riff I mean), but they stretched it out so much that it’s just annoying and not funny anymore (this reminds me of Dane Cook and how he does standup). But seriously in all, the “Something Wicked” saga just plain sucks.

Iced Earth has committed suicide - 28%

bloodstainedritual6, March 8th, 2009

First of all, I really want to say that I’m a huge Iced Earth fan and that’s why I gave this very low score, I do believe that Iced Earth can do something much better than this. Ok, so Marlow is back!!, that is fucking great at least that was the thought that almost every single Iced Earth fan (including me) had at the moment Schaffer published the news on his band website, they chose a really good bass player, who is Freddy Vidales and they realized the single named “I walk among you” on June, I remember perfectly when I listened to the song called “I walk Alone” on that month, I said to myself,” Yeah they are back, that’s for sure, this new cd is going to be a kick ass recording”. Then my very bad and huge surprise was there, Iced Earth committed suicide on September 5th in 2008, when they realized a mediocre queer power metal album with some thrash metal riffs.

Honestly, I think that this is the worst Iced Earth album so far, it has nothing, it is repetitive, soulless, boring and irritating at the same time. It is totally unbelievable that this is the same band that realized legendary and great recordings such as “Night of the Stormrider”, “Burnt Offerings” and “Horror Show”; I mean how can you compare songs like “Travel in Stygian”, “Dante’s Inferno” or “ Dracula” with any of the songs that this crappy album has?. That is impossible, it’s like compare Limbonic Art or Emperor with My chemical romance, it is so sad to do this fucking Comparison because Iced Earth has been a great band since 1985, that deserves my entire respect and I know that I’m nobody compare to them in the metal world and I also know that I’m no one to criticize their new album, that’s why I don’t like to write reviews talking bad about a metal recording, I think it is stupid because all users here (including me of course) are nothing in the metal industry, so it is so easy to talk bad about a metal CD in front of your monitor but in this case I really felt necessary to do it because Iced Earth is one of my favorite bands and this kind of album is totally unacceptable if it comes from a band such as this one.

As I said, the album is repetitive; you will hear soft melodies or simple guitar riffs as an intro in any of the songs of this album, then Marlow sings and right after that they sing a queer chorus and it happens over and over again in the entire album. Vidales couldn’t demonstrate his skills playing bass (because he is very good) and the lyrics are not good neither, a good example of this is the song named “Come What May”, it says,” One saving grace that’s hard to face embracing the truth will change your fate It’s up to you and the path you choose”, I mean what the fuck is this?, these cannot be lyrics created by Iced Earth.

Finally I think that trying to make another “Something wicked this way comes” was a terrible Schaffer’s idea, bands have to evolve and change the topics of their albums (Specially this kind of band), they can talk about the same things in all their recordings such as Amon Amarth, but they have to make it in a different way and Iced Earth of course didn’t do it. It is a terrific copy of “Something wicked this way comes” with the only differences that it’s more power than thrash metal and that is not original, I only gave this score because of the songs called “I walk Alone” and “Harbinger of fate”, which are pretty OK, the rest of the album is not good or enjoyable at all.

The Matrix Revolutions of metal - 40%

DarthVenom, December 16th, 2008

When an artist is as proud of their own work as Schaffer is of his Something Wicked concept, one can’t help but sit up and pay attention. When the band’s gallop-happy guitarist first presented the three-song concept on the Something Wicked This Way Comes album, traditional/thrash/power fans took immediate notice to that trilogy’s blend of sheer riffing and vocal strength and urgent storytelling. Some years later, we have these two albums encompassing the Something Wicked story in its entirety.

I enjoyed Framing Armageddon. I really did. Even though it started getting drawn-out both musically and conceptually around the last third of its running time, the record maintained a good sense of itself as a concept album, with moodier, intense numbers like Motivation Of Man contrasting with deliberate crunchers like Order Of The Rose, serving the moods of the concept as well as being musically competent in their own right.

What the hell happened between that and this? Much like the movie I mentioned in this review’s header, it’s like Schaffer completely lost focus halfway through writing the series – and the final product, while bearing some enjoyable segments taken individually, is bound to satisfy very few who had hoped for something that lives up to the expectations naturally set for it by its predecessor.

I know that the lack of dynamic is a common complaint against Iced Earth, but until now I scoffed at those complaints: the dynamic was always clearly there, even though perhaps superficially so by way of arbitrarily-placed soft sections amidst otherwise powery thrashers. But with The Crucible Of Man…there’s next to no dynamic, and that’s not an attack I level lightly. There is almost nothing on this record that slides out of the mid-paced territory, plodding along before coming to unspectacular finishes that I can’t fairly call “climaxes”. Some bands can get away with this kind of thing, but then, those bands don’t base their entire songwriting repertoire around a very select grouping of by-now overused riffs. The result is a very homogenous mix, very unmemorable on the whole.

Now, because this is an album that rides so heavily on its concept, I feel it only fair to contrast this mess with the first half of the story, Framing Armageddon. That album’s commendable (For IE, anyway) sense of dynamic was brought to a head with the one-two punch of The Domino Decree and the title track – two furious numbers that brought about Tim Owens’ most wonderful vocal performance of his career. The man’s inhuman shrieks on both tracks brought the Setian rage to a palatable level and channeled the fury of the original The Coming Curse song.

Meanwhile, The Crucible Of Man does nothing with its lofty concept – and it seems that nearly every time it’s presented with a natural opportunity to throw a curve ball the listener’s way, it goes out of its way to be as drearily mind-numbing as possible. Take Something Wicked (Part III) – I can’t be the only one who was disappointed when the song reprised the infamous Coming Curse chug section, only to fizzle out into nothingness without doing anything to honour the beloved Barlow shriek section of the song. They might as well have not reprised it at all, or given the song some semblance of a climax whatsoever. My quibble here isn’t just ‘Oh no they didn’t reprise my favourite part!’, it’s that it’s an unintentional example of what goes on all through the record: this disc seems BENT on disappointing the eager listener. Not many albums do that: I don’t like Gamma Ray’s first three albums like I love their later stuff, but I can look at those first three albums as a genuine effort to entertain that didn’t quite cut it for me, just for an easy example. No, The Crucible Of Man hates you, dear reader, and it’s hell-bent on letting you know that with every listen.

I’ve avoided talking about the elephant (policeman?) in the corner for this long, so…I’m not sure exactly what Schaffer was thinking by bringing back fan-favourite Barlow back in the middle of a double concept album deal. For the purpose of the story’s integrity, it just doesn’t make sense. But then, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it doesn’t really matter much from a musical perspective here. After all, I can count on one finger (after thoroughly listening to this record, guess which one) the times when the songwriting here lets the singer actually let loose with what they’re capable of. Again, after Framing Armageddon, this kind of dynamic should come naturally to a writer wanting to craft a good story and entertaining record, so I’m still convinced the darned thing actually goes out of its way to be boring.

But I can’t write the whole record off as a waste of my time, money and possible sanity. There are some songs here and there that shine bright – granted, they wouldn’t hold a candle to, say, Burnt Offerings’ title track, but at least they display some semblance of personality, which automatically puts them a notch above the rest of this monotonous dreck.

A Gift Or A Curse?, the token ballad, shocked me in that this, Iced Earth’s most creative and least-cliché ballad, has thrived on their least creative album ever. The vocal tradeoffs are both soothing and interesting to listen to, and the midsection displays an actual example of (gasp!) dynamic, however straightforward it may be. Album single I Walk Alone is fairly effective for what it is: a brutish, powerful stomper that comes as swift as it goes and leaves a positive impression for its forwardness and conviction.

Come What May, the album centerpiece, contains one of the most cathartic moments of Iced Earth’s discography – after the softer, tribal break, when Barlow is belting the final bridge with a passion unparalleled by the rest of the album. This moment is made all the more triumphant by it being the only moment of its kind on the whole album – a fact that also makes it frustrating in equal doses. If this kind of passion is present on the climactic track, where was it when the rest of the album was mulling over monotone, unadventurous drivel for the past hour?

This is not a bad record. It’s not a good record. It seems to concentrate all its energies on being as mediocre as possible – and I condemn this far more harshly than I would have if I had gotten the vibe that the Schaffer and co. had honestly tried and just slipped up along the way as far as writing interesting material goes, which is what I believe happened with The Glorious Burden minus the wonderful Gettysburg trilogy.

Die-hard Iced Earth fans, approach with extreme caution. This is my first failing score on this site, and I’m normally extremely generous with anything I listen to. But this album isn’t just a failure musically. It’s lost within itself conceptually, and it makes almost every conceivable effort to be as disappointing as possible. For everyone else, Download Come What May and maybe A Gift Or A Curse?, and stay away otherwise.

I can’t fathom what Schaffer was hoping to do with this record, but it certainly wasn’t to impress.

Iced Earth - The crucible of man - 60%

Radagast, October 25th, 2008

Never one to do things the easy way, Jon Schaffer chose maybe the only possible moment the hardcore Iced Earth fan base could have argued with to bring revered former vocalist Matt Barlow back into the fold. Halfway through his magnum opus ‘Something wicked’ story, the continuity between 2 CDs supposed to be looked on as a single greater work has inevitably suffered for the inglorious booting out of Tim Owens. With this in mind, one of the titles on the track listing for ‘The crucible of man’ seems to jump out – “A gift or a curse?”.

In actuality, despite a welcome beefing up of production that has been strangely thin since Barlow’s original departure, the change in vocalist has not made the huge difference to the sound that might have been expected. With that being said, and speaking as a bigger fan of Owens as a vocalist, Barlow really is the voice of Iced Earth, and absence has only made the heart grow fonder with regards to his unique tones in relation to Schaffer’s writing.

The music itself, completely unaffected by who is occupying centre stage, is more or less a straight continuation of the style from ‘Framing armageddon’, being largely epic in scope, and with songs designed to serve the overall feel and story of Schaffer’s vision rather than to stand out in their own right. There are less between-song interludes to be found than on ‘Framing armageddon’, and this is an agreeable thing. Short half-songs that run more like “Motivation of man” from the preceding CD rather than the sound effect extravaganzas of “Cataclysm” and “Invasion” make for an easier, more fluid listen. This smooth, uninterrupted flow also presents a negative side to the CD though, a criticism that has been levelled at both parts of ‘Something wicked’ and is without doubt more prevalent this time around; that the songs are all too similar in pace, construction and lyrical content to have any identity of their own.

While the condemnation has been overly harsh, the general disillusionment the CDs have received is understandable, and it is fair to say that ‘The crucible of man’ in particular is only for dedicated Iced Earth acolytes and concept enthusiasts. Absent are tracks in the mould of “Framing armageddon” and the spectacular “Ten thousand strong” (surely now an Iced Earth classic in anyone’s book), little explosions of aggression that broke from the general atmosphere of melancholy and creeping menace. While quite enjoyable as part of an overall listening experience, too many of the songs on this CD just feel a little grey and inert if taken strictly on their own terms, with hardly any discernable riffs, drum patterns or lead guitar on display.

The standout songs this time around in fact come from the opposite direction than those on part 1. Schaffer, to his credit, breaks new ground as a songwriter on “A gift or a curse?”, whose wandering bass line and chiming clean guitar (provided by former member Dennis Hayes and producer Jim Morris, respectively) would feel more at home on a prog CD. Schaffer also contributes lead vocals on this song for the first time since ‘Night of the stormrider’, trading with Barlow in an intense, bruised half-ballad. Lead guitarist Troy Seele - restricted to a mere 3 solos from start to finish - also makes a great contribution to the song, and a more generous use of his talents would surely have imbued a little more character into the CD as a whole.

The closing track before the outro “Come what may” is another entrancing slow burner, the grand epic of the entire saga, I suppose, as Set Abominae’s apocalypse nears fulfilment, and Barlow shines brighter than at any other moment on the CD as things draw to a rousing close.

In a way it is sad that the much-trumpeted return of Matt Barlow hasn’t made a more notable impact on Iced Earth’s output. Personally I have time for a CD like ‘The crucible of man’, but coming just a year after a very similar but slightly stronger predecessor, it is not exactly an essential purchase. It may prove to be the case that Jon Schaffer has left it until just a little late into his career to write his meisterwerk, or it may be that the general lack of kinetic energy on the ‘Something wicked’ saga has been an entirely stylistic choice. Their next CD may well be a riff-fest more suited as a follow-up to Barlow’s last contribution on ‘Horror show’, but I would doubt it.
“Come what may,” as the saying goes.

(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com/)

All fall down. - 22%

Empyreal, October 19th, 2008

Iced Earth suck at writing riffs. They suck at a lot of things, but they're really, phenomenally awful at writing riffs. In fact, Jon Schaffer is one of the worst Heavy Metal guitarists I've ever heard. Being a Heavy Metal band, you would think that writing riffs would be one of their higher priorities, but no, it isn't. This band has been churning out uninspired drivel for the better part of the last decade, and the only thing that has changed here is John Schaffer's asinine and pointless bumping off of Tim Owens, pandering to his fans' moronic desire for MATT BARLOW OMG. Seriously, did you all really think having him back would change the stolid, stale songwriting of this lifeless shell of a band, magically revitalizing their riff-writing power and turning them into some sort of force to be reckoned with?

Whatever you may have thought, the fact of the matter is that Matt Barlow's return has changed nothing. Why not just keep Tim Owens on board and finish the goddamned concept you started, Schaffer? Is it that hard to keep continuity? Are you really that detached from reality? I mean, what the fuck is the logic in that? It's like if they just randomly decided to make Jim Carrey Batman in the next Christopher Nolan movie. Or if they decided to have Spider-Man as a black man in the next sequel of that series (which would not really surprise me, on second thought). What kind of sensible, logical story with an actual plot could possibly flow well with a change in direction like this? And did you know that Schaffer let Owens off through eMail? He didn't even have the balls to tell him to his face! What a douchebag. I'm sure the story of The Crucible of Man sucks ass anyway, though. Nothing of value was lost here. Except a chunk of brain cells on my part.

As for the music itself, what can you really say about these guys that hasn't been said before? They write some decent epic parts for a little bit, but overall they tend to drag their compositions out longer than they need to be, and Barlow, while he sounds good, unfortunately does not sing anything worth listening to, due to insipid vocal lines and contrived melodies. The songs here don't even end on good notes, they just sort of...stop. No buildup or fading out or anything. They just plod on with one or two blase Metal-lite riffs and then just...stop. Right there. There are no epics like "The Clouding" here (oh, alright, "Come What May" is decent enough), nor are there any full out Painkiller moments like on the last album, either, just a lot of bland dreck. This is just mediocre all around, with too much unbearable vocal layering on the chorii as the band imitate Blind Guardian some more, too many songs that seem to last forever, and too little aggression, emotion, memorability, energy or anything that you could cite as a positive aspect of any good Metal album. Why would people listen to this when they could be listening to music with drive, with power, with feeling? What's the point in Iced Earth? Someone should tell me, because I sure as fuck don't know.

Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com

Iced Earth is Dead - 11%

GuntherTheUndying, September 24th, 2008

I’d like to open this review with a quote from the Tourettes Guy: “Holy dumb fuck…what is this shit?” Indeed, I wish the answers were exposed, but we don’t have philosophical meanings to understand Iced Earth totally pissed on themselves with “The Crucible of Man,” the final chapter in the Setians battle-royal against humanity. A crucible towards man it is not, but a curse that was coming: Tim Owens led John Schaffer’s band into new territory, but he was ejected for Matt Barlow, which nearly shouted, “Our new CD will induce vomiting!” Certainly, bane is unavoidable. I’ve never felt so ashamed in my life: Iced Earth has not only made a flaccid return, but crushed nearly everything John Schaffer conceived with “The Crucible of Man.” And unlike what Iced Earth critics would expect, everything – musically, vocally, poetically, lyrically, and even conceptually – sucks more dong than Nathan Lane during “The Birdhouse.” Grab some plastic: the shit is about to fly!

Basically, Iced Earth configures its similar approach found on the band’s previous LP, “Framing Armageddon,” only done so with stuck-in-parking blandness. If you haven’t heard this abomination, I can only explain John Schaffer’s guitar work kills the effort, from melting numbers like “Sacrificial Kingdoms” right when it starts, but not to mention stillbirths enter throughout something as “Behold the Wicked Child” also. Why does he fail in such an area? Well, his ideas are completely invalid, leading to riffs that aren’t just generic, but as minimalistic as it gets. These “riffs” are so bad, I actually thought SPV sent a different release accidently; that’s how terrible his guitar playing is. Solos don’t do anything memorable besides making you wait for another frontier, again not aiding a single entity, while “The Crucible of Man” stays in its ass-to-mouth instrumentation. Brent Smedley? He’s just a drummer: hitting this, bashing that…nothing special. Iced Earth is no longer Iced Earth; just paying tribute to themselves. A painful vision indeed!

But then Iced Earth fans wanted Matt Barlow back, so they whined and bitched until Schaffer gave it a thumbs-up. “Oh, his voice is so pretty,” they shout, flapping like N*SYNC fans. “He’s got red hair that we’d all blow ourselves over, and Barlow is SOOO emotional!” Yea good for you guys, but here’s an issue surfacing from his return: Barlow sucks like never before! Clearly, the extended absence Barlow obtained took its toll after “Tribute to the Gods” when he departed, because the list of things he can’t perform that was once inborn is horrendous. Notes aren’t hit as high, the falsetto factor is pathetic, his growls are faded and unprofessional, plus all salivations are cracked, or generally face-hitting. You fans asked, and you fans received: a feeble, tired man trying to recapture his false legacy built from emotional deception and mediocre talent. Wishing for what you want can really be a bitch, I suppose.

Amidst this fog of diarrhea, there are a few cuts providing true fundamentals we’d all expect from Barlow-era Iced Earth, with a little touch of simplicity that doesn’t reek like dung. “I Walk Alone” was the single choice, and for good reasoning; see its instrumentation for details. “Divide, Devour” also demonstrating sweet choir-choruses and thrash riffs like we’d hope for, again showcasing more flavors in a sea of vanilla. Finally, “A Gift or a Curse” is a cool tribal-laden ballad that seems quite unconventional alongside everything else, which ironically sounds like bowels moving. Three songs deserve mentioning, while the remaining twelve are atrocious beyond comprehension. How fucking disgraceful.

Honestly, I’m stunned how terrible this CD is; words cannot describe its violations upon Iced Earth’s original ideology forged when intelligence and poetics shined blissfully. So many things have been destroyed unlike anything I’ve ever seen, which bluntly means this band went from stellar to absolute puke in hardly a year. So in final judgment, “The Crucible of Man” isn’t just a bad album with minimal counterpoints, but some pathetic joke one should never experience. Not only is this abomination the worst item Iced Earth has ever heaved, it’s a self-indulgent achievement that kicks Schaffer right in his egotistical sack, Barlow in his crud excuse for a voice, and Set Abominae into the grave. Sorry kids, but Iced Earth is dead.

This review was written for: www.Thrashpit.com

Just epic. - 87%

Paranoidi, September 14th, 2008

So this is the first proper Iced Earth album with Matt Barlow back on vocals, and that already is going to divide fans. Some will say it’s amazing just because Matt is back, others will say that even Matt can not save it. But I’m just going to concentrate on the music itself.

Like its predecessor, this album is a grower. There was nothing especially striking the first time I heard this, but it seems to get better each time I listen to it. This album is Iced Earth at its most epic, with the sole exception of the Gettysburg Trilogy which may be able to contest that title. A few months ago I would have sworn that Iced Earth would be more epic with Tim than Matt, but somehow these layered vocals are even more epic with Matt than with Tim. (Yes, I stated in my I Walk Among You review that they don’t suit Matt, but I’ve changed my mind.)

The album starts out with an intro called “In Sacred Flames”, and this seems to be a direct continuation of The Awakening from Framing Armageddon. I could easily imagine the songs fading into each other. The intro gets rather heavy, and then Behold the Wicked Child begins. The song isn’t really that amazing, but I’ll be damned if that isn’t one of the best album beginnings ever. The next songs, Minions of the Watch, The Revealing, and A Gift or a Curse, are rather bland and uninteresting, but they are listenable and build up into the heavier parts of the album which follow.
Both the music and the storyline kick off with Crown of the Fallen and The Dimension Gauntlet, both of which are sadly only a few minutes long. They are followed by I Walk Alone, which we all know by now. Perhaps intentionally, it is the eighth song of the album, just as Ten Thousand Strong was also on a single and was the eight song. It’s a good song, of course. The next song, Harbinger of Fate, is less heavy and more melancholic/melodic, but it becomes heavier and more epic with a nice choir in the background. This is followed by the definite highlight of the album, four extremely solid songs: Crucify the King, Sacrificial Kingdoms, Something Wicked Part 3, and Divide Devour. Something Wicked Part 3 borrows a riff from The Coming Curse which is a nice flashback to the original Something Wicked trilogy.
The last proper song on the album is easily the best: Come What May. This is an emotional, long song very reminiscent of classic Iced Earth songs like A Question of Heaven. It blends old Iced Earth melody and emotion with new Iced Earth layered vocals and the different guitar sound, and is a very fitting end to an excellent two-album series. The Epilogue is very similar to Overture on Framing Armageddon, which closes the circle.

There are not that many stand out songs on this album like Framing Armageddon; there is no Setian Massacre or Ten Thousand Strong. It is, however, devoid of the interludes that the last album was so full of. Some of those interludes were very good, but I am happy that most of the music is actual songs instead. The album doesn’t seem to pause as much, and once the music and story pick up, it keeps going very epic to the end. I am using the word “epic” so much because there really isn’t a more fitting word to describe this album; The Crucible of Man is probably the most epic album I have heard.

An Album That Will Both Divide And Devour! - 90%

MetalPubes, September 13th, 2008

Iced Earth back to their best? I had mixed feelings in anticipation of this, the second part of Jon Schaffer's vision, before release.
On the one hand, of course I was excited about the return of Matt Barlow. I believe he is the true voice of the band. This is one of the rare occasions when I can't imagine the band with another singer, I mean I enjoy all of Maiden and Sabbath's albums for example. Owens, who is a world class singer no doubt about that, just did not fit with the Iced Earth sound. They went from being partially power metally to overblown Judas Priest wannabes. Which brings me to my other point, the true problem with the last two records was not Owens at all, it was Schaffer's poor songwriting that let them down. Bland and boring with the couple of standout tracks, which gave me hope for this record.


And the album really delivers, for the first time since "Horror Show". Although it does take a few listens to really appreciate, it settles on your ears far more quickly than Part I ever did. The production here is far better, the riffs, while typical Iced Earth fare, are more varied and I'm glad there is no "album riff" like on the first part (you know, that plodding , slow one that's in "A Charge to Keep", "Framing Armageddon" etc). There are fewer interludes, and the album flows better as a result, even though I did not mind them too much on the last one, it still makes for a far easier listen this time through. The album is also a touch shorter and it feels like they want every song to count in the story, and to also hit you with all it's got first time.


As for the story, at the end of Part I the principle character, Set Abominae, is finally born and ready to wreak havoc on mankind in retribution for their crimes on the Setians. I find the story fascinating, and was looking forward to seeing how it concludes, and wasn't let down. What surprised me most about this album was that control freak Schaffer even let Barlow touch his baby, letting him write lyrics on three or four songs. ("Letting him" is accurate I'm sure.) The story is easy enough to follow with one look at the lyrics, same as the last record, so I do not understand some of the criticism levelled at them, you'd have to be a bit muddled in the head to not get it, to be honest. What is especially good about the second part though, is that the story telling is not done at the expense of the music, as I think on Part I Schaffer rarely found the right balance. Not so on Part II.


The album intro, "In Sacred Flames", is just epic, simple as. I can just see it being used as an intro live, and I think I'd cream in to my pants. To be honest the five or six songs that follow are the ones that require repeated listens. At first I enjoyed them, but on the third listen they really grew on me. "Behold the Wicked Child" is a great first proper track, with a catchy chorus and some good riffage. The next couple of songs are the shortest on the album, but are far from being throwaway numbers. "Minions of the Watch" has Barlow sneering his lyrics in an almost Ozzy style, that really suits the song. Musically, the song is not too strong, but it fades out into one of the album highlights, "The Revealing". I absolutely love the vocals, the riff and the power in this song. It slays. (The riff at 1:10 being particularly jizz-tastic.)


The first ballad of the album, "A Gift or a Curse" is, well, to be honest when I first heard it I thought it was a joke song. But again, it grows on you. Although I do not understand why Schaffer put his vocals higher in the mix than Barlow on the verses, and I think his slightly higher pitched voice lets it down a bit. The song really gets going at 2:30 or so, and Matt takes over again to really put the "power" in power ballad.
"Crown of the Fallen" is forgettable, serving the purpose of moving the story along without ever really grabbing your attention, same with "The Dimension Gauntlet". I guess that is really the album lowlight, it kind of sags in the middle. They are not bad songs at all, they just suffer from Part I's problem in being average and musically not interesting. Harsh words but I had to put the songs on whilst I write this just to remind me how they sound!


"I Walk Alone", the single released months ago that really whet my appetite is next and fits in well here, and the album begins to climb towards its peak from this point on, as the second half is just great. "Harbinger of Fate" is fantastic, even for an Iced Earth ballad, who I believe have never written a good one. This one breaks the trend. Superb vocals, lyrics, and music. I love the chanting, the short solo and riff over both. The song really appeals to me in the last verse, with Eastern tribal drumming playing over the vocals, along with Brent Smedley's drumming, which I should point out, is solid and truly ear catching on this record.
"Crucify the King" is your traditional Satanic fare, but I believe out of all the bands that write rubbish about Jesus, God and the Devil, Iced Earth excel on the subject. When they're writing about the Church ("Brainwashed" hits the spot superbly) or just destroying Christ ("Damien" has some epicly cheesy yet brutal lyrics) I reckon they're one of the best out there on the subject. This song is one of the best on the record, even with its slow, plodding riff, it fits the song perfectly, and with Barlow's evil singing it's a real standout.
Yet it gets even better, with "Sacrificial Kingdoms", check out the riff at 2:07. Enough said. "Something Wicked (Part 3) is pretty good too. It starts off pretty solid, then around 2:10 starts building up to something. And then I jizz. Every time. It's not the best riff, but the reprise of "The Coming Curse" riff at 2:30 is so brilliantly done, and it doesn't feel tacked on either, that it feels like a reward for the Iced Earth fans who have stuck with them, and I want to hug Jon Schaffer for this.


The climax of the album begins, with "Divide and Devour" being the "Framing Armageddon" of Part II. It doesn't pack as much punch, although I believe that is because this album is consistently solid throughout, whereas Part I really needed a kick in the balls. "Come What May", the last song on the album, is truly beautiful and thought provoking, and upon reading the lyrics it is a fitting conclusion to the saga. The verse riff of the song is great (I do love Schaffer's chugging riffs), and the flute in the middle of the song really fits well. "Epilogue" is basically a reprise of "Overture" from Part I, and closes the album fittingly. I do wonder if we've seen the last of Set Abominae though, but I hope Schaffer leaves it alone for a while, although he has mentioned re-recording Part I with Barlow on vocals, which would be interesting. From the re-recordings on "I Walk Among You", I don't think Barlow could save it too much. Except for "The Clouding". That song is pant shittingly good no matter who sings it.


Overall, the album is a grand return to form for the band. I do recommend a couple of listens to it, and a scanning of the lyrics as it packs more punch if you know what the hell is going on. The band is tight, and Schaffer has finally put as much effort into the music as the lyrics, for the first time since "Horror Show". I didn't think I'd say this about Iced Earth again after "The Glorious Burden" and "Framing Armageddon", but I truly can't wait for the next album from one of my all time favorites. They have gotten their act together, seem to finally have a solid core in the band of Smedley, Schaffer and Barlow, and I hope at least these three stick together for a while, and that Freddie Vidales will actually play bass on the next record.
Summary, if it hadn't been for Testament's orgasmic return this would definately be my album of the year.

Best track: Sacrificial Kingdoms or Harbinger of Fate
Worst track: Crown of the Fallen is alright

Third time's a hex - 11%

zeingard, September 13th, 2008

As trite and tacky as it is, I'm going to make a vague analogy of why Iced Earth's 'The Crucible of Man' sucks the mighty suck with a disturbing talent. I had root canal a couple of days ago, and despite the two needles of anaesthetic I had that was supposed to numb the pain, about two nerves in I was experiencing a respectable amount of pain. My only saving grace during those two hours of having my mouth propped open and probed continuously like a large-mouthed hooker at a suspiciously male-only party, was that at least I wasn't listening to 'The Crucible of Man'. Yes I know, I'm witty as fuck but seriously, this album is yet more proof of Iced Earth's utter inability to write coherent and consistent albums.

I suppose it's inevitable to talk about Barlow's return to the band and commenting on the impact of this event. First things first; if you thought that Barlow's return would somehow redeem Iced Earth's abominable past efforts with Owens on vocals then I suggest you forcibly take a claw hammer to your reproductive organs. You're officially a fucking moron and shouldn't breed, now rack off and go back to focusing on NASCAR and breathing through your mouth. Admittedly Barlow sounds the same as ever and it's hard to fault him because Iced Earth sounds more Iced Earth-like with his return but the music is still shit. People seem to forget that Barlow just stands around belting out whatever crap lyrics he's handed, he doesn't have a sizable influence on the song's riffs or compositions and thus they're once again, really really terrible.

The riffs are as tedious as ever; Jon Schaffer hasn't written a decent riff since "Wolf" and before that it was "Violate" or "Stand Alone"; Iced Earth riffs elude me because they all blur together after a certain point. The man just lacks staying power and creativity to drive the band forward. 'The Crucible of Man' shows us a familiar set of riffs but Schaffer manages to blow his wad of bearable riffs within only the first couple of songs leaving the rest of the album to be lifeless and limp; "Crucify the King", "I Walk Alone" et al are just terrible, terrible songs. "Minions of the Wicked", "The Revealing" and "Crown of the Fallen" contain a couple of decent riffs each but are entirely superfluous running at two minutes each; they could be combined into a full song, a good one nonetheless! Instead we're treated to wanky and trite lyrics while the riffs plod along towards their short-lived demise.

The second half of the album is completely fucking useless; there is nothing to be heard here that hasn't fucked your ears to death on their previous albums, especially the more ballad-styled songs on 'Something Wicked This Way Comes' i.e. every second song. On reflection I suppose it keeps in line with the 'trilogy' and also maintains Iced Earth's high standards of being bland and mediocre at every opportunity. I suppose that's a bit too wide-sweeping of a comment since "Divide and Devour" is actually quite decent but extremely confusing; you write a good song and sandwich it between the eternally long shitfest of noodling around that is "Come What May" and the cock-swilling, ineptly story-linked "Something Wicked (Part 3)". Despite that they manage to make the middle section of "Divide and Conquer" blow a paddock of goats by forcibly inserting that pseudo-epic choir shit in the middle and breaking the entire flow; heaven forbid playing a fucking solo or doing something good.

Iced Earth have always been a band that focuses on being epic however, so it comes as no real surprise that they enjoy long, meandering instrumental sections and multi-layered vocals. It gets to a point however where enough is enough; I swear to whatever deity is present, if I have to put up with those fucking choirs being thrown out left and right in centre during every single song I will take a sharpened toothbrush to Jon Schaffer's face, or my temple depending on how hungover I am. The epic fetish is cute in the occasional song but bands seem to continually be replacing song writing and riffs with this pseudo-epic bollocks that has no substance or value and inevitably destroys whatever quality was built up in the album. If you near constantly having booming choirs erupting during every chorus or interval then you ultimately reduce their effect and response; instead of "Oh wow this is epic" after about the third song you're going "Oh fuck not again". I guess I'm asking Iced Earth to have some restraint but really, I'm more likely to have success in herding cats or telling gold to drop the electrons and go into solution already.

So if you're dying to add yet another terribly inconsistent Iced Earth album to your collection then 'The Crucible of Man' fits the bill perfectly; two to three riffs per song, irrelevant solos, songs that over stay their visit and wagon loads of poorly implemented pseudo-epic effects. Personally I'll go have good taste in music instead.

Barlow Is Back, With a Vengence - 85%

Flamos, September 10th, 2008

It’s funny. Now that Tim Owens has departed from Iced Earth, I hear people saying that it was a bad move to get rid of him. Yet when Barlow was gone, people were saying it was the wrong move. Hypocritical? You decide.

First thing, the vocals on this album are great. This front man drama is beginning to become irritating. Matt Barlow does a fantastic job for material that wasn’t written for him. At some points it feels like he’s being held back, but it’s not that big of a deal. Plus he was out of the metal scene for almost seven years. It certainly doesn’t sound like it.

The production is better than it’s predecessor “Something Wicked Part 1.” Everything feels heavier and the thin sounding drums and guitars have been fixed. That’s always a plus, right?

The album starts off slow. The first six songs are either too short or not that exciting. The ballad “A Gift or Curse” is interesting, having Jon Schaffer do some of the vocal work, but it doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere. “Minions of the Watch” and “The Revealing” are much too short and it wilts the excitement that the songs could have had.

Once “The Dimension Gauntlet” starts, this is where the album truly shines. This is the Iced Earth we all know and love. It’s a little on the short side but still very enjoyable. “Sacrificial Kingdoms” is my favorite from the album. The layered vocals are a nice touch, and the playing by Brent Smedly on drums is fantastic as always. “Come What May” is a great ending to the saga with the amazing vocal performance of Matt Barlow.

The songs I didn’t mention have their perks and are great songs as well. People doubting that Barlow could perform on this album will be surprised on how well he pulled this off. Schaffer’s riffage is as powerful as ever and the song writing is cleaver and well written. Any hardcore Iced Earth fan will eat this up, but for people looking to get into this band this release will impress you.

A Solid Return to Form - 100%

Baalslayer28, September 6th, 2008

Ah yes, the highly anticipated return of Iced Earth’s “voice”, Mathew Barlow, is finally among us. “The Crucible Of Man”, the supposed conclusion of Jon Schaffer’s massive “Something Wicked” story, is a solid return to form for the band, and shall put a smile onto the all faces of veteran Iced Earth fans.

So how does this disc compare with “Framing Armageddon”, one might ask? Well, in my opinion at least, it absolutely destroys that album, and here’s why:

- First off, the production is MUCH better. The guitars and drums are much louder, heavier, and punchier than those heard on Framing Armageddon’s somewhat thin production. I believe Shaeffer himself said in an interview that they will eventually remaster "FA" with Barlow’s vocals (part of a box set I believe) and this punchier production of "The Crucible of Man"

- Secondly, the return of Barlow helps the band rekindle their former glory, even if the material itself may not be quite as outstanding as the band’s classic discs. It’s amazing how this man’s vocal talents haven’t diminished even the slightest amount, considering he’s been absent from the metal scene for a good 7 years (2001's “Horrow Show” to 2008's “Immortal” by Pyramaze, and this album.) Bottom line, Iced Earth finally sounds much more like, well, Iced Earth!

- And finally, the inclusion of more actual songs instead of interludes, gives the fans more meat for their dollar. With the exception of an epic Intro and Outro, we have 13 brand new songs to dive into, so let’s discuss the songs themselves.

The opener, “Behold the Wicked Child”, full-filled my expectations of how this album should sound. It’s very epic, and loaded with all the choirs and chanting that we’ve heard in Iced Earth before, in classics such as “Angel’s Holocaust”. After a couple shorter tracks, we get a semi-ballad by the name of “A Gift Or a Curse”, which reminded me of some of the excellent ballads on “The Dark Saga” and “Something Wicked This Way Comes”.

The single, “I Walk Alone”, is also a good slab of catchy Iced Earth power metal, while “Harbinger of Fate” and “Come What May” showcase the band’s more melodic side. Another notable track the comes to mind is “Crucify The King”. This track has some sinister sounding guitar riffs throughout the verses, and is one of the darkest songs on the album. All of the unmentioned songs are also just as awesome, there’s just too many of them to make note of all at once.

I guess my only negative comments towards "The Crucible of Man" is that the song lengths are at times, simply too short. For a concept album, and a conclusion to an Epic fantasy story, I would’ve loved too see more 5, 6+ minute songs that engage me in the story, and tell me the story though musical development (not just what I'm told from the lyrics) and different moods/textures within one song. An approach such as this could've worked better than all the 2, 3 minute songs that just whizz by you if your not paying enough attention.

I also felt the conclusion of "The Crucible of Man" and the “Something Wicked” story presented itself the PERFECT opportunity for Schaeffer to break-out a huge 10+ minute EPIC song! You know, something that can stand atop the ladder with Iced Earth’s best "Epics", such as "Dantes' Inferno", "The Coming Curse", or the 3 songs from the "Gettysburg Trilogy", or even surpass them!

The other reviewer hit the nail on the head when he claimed the album can be rather un-climatic at times, considering the magnitude and scale of the over-the-top storyline. Common Jon! Set Abominae (or "The Antichrist") is raining down revenge on mankind, which to me at least, is the most impactful/intriguing moment of the entire story, a catastrophic event that seems worthy of a majestic, symphonic, chaotic, choir-filled song to blow the listeners ears away and envelop them deep within the storyline.

Despite these minor qualms, “The Crucible of Man” still remains an excellent Iced Earth album, and one of 2008's top metal releases. I don’t think it’s quite as strong as Pyramaze’s masterpiece “Immortal”, but it’s definitely one of the better Iced Earth albums of recent years. Even though The Ripper dished out some fantastic performances on “The Glorious Burden” and “Framing Armageddon”, Matt Barlow’s presence alone has rejuvenated this band and has given us long time Iced Earth maniacs the album we’ve been waiting to hear from them for many years now.

Mixed Emotions - 59%

Vaibhavjain, September 5th, 2008

Iced Earth is undoubtedly one of the most well known figures in the power metal scene around the world. So once again power metal fans around the world held their breath in anticipation of Iced Earth’s latest offering “The Crucible Of Man”. This album too like many others in Iced Earth’s catalogue is a concept album. This is the third and possibly final part of the “Something Wicked This Way Comes” story, a story that 10 years back with an album of the same name.

For the purpose of simplicity I will divide the album into two halves because my take on them is quite different, but on the other hand my opinion on all the tracks of a half are same.

As soon as I put on the album I was expecting the natural raw power of Iced Earth but I was taken back. The band’s previous album, Framing Armageddon had quite a bit of experimenting in it. The band had changed the guitar tuning and played on a different note altogether. The first thing that strikes your mind when you hear the first half album (Tracks 1 – Track 7) is that they yet again have opted for the same guitar tuning here too. Along with that you see the striking amount of experimentation done here. They have opted for a more progressive approach with progressive elements being found a plenty during the course of the first half of this album, they have tried out song structures never before tried out by the band before, more focus on guitar solos and they have used female operatic vocals in the backdrop way more than they had in the last album. When the intro starts up, which is basically female operatic vocals backed up with orchestration I was simply blown away, but the shock of not hearing the signature Iced Earth stuff for the reasons, which I mentioned, was almost unbearable. For quite a while I positively hated this half of the album and the intro (which is very good) was the favorite track on the album.

Now this half of the album does need a few listens to get used to, this half needs a few listens to be fully appreciated. As I mentioned I hated the first half during the first listen but after a few listens you, like me will begin to have a better opinion on the first half. The band opts for a more melodic approach and boy does Barlow sound just about mediocre here. It is quite sad actually that a man who could single handedly take the band to the next level because of his immense range and talent sounds pretty darn average in this half. It is also a mystery of what happened to his voice because he sounded at the top of his game earlier this year on Pyramaze’s “Immortal” where he was the guest vocalist for the entire album. The first half has some good riffs no doubt, a few catchy choruses and the solo on “A Gift Or A Curse” is one of the best solos I’ve heard from Iced Earth in a very long time. As for the downsides, the extensive use of female operatic vocals turned out to be a bad experiment. It seems as if the band used those as fillers during the tracks when they had no idea what to do. These female operatic vocals just pop up suddenly during the course of the track and even though they are quite good the timing and placement of these make hearing them a bad experience. Also another thing that can account for the not-so-good first half is the fact is that the concept actually destroys the music. Because of the concept of the album the band cuts short the length of the tracks and uses the fade out of one track as an intro to the following track, and even though this is how it works with concept album it at times feels that the music sacrificed because of the concept. This happens not once but twice during the album, firstly when the album shifts from “Minions Of The Watch” to “The Revealing” and secondly from “Crown Of The Fallen” to “The Dimension Gauntlet”. Because of this, it at times feel as if the tracks are actually incomplete. Also the odd lengths of the tracks can sometimes be annoying. Once you hear a couple of 2 - 2:30 minute tracks and suddenly a near 6 min track is thrown in. This was very disappointing because this is the exact same mistake they had made in their last album too. Because of the extremely short length of the tracks the album just failed to gather momentum of any sorts. Such is the experience here. Too. Just as the band manages to gather some momentum in the first half these short tracks kill it.

The second half of the album embrace the tracks from the 8th one to final and 15th one and this where the band get it’s act right. No experimenting here, just plain old signature, awesome Iced Earth. This half starts of with “I Walk Alone”, a track that was also released as a single a few months back. In this half the band corrects all that what they did wrong in the first half. The concept compliments the music, Barlow sounds good and the female operatic vocals are used intelligently well and they add to the atmosphere in these half and no annoying track lengths. This is the Iced Earth we love. There is not a single bad track in this half and I know what I speak because I’ve been into Iced Earth for years now.

Tracks like “Harbinger Of Fate” are reminiscent of Iced Earth’s early ballad type works as on “The Dark Saga”. This track is one of the best on the album which put forth and elegant blend of female operatic vocals, the ballad type work as on “The Dark Saga” and the thrashy work as was present on “Night Of The Stormrider”. It’s difficult to have a stand out track in this half here because they are all just so damn good. The next track “Sacrificial Kingdoms”, the riffery of which brings us back to the riffery of the band on another one of their early releases” Night Of The Stormrider”. Another one of the great tracks is “Divide And Devour”. Ok, imagine what you get when you cross tracks like “Violate” or “Disciples Of The Lie” (both early thrash Iced Earth tracks) with elements of Blind Guardian? Yes what you get is this track. Powerful riffs combined with the elegance of Hansi Kursch’s (Blind Guardian’s vocalist) vocals style during the choruses result in one of Iced Earth’s best tracks. Now do you know why I said this half reminds one of Iced Earth’s early works? But wait it doesn’t end here. The tracks “Something Wicked (Part III)” and “Come What May” are the best songs on this album. The latter is a 7-minute epic and is the gem of this album with Barlow at his best and once he is at his best he takes the band to an entire different level as I said earlier and features freaking violins that build to the atmosphere. “Some Thing Wicked (Part III) on the other hand is a beautifully structured and has the not only the best operatic vocals but check out the riff at 2:30, for that is quite easily the catchiest riff on this release. The only let down on this half is the last track on the album which is entitled “Epilogue” which is nothing but noise. This track ends this album, ends the Something Wicked trilogy.

I would highly recommend this album to all Iced Earth fans, I know this album will have many reviews and the rating will vary greatly because of the first half of the album which will be hated by many mainly because of repeating the same mistakes in the first half they made in their last album too, but believe me, you’ll end up appreciating this half too because if you let it, this half will grow on you. So do not be disappointed on not hearing signature Iced Earth stuff on the first half, but enjoy the experimentation. But if you still want the old Iced Earth and will not settle for anything less even then relax, just hear the second half for it is nothing less than what you expect.

Something Dull This Way Comes - 60%

Dario_CF, September 5th, 2008

They've lost a bit of power and a bit of freshness. Indeed, though the distortion always remains very thick and the riffing plays a fundamental role, the rhythmical rushes that in the past revealed a sort of thrash dependency have gone away.

Anyway, today almost all the tracks, even the best ones, show a thin dull veil that maybe comes from a chronic writing tiredness. The whole saga of "Something Wicked" remains a titanic work anyway, maybe mastodontic if we must judge it as a whole, surely ambitious even in the historical/sci-fi lyrics that try to dive us into a strongly fanciful context. Musically we often encounter wide solid melodies, due to the abundance of mid tempos and slow parts, which surely contribute in creating that heavy atmosphere that breathes thoughout of the album, while some rather simplified choirs try to increase the already high epic rate of the songs.

Said that, and having to judge the saga that here is about to end, we must say the best part is the first introduction, the faraway trilogy written in 1998; all the rest tends to drag along without excessive enthusiasm, revealing an unsurpassable solidity but without ever exciting too much. Hard to criticize this album too harsh – likewise all the late albums of Iced Earth – because we're talking of articulated works that are perfect under every point of view.

Simply, they miss the magic: no song out of the 15 gives you the goose flesh or forces you to sing along out loud. If I remember well, the last song Schaffer wrote that were able to produce these effects have been those inspired to the American Civil War, even if the final "Divide And Devour" and "Come What May" don't go too stray away from this standard. All the rest, remains ordinary. The choice to call back Matt Barlow behind the microphone, anyway, reveals the most fitting.


http://www.silentscreamzine.com/Home.asp?Lang=ENG

Armageddon came early this year - 72%

Emperor_Of_Ice, September 5th, 2008

--Much too early for my taste.

The long awaited conclusion (?) to the Something Wicked story has arrived, albeit 6 months later than initially promised, but given the circumstances (return of former front man Matt Barlow), ‘tis an acceptable compromise.

Let me start by saying I enjoy this album; it’s good. Not amazing. Not mind-blowing. Not even great – but good. The previous album was definitely better.

I have several big beefs with this album. First, Barlow was not used to his full potential. In fact, I’d even go as far as saying Owens’ performance on the previous album was better than Barlow’s on this one, but I firmly believe that fault falls firmly on Schaffer’s shoulders, not Matt’s. He sounded great on every song, but he can do so much more, it’s not even funny. I expected way more shrieks, more growls, more intensity overall. It is highly suspect, however, that Barlow is not to blame for this. This isn’t another case of an under-performing singer trying to find his bearings (not to mention on top of music that wasn’t tailored to his voice; see: Tim Owens on The Glorious Burden), this is music not being written as interesting as it could/should have been. I think the only song on here that where Barlow really rips is the final real song, “Come What May.”

Next: Schaffer didn’t deliver as promised. He insisted this album would be darker and heavier than the last. It isn’t. I wouldn’t say it’s less dark/heavy, but it certainly isn’t more so, and if it is, certainly not to any significant degree like he emphasized. Now, I’m not sure what everyone else expected by his statements (providing you kept up on the interviews/updates), but I expected at least one or two songs more like “Framing Armageddon.” Of course NotS/BO would be MUCH darker/heavier, but I think we all know those days are gone. Luckily, I didn’t go expecting Dante’s Inferno: The Return, but I at least expected more than ONE song to come close to the darkness/heaviness that was the title track of the last album. Sadly, none do. “Framing Armageddon” may well be the last significant amount of whatever dark/heavy juice Schaffer had left over from the old years. Every time the current track ended, I prayed the next was going to be what Schaffer said it would, but… it never happened. “Divide and Devour” sounded promising initially, but even that fell way short of the glory that is “Framing Armageddon.”

Another fairly large disappointment is that there aren’t many particularly memorable tracks. Yes, there are a few standout tracks, but I can’t honestly say that any song on here grabs you from the get-go and thrashes you senseless without loosening its grip. I didn’t find anything on here extremely immediately engaging that actually held all of its initial allure through the end, much less follow through to something significantly greater, like with “Framing Armageddon.” And in case you’re wondering: yes, I will keep using that as the comparison for what virtually every song on this album should have been, because in my opinion, its damn close to if not the best thing Schaffer has ever written.

Finally, fanboy that I am, I hate to keep ripping on this album, but this is one of the most absurdly anti-climactic concept albums I’ve ever heard. I mean, if it was a concept album about painting a house, I could understand, but it isn’t; this is about some crazy alien fuck being summoned for thousands of years to rain a whole boatload of fuckshitup on earth. Being that this album is, allegedly, the ultra-climactic-apocalyptic-masterpiece-brainchild ten years in the making, it really has no climax whatsoever. Remember “Framing Armageddon”? That was a fucking climax. That was like your first orgasm with those Ukrainian hookers you met in a brothel during your month-long backpacking trip through Europe who gave you four tabs of ecstasy while taking turns blowing you and fingering your prostate for three days straight. This, on the other hand, is like wanking to a porno you’ve seen so many times you’ve gotten every moan and hump memorized down to the second to the point where masturbation becomes a routine chore rather than a euphoric experience: as soon as it’s done, you just turn it off and make yourself a tuna fish sandwich as if nothing happened, then cry. Half-way through “Divide and Devour” there’s this badass choir chanting over solid riffage and the epic of the song immediately shoots through the roof, but then it just goes back to exactly the way it was before. I can’t say I know of a single greater case of musical blue balls; it’s really fucked up. “Framing Armageddon” actually slowed down, then came back and bukkaked all over the fucking place. This one tries to, but it just sort of leaks out, just short of your face.

In spite of all that though, providing you liked the last album (if you didn’t, then you will probably be satisfied with my review up to the last paragraph), this album is still a decent listen. While the songs may not all be of hyper-memorable, stand-out quality, they all plod along at about the same level of quality with little fluctuation, for better and worse. I haven’t found any of these songs boring or bad. In fact, I enjoy every song, some a little more than others, to some degree. A few of the songs have some pretty interesting riffage and atmosphere. Even from early on, the solos are better and more memorable than on Framing Armageddon.

This album has fewer interludes, so I guess that’s a plus for most people; I was one of the few people that didn’t mind, and even enjoyed them, but most people seem to be of opposing mindset. Whatever.

Continuing on the lack of climax: listening to this album, I strongly disbelieve this will be the end for Set Abominae. I don’t have the lyrics, and I generally suck at figuring them out by ear (even when clean sung), so I can’t say for sure, but it just really didn’t feel like there was much resolution here… I could just be imagining it out of crazy fanboy hope, but who knows? Listen for yourself; perhaps your conclusion will be different.

Basically, what it comes down to is if you enjoyed Framing Armageddon, you’re more than likely going to enjoy this, but I have a hard time believing anyone will like this more. The songs are all good, but overall the quality is just a notch or two below its predecessor.

I spent a lot more time expounding on the undesirables because the people that are going to like this album are going to like it for the same reasons they liked the last one, so I really didn’t see much to say in that regard. What was good before was reapplied, unchanged for the most part, save Barlow. The bad however has changed and grown, so that required greater explanation.

So… take that as you will. If you didn’t like the last one, don’t think Barlow will change your mind, ‘cause he won’t. And if you liked the last one, this is definitely worth a listen. Lack of a major climax is a bit disappointing and leaves a bit to desire, but overall, I still find it to be a fairly solid album; it’s worth my time and money. Yours may well be a different story.

Standout tracks: In Sacred Flames (it’s just an intro, but it really is a fantastic one), Behold the Wicked Child, The Dimension Gauntlet, Harbinger of Fate, Divide and Devour, and Come What May.