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The Stars Have Indeed Collided - 95%

GuntherTheUndying, February 29th, 2008

Whether you’re a fan of Iced Earth or not, you can probably concur on one obvious statement: “The Glorious Burden” was way too average for John Schaffer’s usual genius, especially after acquiring Tim “Ripper” Owens into the realm when longtime vocalist Matt Barlow left in 2003. Furthermore, the pessimistic aftermath of the not-so-glorious burden shadowed this new era in their timeless legacy, even when Schaffer manufactured a monumental feature entitled “Something Wicked,” which was divided into two separate parts; however, each section had a different vocalist as Ripper took control of the first part (“Framing Armageddon”) while Barlow returned thereafter on the second chapter. Barlow fanboys have had a wild time slinging mud at “Framing Armageddon,” and why? In my studies, I’ve concluded the reasoning: they are all stupid as shit. Unfortunately for those pompous goons, Iced Earth’s ninth full-length outperforms, maximizes, and reinvents everything America’s legendary kin has ever represented.

Now it's rather funny how "Framing Armageddon" is viewed by the Iced Earth fanbase – which might possibly be the most narrow-minded flock in all of metal – simply because it doesn’t have Matt Barlow handling microphone duties, which defines stupidity by definition. Sure “The Glorious Burden” was a huge downfall from previous observations, but it only took that one error before Iced Earth fixed the loose screws and mastered a new beast once again. You've probably been told to ignore the fanboys before, and doing so is your best choice, because it will lead you to this gem so many have shoved away for the dumbest reasons; a collaboration presenting the mystical minds and electric talents of metal's finest elites framing downright bliss from start to finish.

As this is an Iced Earth full-length, there is only one thing to expect: lacerating power/thrash metal that pulverizes your cochlea like a politician having lunch with an assassin’s grenade. The production is great; however, it does many superb numbers unknown at primitive sessions, like making Schaffer’s guitar tone heavier than ever while hammering snare blasts and flattening bass rhythms cruise unstoppably. Several chronicles (most noticeably the title track) dive way back in time with those bloodthirsty gallops that clearly shriek of 1991, yet this time around, these crucifying riffs are more commanding and technical than ever before; it’s not just a return to form, but a valid tune-up as well. Basically, “Framing Armageddon” isn’t some slothful aberration aiming for mediocrity like “The Glorious Burden,” but instead manifests tougher virtues while upgrading fragile elements needing purification, and that’s absolutely what Iced Earth needed to rebound from desperation.

Yet when refreshing such traditional fronts, Schaffer also pulls a few new tricks out of his hat, and it’s no doubt these atypical experiments act beneficial to Iced Earth’s origins. Choirs sprout up quite frequently in assorted intervals, and its effect sets much more atmospheric power ablaze simply because you’re suddenly shrouded in angelic ports so swiftly. You’ll certainly notice two titles are full-blown tribal instrumentals instead of rocketing power metal slabs, but don’t fear for redundant backfires, because our little interludes provide top-notch results from the mystifying ambiences they emit. Oh yea, the organs on “The Domino Decree” are totally awesome. What are you doing here, John Lord?

The main target critics of “Framing Armageddon” typically attack is actually its finest quality: Tim Owens’ howls. Listeners familiar with a few Judas Priest records know exactly what to anticipate; everyone else should brace themselves for slithering incantations, hair-raising singing, and screams that can actually slug God in the face. Emotional tinges gush liberally into these rigorous tracks as our powerful shouter engages in harmonizing musical climate by adding in fantastic techniques like quasi-narration or holding notes just for extra haymakers. “The Clouding,” for instance, displays killer voice control in its beginning stages before Owens totally explodes into a screaming machine, and it’s important to see this expertise used during nineteen opuses while forgetting the flaw. Placing a microphone up to Ripper’s ass while he’s shitting would probably sound better than Barlow on a good night; there really isn’t a comparison between the two vocalists.

But how could Ripper sound so improved here than on his previous effort with Schaffer? Simple answer: this time, the music was written to compliment his vocals. In order to make “Framing Armageddon” work, there needed to be a mutual entwinement between vocals and music, which is exactly what we’re dealing with here: Tim can finally shout freely without running into poorly-timed bridges; the choruses properly balance Ripper’s voice in correlation to whichever design shows itself; backing vocals are now applied in stunning intervals between transitions; and Owens can manipulate his surroundings with stellar pitch containment and melodic alterations while dodging potential problems. The former Judas Priest singer is consistently perfect unquestionably, but digging into his legendary voice while Iced Earth forces in a surging hurricane is the key to this record’s everlasting enjoyment and eternal wickedness.

Lyrically, “Framing Armageddon” expands Schaffer’s three-song tale of apocalyptic retribution that originally appeared on Iced Earth’s fifth full-length into an epic saga of unearthly perimeters. The story essentially involves a group of beings (Setians) revolting against the human race after facing many well-executed genocide attempts, yet Iced Earth pulls something with this fable that defines the very essence of concept albums: they make it feel like a story. When emotional events occur lyrically, you can experience the feeling firsthand, and such power can felt regardless of atmosphere; it’s simply an unreal trip through the realms of might and divinity. If that doesn’t summon the true spirit of conceptual offerings, then I’m not sure what will.

Transcending between galactic shifts and incredible instrumentation, “Framing Armageddon” brings forth the finest result of Tim Owens’ atomic pipes conjoining to genius musicianship in one tough-as-titanium record that proudly stands as an achievement in power metal’s overall legacy. Ripper’s ejection from Iced Earth ended an era in which the group could vent into new biospheres without losing those menacing edges they’ve used since 1985, and this album easily marked a climax in everything from Tim’s voice to Schaffer’s multiple musical involvements. There’s just one question left after all is scribed: will this kind of dominance ever be spotted again in any Iced Earth release from either past or future timeframes? Maybe if the stars can collide once again.