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A good sample of what's to come - 80%

stickyshooZ, October 3rd, 2004

Up until the release of this single, Iced Earth had been laying low for some time. Everything was changing so fast; the band’s beloved singer, Matt Barlow, had announced his departure to pursue a career in criminal justice; Larry Tarnowski had given up his position on lead guitar to call it quits; Ralph Santolla was recruited for lead guitar; and the notorious vocalist, Tim “Ripper” Owens had joined the band to fill in Barlow’s enormous shoes. Owens’ joining the band drew a lot of attention from everyone. This was the most talked-about line up change at the time.

Jon Schaffer’s decision to recruit Owens was surrounded by skepticism, even from the long time fans of the Judas Priest vocalist who had originally “replaced” Rob Halford. Everyone pondered; how in the world could anyone ever replace Barlow? The majority thought that Ripper’s style wasn’t even right for Iced Earth, although Jon Schaffer insisted otherwise. Will the “Ripper” make the upcoming full-length a glorious victory, or will he be one of Iced Earth’s burdens? Let’s find out.

‘The Reckoning’ starts off quietly, and just when you thought it was safe, the galloping rhythm rides in hard and tramples the little tea party you thought you’d be having upon hearing the opening. Ride hard, rhythm! Slaughter all the terrorists! Pillage their homes and crush their hateful souls! This is one of the aspects that I love about Iced Earth – the thrashy and hard hitting rhythms and explosive drumming.

This rhythm doesn’t ride in with just an ordinary thrash sword… it rides in with a heavy thrash sword imbued with the power of melody! Once the song gets a little more into it, the melodic properties flare up and present themselves outside of some crazy headbanging palm muted strumming. Halford erupts with raging screams and shrieks on this song and, wait…what…this can’t be right? The notes say that Tim Owens is singing, but how is that possible? No one but Halford could do those high-pitched shrieks!

Damn, Tim Owens never sounded this good in Judas Priest! Ripper really can’t be blamed for the shitty song writing on the Priest albums, because he didn’t have much to do with writing it. Priest, you had an awesome singer that could have sounded like Halford and you BLEW IT! Erase all conceptions you have of Ripper while he was in Judas Priest, because Judas Priest did him no justice compared to his singing in Iced Earth. Given that Tim Owens is not Matt Barlow, it’s obvious that he will do a good job at filling in for him.

‘When The Eagle Cries (Unplugged)’ is probably the most melancholic track on the single, aside from ‘Hollow Man.’ Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past three years, then you’d know that the phrase ‘When The Eagle Cries’ is a reference to 9/11 (“the day the eagle cried”). This track alone brought on a lot of criticism, because people began assuming Jon Schaffer was trying to cash-in on this tragedy or promote some kind of American arrogance (some people even claimed it was promoting imperialism!), despite the fact that he’s written patriotic material prior to 9/11 (‘1776’ and ‘Ghost of Freedom’ being prime examples). Musically, this is perfect for portraying the sorrow and aftermath of such a colossal incident with smooth piano and acoustic guitar riffs that introduce it. This version is unplugged, so don’t expect any heavy riffing – there are only calm and focused riffs on every instrument.

My only complaint with this song is that the chorus is repeated way too many times. For obvious reasons, this song hits home with me. Matt Barlow’s sad backing vocals only make it that more melancholic, as if the song reopens the wound some felt when it was announced that he was leaving. By no means, is this a headbanger. This is just one of those songs you listen to, reflect upon, and take more seriously. Even those who don’t like metal should be able to appreciate this (maybe even like it).

‘Valley Forge’ starts off with a majestic and “foresty” acoustic guitar riff, and then the song kicks off with a punch in the face to heavy distorted crunch. Oh, great, a real heavy metal hitter! Bang that head along with the mid-paced chugging rhythm and down strokes! The inspirational lyrics tell the story of the soldier who suffered at Valley Forge as well as pays homage to those who “kept our freedom free” and reminds us not to take the lives we have for granted. You better like playing air guitar, because with a blazing fast solo like this, you will be forced to play by nature!

This track is way more tame than The Reckoning, but not nearly as calm as When the Eagle Cries, or Hollow Man. People outside of metal, as well as inside, should be able to stomach this one easily.

Hollow Man is on the more depressive side. Think along the lines of ‘I Died For You’ off of the Dark Saga album and you’re almost there. This is probably the worst song on the single, given that first of all, there isn’t much differentiating this song from past deplorable songs written by Mr. Schaffer, and secondly, there isn’t a whole lot of energy to it. As usual, the distorted riffs are bone crushing and possessed with atonality, but I just couldn’t FEEL the passion in its entirety as I could with songs like ‘I Died For You’ or ‘Watching Over Me.’ I think what spoils the feeling of sorrow is the acoustic guitar that is used in different spots throughout the song.

To me, it doesn’t give me a clear picture of what sorrow and sadness really are. The time changes are a little too fast on part of the acoustic guitar that I just can’t imagine a composer saying to themselves “Yeah, I felt pretty pumped up for a brief moment while I was crying with my head in my hands.” The distorted guitar parts are absolutely perfect with the mid-paced parts that also manage to slowly chug along, but the acoustic parts are what may throw some listeners off. This is not a bad song by any means, but I don’t expect it to become an Iced Earth classic anytime soon. This is another song that most people who are not into metal should be able to enjoy, as well as fans of the genre.

Since The Glorious Burden is already released, I’d say purchasing this isn’t really necessary. When I bought this, it had just been released and the new album was not out yet, so at the time it was a big thing. Other than good music, the single comes with a cool sticker which features the artwork for The Glorious Burden. At this point in time, I’d say purchasing this is only worth it if you’re a collector or a die hard fan. If you want to hear this material with all of the other songs then just buy The Glorious Burden.