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Iced Earth - "The Glorious Burden"
SPV 2004

I really got a huge problem where to start reviewing this album. Whenever I listen to this record all sort of mixed emotions are running through me. Almost every single article that will be point of discussion in this review has it's plus and (unfortunately) it's minus, which makes "The Glorious Burden" basically very inconvincible record.

Iced Earth released new album with new singer, mighty Tim "Ripper" Owens. Tim is surely among top metal singers if not technically best singer at that moment. "The Glorious Burden" answers immediately why Tim spent his past days with Judas Priest. And if some of you might ask yourselves why the hell Priest didn't use his vocal abilities better, than you should have in mind, Priest had never copied their studio albums. Hypothetically speaking, if Tim got opportunity to replace Halford back in 1982, his vocal performance in eighties Priest fashion would sound much closer to what he offered on new Iced Earth album.

Guitarist Larry Tarnowski quitted Iced Earth. Guest musician Ralph Santolla did majority of solos. Reasons for those decisions are that both Larry and Ralph are lacking of creative enthusiasm and are not capable to contribute riffs and imaginative solos that would convince Jon Schaffer's sensitive ears. So new Iced Earth line up is consisted without lead guitarist. On the other hand band's long time ally bassist James Macdonough, got finally integrated into band's new line up.

What's the stuff? We got eight short pieces and one 32 minutes plus epic symphony or metal opera in three acts with collaboration of famous Prague orchestra, called Gettysburg. There is huge difference in quality between this symphonic piece and the rest of material. This piece has everything requested from Iced Earth and in same vein it offers really something brand new from the band. A new step has been taken which band never experienced before. And it was perfectly chosen. Jon is sincere patriot. Therefore this piece opens with Star Spangled Banner motive (U.S. anthem), which is very suitable beginning when having in mind this is conceptual piece which resurrects a three day battle between grey and blue coats at Gettysburg, where major part of American history has been written. Mood took Jon completely in while composing and putting together material for this longest Iced Earth piece ever. It is so convincible in picturing the scenes alive, that it is truly hard to imagine, if there is anything left to improve it. All pieces are joining together perfectly. Motives are running fluidly one into another. All "emptier" or "word to mouth" motives are well balanced with graduating/charging passages and with all themes of a very special high shivering climax. Moodier twin harmonized parts are tastefully covered with grand orchestra sounds, while also shivering contrast between usual sharp edged "Florida palm muted" riffing drives and orchestral arrangements had been achieved too. Nothing would work so convincible without Tim. He did it superbly. He approaches soulfully all the time, reliving all those moments of giant massacre on battlefield. This piece is a real masterwork with highlight just at the end. It is astonishing how Tim convincible switches from over enthusiastic reactions of Confederate General Armistead when his Virginians reached High Water Mark to bitter revelation of General Lee, while watching the battlefield full of wasted soldiers, admitting he is guilty and responsible for all the blood that was spilled. Real powerful shouting and screaming from Tim only proves he is real master of his own profession. I am on my knees, when it comes to Tim's performance. Verses and orchestration superbly fit together in this aforementioned closing section raising the atmosphere to its boiling point of a real spine tingling effect. A huge mood caught right at finish. Jon enriched the booklet with his comments in order to picture as close as possible this historical U.S. event to listener.

Unfortunately the rest of material is far from that. It is shame that Schaffer didn't decide to make a whole conceptual album. When listening to new material of shorter pieces I got impression that Iced Earth music got much simpler. Band is not generous anymore with motives they draw. Typical song that will confirm this statement is Waterloo.

It is quite hard to find impressive difference between pre-chorus riff and chorus riff in Waterloo. Rhythm is the same throughout this song and double twin harmonies in pre-chorus and chorus are almost the same. That's why it is very boring song from head to its feet. Not to mention ballads When The Eagle Cry and Hollow Man which are both weakest moment on record, without emotive charge as was delivered once by the band with Watching Over Me or I Died For You. Also what take band's usual high voltage away are sometimes unsuitable motive switches. For example multiplied vocal harmonies in chorus of Declaration Day somehow do not fit to built powerful aggression of pre-chorus with blistering Tim's vocals in pivotal position. The only song that really leaves something to listener is Red Baron/Blue Max.

It is quite ironically why the hell Schaffer chooses this huge Waterloo theme and squeezes it inside five minutes while he could make a whole conceptual album out of it. This concerns also for Attila and Red Baron/Blue Max.

On the other hand "The Glorious Burden" shows more obvious than ever, band's suffered strong influences by Iron Maiden. Ripper's vocal lines in Red Baron/Blue Max are penned in a way as if Bruce Dickinson would help Schaffer. Than finishing solo in Declaration Day reminds on finishing solo in 22 Acacia Avenue, while Valley Forge opens in acoustic rhythm drive familiar to Maiden's When Two Worlds Collide. Iced Earth lost powerful voltage we were used to get from band since debut album till Horror Show. The Reckoning (Don't Thread On Me) is basically very simple song with fast palm muting over riffs - Iced Earth standard, but nothing new or special. Tim shouts like an air jet in this song and his remarkable contribution rescues song's predictive and boring instrumental basics. Generally speaking, all shorter pieces fell out to be assembled on a very simple way. With twin harmonies laid over sharp riffing basics. These loads of harmonies diminish usual sharp edged face of a band. I am sorry but this time you will be forced to dance under softer tunes when playing new Iced Earth album.

I must admit, that if Schaffer wouldn't succeed to convince me, he is sincere U.S. patriot and proud citizen of his United States, I would strike him down when his new lyrics comes to discussion. But that's a brand new story. Switch your minds off and don't let that words probably reach your mind drives while listening to music from "The Glorious Burden". This record is far from being bad. And it is also nothing special. It has pluses and minuses, which makes "The Glorious Burden" very neutral record. Basically Iced Earth made a solid album especially long epic masterpiece is something you can really look forward to experience. But the rest of new stuff is something "in between". Luckily it is "in between" thanks to Tim Owens, because If Schaffer wouldn't reinforce his band with Tim, he'd surely lost battle this time. Owens saved a day for Schaffer and that's the fact!

Author:   Aleš

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