Released: 2004, Century Media
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
Since Iced Earth jumped ship for SPV/Steamhammer last year, Century Media has definitely been left with a serious void in its roster of artists. For thirteen years, the band continually released critically-praised and fan-worshipped albums for the label despite an ever-rotating lineup under guitarist/founder Jon Schaffer. Along with the change in labels, the band also acquired former Judas Priest vocalist, Tim “Ripper” Owens, who replaced long-time fan favorite, Matt Barlow and released a new CD, THE GLORIOUS BURDEN once again to glowing reviews. While Schaffer himself has been known to be quite opinionated and occasionally difficult, the songs he writes are American power metal masterpieces completed by his trademark razor-sharp riffs and galloping rhythms.
Twenty three tracks covering the band’s time on Century Media have been collected on the two CD greatest hits collection, THE BLESSED AND THE DAMNED. While a “greatest hits” collection is hardly pertinent to a band like Iced Earth, the songs chosen are an excellent representation of the band’s career. The dreadful vocals of Gene Adam on the debut are represented here with “Written On The Walls” and “Iced Earth.” The real man for the job, of course, has always been Matt Barlow and his brilliance on tracks like “Melancholy (Holy Martyr)” and “Angels Holocaust” proves that point in spades. Schaffer’s riffs should be in the Smithsonian, as the power behind such tracks as “Pure Evil,” “Travel In Stygian” and “Curse The Sky” are exercises in what can be done with a guitar. Not everything is perfect, though. Nothing irritates me more than looking at a greatest hits collection and seeing one of the band’s best songs replaced by the live version. Such is the case here with “Travel In Stygian,” “Pure Evil” and to a lesser extent, “Violate.” Credit should be given that the live tracks are taken from ALIVE IN ATHENS, one of the greatest live metal albums ever released, but still, as a “hits” package, the original versions of the songs should have been the ones included. The same can be said for the tracks taken from DAYS OF PURGATORY, the collection of older tracks re-recorded by the band with Barlow on vocals. “Angels Holocaust,” “Desert Rain” and “When The Night Falls” are from that album and it is debatable whether or not they are improvements over the originals.
The packaging and cover art are also worth mentioning. The cover, when laid out flat, is a beautiful piece of art showing the angels of heaven readying themselves for battle with Satan’s minions. Inside, the lyrics to all of the songs are included, as well as a full discography with complete tracklistings and respective lineups. There are extensive liner notes written by former Century Media staffer, Loana dP Valencia, that chronicle the life of Schaffer and eventually the career of Iced Earth through the years including commentary by Schaffer himself. While the whole thing seems a bit overdone and mildly patronizing, it is certainly a loving tribute to the man himself and his contribution to metal.
THE BLESSED AND THE DAMNED is the final chapter in the Iced Earth legacy for Century Media and they certainly sent the band off in style with this collection. Yes, there are some curious omissions (“Dante’s Inferno”) and the annoying replacement of tracks with their live counterparts, but overall, this is an excellent starter package for Iced Earth newbies and completists.