Released: 2004, Century Media
It should be stated right from the start that the poor rating I’ve given to this compilation is not a reflection of the quality of the music to be found on this two disc set. Taken for just the quality of the music alone THE BLESSED & THE DAMNED is a fairly decent sampling of what Iced Earth has to offer. However, even the track selection could use some serious improvement. Those bastards at Century Media should have put me in charge of that assignment, but as I will make obvious in my review, the track selection is really only an attempt to sell every record in the band’s Century Media discography. Surprise, surprise ... a record label is making a cash grab!
Let me dispense with the positive things that can be said about THE BLESSED & THE DAMNED (TBTD) so that I can get to the meat of the review. The album cover is pretty cool. That’s about it. Seriously. There are actually two covers, which is pretty creative. Basically the front and back pages of the booklet serve as the alternate covers, one featuring the hosts of hell and the other angels. Open the booklet and lay it down and you see that the front and back are one image featuring the forces of good and evil clashing in an epic battle. I suppose the label could have ripped fans off even more by making the alternate covers available only by buying two copies, so maybe that’s another positive thing to say about TBTD.
The insert to the CD is pretty thick. Probably thicker than it needs to be. It contains all the lyrics to each song, which is nice. The insert also includes a brief biography of Iced Earth. The biography is broken into two parts. In the first part some important events in founding member Jon Schaffer’s life are chronicled. Each event is represented as a bell toll and is meant to show how said events shaped who Schaffer is today as a musician. So the first event is his older sister playing Sabbath and KISS for him at the tender age of four and the crowning event is Iced Earth signing with Century Media. A little self-serving by the label to name themselves as the final life-changing event, don’t you think? The second part of the biography features comments by Schaffer about each album released with Century Media. Each segment is very brief and, while the idea sounds pretty cool, there is no new material in any of those comments. Though I haven’t done the research to back it up, all of them appear to have come from different interviews that most Iced Earth fans have read before. Maybe Jon wouldn’t cooperate and give new comments, but more than likely the label was just being lazy and cheap.
As for the tracks selected, it is painfully obvious what Century Media was doing here. The object was not to select the best songs or chronicle the evolution of the band, but to include at least two songs from each release in the hope that music listeners would be tempted to buy each. I guess it’s fine to include songs from each release to give a sampling of the evolution of a band, but to include three songs from DAYS OF PURGATORY is just a blatant attempt to sell that compilation. As most fans know, DAYS OF PURGATORY is a compilation of previously released Iced Earth songs with vocals redone by Matt Barlow. A best of collection should include the original versions of songs, not remakes. Having said that, live versions of songs, if they are strong enough, are fair game as well. It should be noted that three tracks on TBTD are from the live offering ALIVE IN ATHENS. The last thing I should note about the track selection is the dig that Century Media seems to be making at Jon Schaffer. Included on the compilation is the song “Written on the Walls.” I’ve always understood that when Schaffer asked Matt Barlow to write new lyrics for the re-recording of that song as “Cast In Stone” on DAYS OF PURGATORY, he was doing it so that Gene Adam wouldn’t receive any new royalties for writing the lyrics to “Written On The Walls.” Is this Century Media’s way of sticking it to Schaffer for leaving the label? Probably so.
As I’ve noted previously, most fans complain about the song selection on a compilation. It’s in our blood to gripe that our favorite songs have been left off. However, I think most would agree that at the very least “Dante’s Inferno” should have made it’s way onto this compilation and not four songs originally featured on DARK SAGA. The bottom line is this though ... if you aren’t familiar with Iced Earth and you want an excellent compilation of their best stuff, go buy ALIVE IN ATHENS. It won’t contain any material from HORROR SHOW, but it will open your eyes to what a great band Iced Earth is.