The Glorious Burden
Released: 2004, SPV Records
Well now, after all the hoopla, all of the controversy surrounding the departure of Matt Barlow as vocalist and the introduction of Ripper Owens as the new screamer, and a semi-well received single (THE RECKONING), the new Iced Earth opus is upon us. Is it worth all of the hype bestowed upon it? Before answering that question, I have to confess that I am a huge Iced Earth mark, and would probably have loved this album regardless of its quality. That being said, the answer to the previous question is a resounding HELL YES!
Beginning with “The Star-Spangled Banner” (yeah whatever, get to the point guys), the album truly breaks open with “Declaration Day”: a traditional Iced Earth stomper, it’s a great song. Really, that’s all this album is, a collection of fantastic Iced Earth songs, some no better or worse than what has been put out before (though I did notice a welcome lack of self-plagiarism or this disc).
At times though, you can tell that Schaffer really had a fire lit under his ass! “The Reckoning” is a crushing metal powerhouse, featuring some of Owens’ best vocals ever. In fact, I will go on record and say that his performance on this album totally destroys anything he did while in Judas Priest. Of course, the strength of the material he had to work with here might have helped. Other highlights include the one-two closing punch of “Valley Forge” (crunchy mid-paced rocker) and “Waterloo” (choir-ized Iron Maiden history lesson on Napoleon).
Elsewhere the band thrash it up on “Greenface” and dive back into the history books for classic IE-styled rhythm riffs on “Attila” and “Red Baron/Blue Max”.
While I could have done without the too overt U.S.A.-loving on the album (Did we need “The Star-Spangled Banner twice, plus TWO versions of the 9/11 sob-story “When the Eagle Cries?), it’s hard to fault Schaffer for putting his personal feelings out on record. After all, that’s what music is for.
What am I missing here? Oh yeah, the greatest Iced Earth saga of them all: “Gettysburg (1863)”! This is simply the best thing that the band has ever recorded, and the ultimate in Schaffer’s song-writing. Split into 3 “parts”, the song flows through so many riffs, melodies, and pure emotions, that you’re exhausted by the end. It’s a middle finger to all those who thought that the band could never top the much-loved (rightfully so) “Dante’s Inferno”. Owens really shines here, as does Richard Christy’s incredible drum work. Lyrically, the song is an interesting perspective on the famous Civil War battle from a guy who clearly loves the subject matter. It’s simply a fantastic achievement.