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The Glorious Burden
Released: 2004, SPV/Steamhammer
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
Jon Schaffer has always been a man with a creative imagination. Iced Earth’s albums are filled with dark imagery that have focused on anti-religion, comic books, horror legends and other fantasies Schaffer has conjured. Schaffer is a renowned history buff and he is able to meld his love of history with music here. On THE GLORIOUS BURDEN, Schaffer has tackled real-life battles, conflicts and wars that have shaped world history, though the focus is mainly on American history. Whether it is the horrific World Trade Center tragedy, World War I or the famous Battle of Gettysburg, Schaffer touches on the destruction and suffering that man has caused to itself in the name of freedom. It’s been 3 years since Iced Earth’s last album, HORROR SHOW, and in that time, the band has changed labels and lost a lead guitarist, however the big news is the vacant lead vocalist position. As if the planets aligned and all time was synchronized, Matt Barlow quit Iced Earth, leaving the vocalist spot open. Tim “Ripper” Owens, who was unceremoniously dismissed from Judas Priest when the band decided to have Rob Halford return to the fold, is a much better singer than Matt Barlow ever was and he has proven that fact in spades on THE GLORIOUS BURDEN. This seemingly perfect twist of fate has lead to the creation of an absolutely stunning CD.
After the patriotic opening track, we are treated to that instantly recognizable Iced Earth sound. “Declaration Day” has a powerful drum and bass intro that leads into Owens’ remarkable vocal performance. The song features a galloping rhythm and some heavier moments that make it an excellent intro to the first Schaffer/Owens collaboration. “When The Eagle Cries” is a ballad that focuses on the 9/11 tragedy. There are some excellent melodies performed here with Barlow’s backing vocals meshing perfectly with Owens’ lead. This song is one of the most powerful on the CD, not only for its lyrics, but also for Schaffer’s guitar (engineer/co-producer Jim Morris actually plays the solo) and the actual song composition. In one word: brilliant. “The Reckoning (Don’t Tread On Me)” is the best track on the CD. Machine gun double bass courtesy of Richard Christy is coupled with James MacDonough’s thumping bass providing a solid, galloping rhythm section. The synergy of Owens’ high-pitched vocals and Schaffer’s speedy riffs complete a stunning song. “Greenface” has its moments but is my least favorite track on the CD. The song features a great riff but also one of the stupidest lyrics I’ve ever heard: “I’ll be where the metal meets the meat.” HUH?!? “Attila” is one of the more inspired songs, as it features a dialogue between the Huns and the Romans that Attila battled. Christy’s infectious drums echo throughout the track and Owens is once again staggering. “Red Baron/Blue Max” features Owens’ only lyrical contribution and is another stellar performance. The chorus and phenomenal riffs add up to another album highlight. I dare anyone to listen closely to the bridge of this song and the follow-up solo without getting a chill. “Hollow Man” is another epic ballad that focuses on Owens’ impressive vocals. His range on this track reminds everyone how he got the job in the first place, as he goes from his lower-range at the beginning to the high-pitched crescendo reminiscent of “Cathedral Spires” from Judas Priest’s JUGULATOR CD. “Valley Forge” is perhaps the most remarkable song, lyrically, on THE GLORIOUS BURDEN. Taken from the point of view of an 18th century American soldier and what he might think of the result of his iron-willed sacrifices in the name of patriotism, the song is the most critical of the situation of the United States as seen by Schaffer. “Waterloo” contains another outstanding performance from Owens, while Schaffer’s riffs are tighter here than anywhere else on the CD. An “unplugged” version of “When The Eagle Cries” rounds out the first CD and offers nothing more than a clearer version of Barlow’s outstanding backing vocals, though Morris again provides an excellent acoustic solo.
The deluxe version of THE GLORIOUS BURDEN features a second CD that contains the three track, 32-minute epic that centers on the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. Taken as a whole, the tracks flow into one another but never get bogged down by their length. There are several stops and starts and changes to the songs that keep things flowing along nicely. The Prague Philharmonic Orchestra backs the tracks with symbolic passages Schaffer uses to tell the story. Schaffer even takes a turn at lead vocals on “High Water Mark”, voicing the character of Gen. James Longstreet. So effective is Schaffer’s song composition, with the strings, dazzling acoustic guitar work infused with lavish riffs, pounding drums and a realistic sense of drama, that the listener is metaphorically placed amid the gunfire, bloodshed and chaos that occurred on these three fateful days. It is as if we are witnessing the actual events unfolding before us. The Gettysburg suite is a flawless work of musical art, plain and simple.
Extensive liner notes and beautiful cover and booklet art only accentuate what is already a fine release. Schaffer’s introduction and notes to the Gettysburg portion of the CD read like a book and a fascinating one at that. As a Canadian, my knowledge of American history is limited but I have learned and had my interest piqued by Schaffer’s history lesson. This CD should be required reading/listening in history classes. School-aged metalheads from around the world could even use THE GLORIOUS BURDEN as an inspiration to write papers on the merits of heavy music and education.
THE GLORIOUS BURDEN is certainly the most ambitious effort that Iced Earth has attempted yet. The scope of this recording is astonishing. To Jon Schaffer and Iced Earth, I tip my hat, for like the characters in the songs on THE GLORIOUS BURDEN, you have overcome great odds and produced something that will be seen as a landmark in history with this accomplishment. My only complaint is that given the length of the first CD (46 minutes), this could have been squeezed on to facilitate a single-disc release and avoid the three different versions that exist. That aside, I’m sure any rabid Iced Earth fan will have shelled out the extra cash to get this release anyway. To those in doubt, do not hesitate to spend the extra money on this package.
KILLER KUTS: “Declaration Day,” “When The Eagle Cries,” “The Reckoning (Don’t Tread On Me),” "Red Baron/Blue Max," "Gettysburg"
1. Star-Spangled Banner
2. Declaration Day
3. When The Eagle Cries
4. The Reckoning (Don’t Tread On Me)
7. Red Baron/Blue Max
8. Hollow Man
9. Valley Forge
11. When The Eagle Cries (Unplugged)
DISC 2: Gettysburg 1863
1. The Devil To Pay
2. Hold At All Costs
3. High Water Mark
Tim “Ripper” Owens—Vocals
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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.
1)The Star-Spangled Banner
3)When the Eagle Cries
4)The Reckoning (Don’t Tread on Me)
7)Red Baron/Blue Max
Disc 2 (Gettysburg 1863)
1)The Devil to Pay
2)Hold at all Costs
3)High Water Mark
Jon Schaffer: Rhythm & Lead Guitars, Backing Vocals
Tim Owens: Lead Vocals
James MacDonough: Bass Guitar
Richard Christy: Drums
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