Released: 2007, SPV/Steamhammer
Okay, the eagerly awaited new album from the boys in Iced Earth, aka the Jon Schaffer band. Ever since the monumental shock exit in 2003 of Matt Barlow from the band, who many fans regarded as the closest thing to a permanent member that Iced Earth had aside from Jon Schaffer, the spotlight has been on how the band would replace him. Some thought that since Iced Earth was essentially Jon Schaffer, the band would continue in pretty much the same vein, producing riff heavy thrash/power albums with a fantasy bent. Instead, Schaffer and Iced Earth released the puke-inducing, overly patriotic THE GLORIOUS BURDEN, which had almost no redeeming features that the Iced Earth fan could see. Not to mention the fact that Ripper Owens can’t do Barlow (a fact sadly highlighted at this year’s Wacken), and perhaps should not be expected to. Well, FRAMING ARMAGEDDON has no excuse – Ripper is well bedded in, Schaffer has written the songs for him, they’ve got a new line-up, and they’ve had 3 years to write an album which Schaffer supposedly had already had in the pipeline, and where Ripper was supposed to get more writing opportunities. Right-o, let’s get cracking.
Looking at my notes from listening to the album first time round, I notice predominantly comments about Ripper’s performance and Schaffer’s riffing. The drumming is utterly non-standout, certainly nothing to write home about. “Double bass abuser” sums up what I think of the drumming on this album, extremely one-dimensional and in the background. The pointless opening track “Overture” incorporates some tribal percussion, and I’m not sure how it fits in with the storyline. Anyway, it’s a concept album, so I guess it’s forgiven. There are many other pointless moments in the album, such as the two minute “bridge songs” that Blind Guardian used on NIGHTFALL IN MIDDLE EARTH, except Guardian’s actually advanced the story. Pure unnecessary filler.
I’ve always looked up to Jon Schaffer in terms of rhythm guitar playing, and tried to learn from his early work with Iced Earth. Unfortunately, he’s never left those triplets and gallops behind, and time and time again on FRAMING ARMAGEDDON I found myself utterly bored, saying to myself “I’ve heard this before, on BURNT OFFERINGS and NIGHT OF THE STORMRIDER”. Same rhythms, safe riffs, completely devoid of imagination. Songs like “Order of the Rose” are real travesties, testing the listener’s patience with its midtempo and plodding guitarwork. His solos were never very technical, in fact they were usually downright simplistic, but they always seemed to fit the song. Here, they either sound tacked on or they just don’t go anywhere (see “Setian Massacres” for a prime example). That is really the saddest thing about FRAMING ARMAGEDDON, that the guitars are so poorly done, so unimaginative and so tepid that you just despair. Some may argue that Schaffer lost it 10 years ago after the original SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES. I beg to differ, HORROR SHOW wasn’t that bad, it had some things going for it in the guitar department. This on the other hand is just pathetic.
Ripper’s performance. What can I say. He’s tried to vary his vocal performance here, and credit must be given for that. He’s usually stuck in one register most of the time, but here on the album he mixes it up. On slower songs like “Reflections”, “The Clouding” and “A Charge to Keep” he shows his more melodic side, on “Domino Decree” he has a coarser edge. Actually his vocal performance grew on me, some of my initial comments seem harsh now. It’s not bad. One complaint is that his singing lacks power and presence, this may be due to the guitars being mixed too loudly and his vocal tracks being slightly further back than it should.
This album is extremely disappointing to a long-time Iced Earth fan like myself. What drew me to the band in the first place – great rhythm guitars, emotive and powerful singing, proper melodies – all seem to be there at first listen. This album has the same crunchy guitar tone and the riffs and rhythms that identifies Jon Schaffer immediately. It has the fantastical storyline – come on, it expands the SOMETHING WICKED trilogy, from one of the best loved albums in the Iced Earth oeuvre. It has Ripper Owens. What’s missing? Guitar-wise, I found nothing in this album to inspire. It is melodic, albeit midpaced most of the time, without the head-flailing qualities of early Iced Earth. It focuses, or tries to focus on creating atmosphere and telling the story, and in doing so, it loses steam and incorporates all manner of filler, creating a bloated and directionless album. There are some redeeming features, “Ten Thousand Strong” would easily be a concert favourite in the future, and songs like “The Clouding” are pretty well-worked. But overall, I feel that Iced Earth has lost its way, and not solely due to Barlow leaving. Jon Schaffer as the sole inspiration of the band has to take a step back and re-evaluate. This was nowhere near as bad as THE GLORIOUS BURDEN, but it’s not as good as it should be either.