Reviewed: September 2010
Released: 2010, Century Media
Reviewer: Kyle Moore, the Metal Magnus
Jon Schaffer has been an undeniable force in (good) American metal for over ten years now. That said, his main creative outlet has been very hit-or-miss for me – Iced Earth has made a couple killer albums over the years, and more than a few turds. When I hear the raw fury of BURNT OFFERINGS or the exceptional catchiness of SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, I get really depressed whenever I remember Schaffer’s unproductive dalliance with Tim Owens after star singer Matt Barlow departed.
Now we have SONS OF LIBERTY, Schaffer’s solo-ish effort that I’ll cagily describe as “tea-party metal” – that’s ‘tea party’ as in the new constitutionalist political movement, not what your little sister used to do in the backyard with dollies. Metal rarely follows contemporary politics, since it typically comes off as hokey when it does. But to Schaffer’s credit, his message is straightforward and passionately delivered. He performs the vocals himself for this effort, and I was really surprised by his impressive singing ability. The power and energy of his performance comes from his conviction that his message is correct, timely, and necessary for everyday Americans to hear. To drive that message home, Schaffer’s gone out of his way to make his lyrics unusually intelligible, something that’s unfortunately rare in the shriek-dominated modern metal landscape.
I won’t delve into Schaffer’s politics, or whether they’re right or wrong. If you’re in the conspiracy theory business or find common ground with the new Tea Party, this will be right up your alley. A previous reviewer mentioned the internet film “Zeitgeist,” which deals with similar themes found in BRUSH-FIRES OF THE MIND. The difference between the film and this album is that “Zeitgeist” is one of the most absurdly brazen pieces of crackpot propaganda recently made, whereas BRUSH-FIRES is more of a reflection of a contemporary political movement. But enough about the politics – what about the music?
The overall sound of BRUSH-FIRES is probably closest to the midtempo rockers found on Iced Earth’s SOMETHING WICKED album. That being said, opener “Jeckyll Island” is a vicious thrashy killer with some nasty hooks and a furious vocal performance by Schaffer. Follow-up “Don’t Tread On Me” may be the weakest track on the album, with a bland chorus and hokey lyrics about metaphorical snakes striking when tread upon. “Our Dying Republic” borrows the sound and chord progression directly from IE’s “Watching Over Me” (not one of their best), but thankfully gets more interesting halfway through. Other standouts include the mournful, yet rather inspirational “Feeling Helpless” and closing mini-epic “We the People” that sounds like it was inspired by IE’s BURNT OFFERINGS.
What makes BRUSH-FIRES stand out is how it steadily builds in intensity and passion, almost like a concept album. While I hesitate to call this a “concept album” since it lacks an identifiable storyline, the overall feel is similar. I felt increasingly moved by the conviction blazingly radiated from Schaffer’s songs, even if I don’t believe in his politics. Rabid fans of Iced Earth will doubtlessly love this CD, though the less-devoted may not be impressed. As a (very) casual IE fan, I enjoyed the heck out of this and would recommend it to anyone not turned off by the political aspect and wants to enjoy what may be Mr. Schaffer’s most personal labor of love yet created.
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01 Jekyll Island
02 Don’t Tread On Me
03 False Flag
04 Our Dying Republic
05 Indentured Servitude
06 Tree of Liberty
07 The Cleansing Wind
08 We the People
Jon Schaffer – Lead and Backing vocals, Rhythm and Lead Guitar, Drum Programming
Ruben Drake – Bass Guitar and Electric stand-up Bass
Troy Seele – Guitar solos on Don\’t Tread on Me, Feeling Helpless
Howard Helm – Piano on The Cleansing Wind, Backing Vocals
Jeff Brandt – Backing Vocals
Jim Morris – Guitar solos on Jekyll Island, Our Dying Republic, Indentured Servitude, The Cleansing Wind, plus backing vocals and additional Drum Programming