Originally written by Jon Eardley
After serving up what many considered to be a complete flop in the first Tim Owens fronted Iced Earth offering entitled The Glorious Burden, Jon Schaffer and company return with this pleasing little four song EP and prove that bringing in Owens – the one time Halford replacement in legendary British group Judas Priest – to replace longtime vocalist Matthew Barlow wasn’t that poor of a decision after all. Simply put, the man has got one hell of a set of pipes and that rings true throughout the four songs on this release.
“Ten Thousand Strong” is the only new song on the recording and is probably the best song penned by Schaffer since the group’s 1998 Something Wicked This Way Comes release. The track storms out of the gate with a high-pitched furious wail from Owens and sounds about as authentic of an Iced Earth tune as you’ve heard in years, merging a speedy intro and verse section, a gripping n’ galloping chorus and some vocal layering toward the end that gives me the feeling that Owens finally feels at home with the group. Even though we’re only talking about one new song here, I just get the sense that Schaffer is a revitalized man and is ready to take aim at getting back to the group’s more aggressive musical roots in his future work.
Having not read through the promo pack upon my first listen to the EP, songs two through four sounded oddly familiar, and rightfully so, as they are merely re-recordings of the “Something Wicked” trilogy (“Prophecy”, “Birth of the Wicked” and “The Coming Curse”) from the SWTWC album. Outside of a more tightly executed rhythm tromp between drums and guitar, the most noticeable difference amongst the three songs is the obvious insertion of Owens in the vocal department, and as much as I dislike it when bands re-record older material with new vocalists I have to admit that Owens gives the songs more energy than Barlow ever did and an intense and angered fury that, quite frankly, Barlow’s softer mannered croon could hardly deliver. Don’t get me wrong, because I think Barlow was a magnificent vocalist for the band and he and Schaffer created some fantastic music together. But let’s face it folks, Schaffer has been looking for a Halford or a Dickinson throughout his entire career, and while there has never been anyone quite resembling Dickinson’s legendary air-raid howl, Owens is about as close as he’ll ever get to Halford.
In summary, if single “Ten Thousand Strong” is any indication of the days to come for the band, then it’s a safe bet that the upcoming full-length release – that will see Schaffer continue on with his obsession with this “Something Wicked” story – will put the band back on track as one of the leaders in the American power/thrash metal scene. Even though I think a few more new songs would have better suited this EP, rather than simply re-recording tracks of old, it is a nice little tasty treat to hold the Iced Earth fans over and is probably worth your time if you’ve accepted Tim Owens into the realm.