Dave Pirtle’s take:
I’m not really much for concept albums. It’s not that I don’t like them, I just don’t get all wrapped up in the story. Sure, I can appreciate the stories behind albums like Operation: Mindcrime, Give Me Your Soul . . . Please, and Symphony of Enchanted Lands, but usually someone has to actually tell me the premise. Sadly, I’ve actually sat down with liner notes/lyric sheets and tried to follow some of these stories to little avail. Am I stupid or dense? Maybe I’m just not a “serious” listener, who puts on an album and focuses in on every detail – shit, who has time for that these days? So I never really got wrapped up in the hoopla surrounding Iced Earth’s “Something Wicked” trilogy as heard on Something Wicked This Way Comes, as the diehard fanbase rabidly waited for mastermind John Schaeffer to deliver the full-blown version of the story. To me, it’s always been just another new Iced Earth album to anticipate . . . rabidly. But oh, how the diehards have suffered, through the thematic albums Horror Show and The Glorious Burden, a covers album, early catalog remasters, numerous lineup changes and a label switch to finally get to this point. Already considered to have blasphemed with a rerecording of the original trilogy on the Overture of the Wicked EP, Schaeffer and Iced Earth bring us Framing Armageddon, the first of three albums that will tell the complete story.
First, I should address the subject of vocalist Tim “Ripper” Owens. Some think he has ruined this band, and that Schaeffer should spare no expense or humiliation to bring back previous vocalist Matt Barlow. I think those people will be eating a lot of humble pie after hearing this. Few vocalists have what it takes to pull off the demands of a concept album/rock opera. It requires a powerful voice, a wide range, the ability to do it all equally well, and the talent to bring it all together with conviction. Owens can flat out sing, shriek, squeal, howl, bellow, you name it. He also has a nice, epic tone, and as much as I like Barlow’s voice, I’m not convinced that his lower register could pull this off.
The story is spread across 19 tracks, comprised of actual songs and a number of mood-setting interludes, and everything flows together pretty smoothly; it’s easy to follow the progression of the story. It seems as though they have found the missing piece that kept The Glorious Burden from being all that it could be, as all of the elements blend together to make the album undeniably Iced Earth. The mid-tempo, multi-layered “Something Wicked (Part I)” sets the stage perfectly, with a theatrical “opening scene” vibe that soon leads into the thrashy battle scene of “Setian Massacre,” the reflective “A Charge to Keep,” and the equally thrashy memorial/rallying cry of “Ten Thousand Strong.”
The counter-offensive begins with “Order of the Rose” but I sort of lose track of the story from here. The first of “The Clouding” is acoustic and haunting before bringing the crunch back into things, though, which effectively sets the stage for the climactic sounds of “The Domino Decree” and “Framing Armageddon” – the latter track is particularly awesome. The album effectively ends with “When Stars Collide (Born is He)”, which isn’t quite a victory tune but has that type of vibe. But then, the actual closer of ethereal chants hints at what may come in part two.
Hey, I said I had trouble following the stories themselves, not the context in which they’re being told. Framing Armageddon has blown my mind. I was slow to get into it but now I can’t seem to get enough of this album. The music, the vocals, the emotions are all fucking epic, man. Unfortunately, now I found myself in the same position that the diehards did back in 1998 – rabidly awaiting the next installment in the Something Wicked saga.
Jon Eardley’s take:
So here it is, the much talked about and highly anticipated second full length Iced Earth album with Tim “Ripper” Owens handling vocal duties, not to mention the first of at least two full-length albums that are to revolve around Jon Schaffer’s ongoing Something Wicked story. After the complete disappointment that was The Glorious Burden, the Overture of the Wicked EP helped to rekindle my interest in the band after I pretty much counted them out. The problem didn’t necessarily have anything to do with Owens coming into the fold to replace an already fabulous singer as much as it had to do with Schaffer having written the album for Barlow’s voice before his untimely departure, and it’s safe to say he really didn’t write a decent enough album regardless of who would be singing on it. Given the time to put together songs that do well to suit Owens’ style and taking his time a bit more this time around, Framing Armageddon showcases some of the strongest and most melodic heavy songs Schaffer and company have put together in years.
There are absolutely zero surprises musically, as Iced Earth has followed the same formula for nearly their entire existence. The album is filled with ripping rhythmic guitar patterns coupled with a multitude of triplets and tremolo picking, the acoustic-filled tear-jerker moments, overlying melodies that reel the listener in with ease, superbly played drums that truly complement the riffs at hand, and a vocal performance that will rival damn near anything you’ll hear in 2007. One of the main differences in comparison to the band’s previous work is the heavy vocal layering that litters the majority of the songs. Instead of the usual one or two track choruses, you get huge choir-like layers where you’ll hear the different voices go off on their own adding variety. Long time fans could certainly argue that being not much has changed up musically over the years, it’s just more of the same old shit. But believe me when I tell you, folks, Owens makes this album what it is and the guy has truly come into his own as a member of this band.
With that said, one of the main problems I have with the outing is that as strong as things start off, the album seems to lag a bit toward the end with songs that are nowhere near as attention demanding as their predecessors, not to mention there are several one or two minute filler tracks that just seem to “be there” and don’t offer much of anything. As for the good, you get your face melting shredders in “Something Wicked (Part 1)”, “Setian Massacre”, and “Ten Thousand Strong” that blister along furiously, and the catchy ballads “A Charge to Keep” and “The Clouding” that do well to change up the tempo and overall feel of the listen. Yet songs like the bland “Infiltrate and Assimilate”, the dismally executed “Retribution through the Ages” and the clumsy and completely out of place “The Domino Decree” bring up the rear and leave me wondering where the magic was that can be heard throughout the first half of the album.
At the end of the day the album is finely produced as expected, the musicianship is about as good as it gets, in particularly in the vocals, and it is a decent second full-length album with Owens at the helm. While I have a hard time believing they can pull this stuff off vocally in a live setting without the usage of sampled vocals due to the multitude of layers, I am intrigued enough to see this incarnation of the group in concert after having written them off completely after The Glorious Burden. Framing Armageddon isn’t a great album, but it’s a good one, and is a definite improvement that puts Schaffer & crew on the right path after an unwelcome and unexpected detour.