Originally written by Kris Yancey
A couple months prior to December 2007, I was given the opportunity to interview Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens, then-vocalist of Iced Earth. I have always had an immense amount of respect for Tim since his tenure in Judas Priest and Beyond Fear, and frankly the “Gettysburg 1883” trilogy from The Glorious Burden would not have been nearly as touching as it was for me were it not for Tim’s amazing and colorful vocal delivery. Suffice it to say, I was nervous as hell to pick up the phone when Ripper came a-calling, but all in all, Tim’s probably one of the calmest, coolest guys it’s ever been my pleasure to interview.
When I write interviews, I’m always terrified that I’m going to make an ass of myself in front of someone who I dearly respect. Tim was kind enough to dispel any doubts or fears I might’ve had; hell, prior to the interview even starting, we just chatted for a minute or two. He even admired my enthusiasm to speak with him at 6:30 in the morning, and he was fucking stoked that I was an actual fan of his “era” of Iced Earth. We had a great interview, but definitely the questions that piqued his interest the most were the Matt Barlow questions; such was Ripper’s admiration of Barlow that he mentioned his interest in having Matt guest-sing a couple songs on the next Beyond Fear album.
Now I’m wondering if the guy’s going to make good on his word, because Tim’s out and Matt’s back in as of December 2007.
The better part of a year after said announcement, and we have the follow-up to Framing Armageddon, an album I held in equal parts adoration and disdain. For one, it had some wicked vocals. I mean, yeah, we’d known Ripper could, well, rip, but songs like “The Domino Decree,” “Framing Armageddon,” and “Ten Thousand Strong” really showcased Ripper best. However, the music (or rather, the interludes) lacked in many spots, yanking too many riffs from the existing “Something Wicked” trilogy, or creating new riffs that were outright boring.
However, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t excited for Matt’s triumphant return. After I Walk Among You, I can’t say I was very enthralled about a full-length if it was going to sound like…well, that. But time goes on, and here I am, listening to “Come What May,” and I’m pleased. Iced Earth may have started a little rocky in the first half of the routine, but have ultimately stuck the finish – and that’s what will ultimately make the duology go down in history as a memorable piece of metal. It’s not the greatest saga in metal history, having an incredibly convoluted story that shifts in favor between Earth, an alien race, and Set Abominae (you know, that timeless soulstealing mummy from the cover)…but it’s got some great songs, and I think that’s what we all want anyways. Speaking of the cover, Set was the reason I got into Iced Earth back in 1998, so the past two album covers have pretty much been awesome in my book.
“In Sacred Flames” starts the album, but it isn’t until “Behold the Wicked Child” that we are heralded into the second coming of Matt Barlow, a minor key dominated song that harkens to the beginning of Framing Armageddon, almost like a vie to get us to remember what these songs are all about. There’s something about a million souls instead of the original thousand, and pretty much everything is bound to die, but fuck the story – some of these songs stomp like a skull under a spiked boot. I’m talking “Divide and Devour,” “Harbinger of Fate,” “The Revealing,” and “Sacrificial Kingdoms,” the first of which is going to be a venue destroyer. Oh, and Barlow sounds just as course and velvety as he ever did prior to his departure, just so that’s out of the way. Ripper’s unfortunate departure will be masked upon hearing Barlow’s dulcet howls.
On the other hand, there’s some stinkers. “A Gift or a Curse” and “Crucify the King” are two of the album’s longer cuts, and they both drift or chug (respectively) long after the song’s ideas have dried up like rotten fruit in the desert. They’re not horrible, but compared to some of the better songs on the album, they don’t measure up. Imagine being a kid and being given a pie for dinner. Or cake, if you swing that way. Imagine you’ve taken a bite of said pie and are blissfully enjoying it. Now imagine said pie has been taken from the table and replaced by beets. Or spinach, if you swing that way. It’s not the worst thing in the world to eat, but why have I been given spinach when I was just enjoying a tasty pie? Here I have recreated the feeling of befuddlement given to me by “A Gift or a Curse” and “Crucify the King” on The Crucible of Man.
That being said, there are far worse things in life than a new Iced Earth CD, and I am unduly pleased with the result. Not that I’ll be the first to proclaim this in a review for The Crucible of Man, but fuck it: Matt Barlow is back. And in a way, Jon Schaffer is absolutely right that now, Iced Earth is back too.