Iced Earth

1. Dystopia
2. Anthem
3. Boiling Point
4. Anguish of Youth
5. V
6. Dark City
7. Equilibrium
8. Days of Rage
9. End of Innocence
10. Tragedy and Triumph

Jon Schaffer (Rhythm & Lead Guitar, Vocals)
Troy Seele (Lead Guitar)
Brent Smedley (Drums)
Freddie Vidales (Bass, Vocals)
Stu Block (Lead Vocals)

Enter The Realm (EP 1989)
Iced Earth (1990)
Night of the Stormrider (1991)
Burnt Offerings (1995)
The Dark Saga (1996)
Something Wicked This Way Comes (1998)
Alive In Athens (Live 1999)
Horror Show (2001)
The Glorious Burden (2004)
Framing Armageddon (2007)
The Crucible of Man (2008)


Produced, mixed & recorded by Jim Morris & Jon Schaffer

Released 17/10-2011
Reviewed 28/9-2011

century media

It's actually not very often that Jon Schaffer gets things the way he wants them. After the 'Horror Show' album released in 2001 his brother in law, vocalist Matt Barlow, left the band which forced Schaffer in to making a choice wether he should continue or let it be and move on (naturally affected by what happened in September that year, being an American patriot). In the end, Schaffer decided that what he wanted to do was to continue with the vocalist that had replaced Rob Halford in Judas Priest until he decided to return to his Priest colleagues. Tim Owens stayed with Schaffer for four years and two albums. In the fall of 2007 I sat down for an hour long interview with Mr Schaffer where he told me that it was very unlikely that he and Barlow would ever work together again, not even on an anniversary album, and that he was very pleased with the performance of Owens. Less than a year later Iced Earth released their next album and Barlow was back at the lead singer role. Owens fired and Barlow resurrected. In March this year it was announced that Barlow would leave the band for a second time and here we are now with a new album in our hand with neither Owens or Barlow behind the microphone. Instead we've been introduced to yet another vocalist in Iced Earth, the 33 years old Stu(art) Block, whom we've got to know through the last two albums by Into Eternity. Big changes then? Well…

The already somewhat grey haired Jon Schaffer has been involved in Iced Earth since before yours truly was even born. He started the band with Greg Seymor in 1984 and despite the fact that it took him five years to release anything with the band that makes it 27 years of Iced Earth this year (all though the band wasn't called Iced Earth in the beginning). The first full-length album of Iced Earth was released in 1991 and was a pretty typical thrash metal album, quite far from the kind of music they would later get their popular breakthrough with in 1998 as the album 'Something Wicked this Way Comes' was released. With this album counted, five full length studio albums has followed since and ever since the band has fine tuned their sound. Vocalists has come and gone during the years of Iced Earth but the already mentioned Barlow has lend his voice to five of the albums and with his voice to some extent established a sound to Iced Earth - a heavy base, simple guitar lines, an almost galloping music that uses pretty simple melodies and high pitched vocals to an melancholic expression. They've played this music for over 15 years and all though Schaffer did some experiments with orchestral arrangements and much grander tones, more technical guitar sound and other kind of little things that developed his music while Barlow had left the band, it's back to basics again here and the funny thing is that the longest serving caddie to Schaffer this day and age has only been in the band since 2005. Drummer Brent Smedley is the man and he has now been credited on four Iced Earth albums and figured in the band on two separate periods of a year or so during the late 90's before joining the band again in 2005. The other musicians around Schaffer have all joined since 2007 and after but despite all of this, I think this sounds very much like Iced Earth. In fact, I think it's more Iced Earth than Iced Earth's been for many years and this is probably not a result of the new members but due to Schaffer being emperor of this band and the unquestionable leader. He decides and if you don't like it - you can see yourself out, that's how Schaffer's been working since the beginning and might explain why no less than 29 (!) different people have played with the band and 24 of them isn't anymore. If you know basic math, you can use your skills to figure out that this means almost one member per year has left the band since the beginning. But results are what matters and looking at Iced Earth, you'll see one of the biggest and most liked bands in heavy metal. A band that's been celebrated in all sorts of ways among fans as well as critics.

However, in Hallowed they lack the top results so far. This is a band that normally reach the "decent" level, which means somewhere between 3-5 H's (so far the best awarded album had an eight out of ten, which in our present point system would mean something between five and six and on that album it was more five than six). Me, I've never considered Iced Earth being more than an average good band with potential to find peaks that's better now and then. Turning our heads to this album the first thing I see is that just like their old 2001 album (Horror Show) this album has been inspired by the world of films. This time, science fiction is the theme and movies like Dark City, V For Vendetta and Soilent Green is mentioned to be the source of inspiration. The album goes end to end on 45 minutes and is divided to ten songs. I've played the album many times by now and every time I do I feel that these three quarters are more like one and the number of songs half of what's been stated. The album is over in a hurry and to me that's a good sign - it's never a good thing when an album seems long and endless. And when this album reaches the end I just feel I want to play it again. And again… And again. You need that to feel satisfied with what you've heard… and I do feel satisfied with 'Dystopia'.

Stu Block that has faced the microphone does an amazing job and he actually sounds very much like Matt Barlow, but much better! His range is wider and his voice is deeper and I really feel that he completes the vocals so much that they seem almost perfect. The guitars comes with their characteristic galloping sound along with the bass but without putting all these arrangements and such that they've tried lately, it has become much wider and better. And all that done with small meeds, while the music still is quite simple and easy to get, it has this depth that really tells how well-written it is and that tells how much Schaffer has developed as a song writer. But sure, I'm almost 27 and if I'm able to review his music with my years of experience, Schaffers 27 years with Iced Earth should have given him experienced enough to improve his song-writing enough to make it an album that impresses me, isn't he?

My favorite tracks on this album is, as always with Iced Earth, the slower songs and, as always with Iced Earth, the slowest are the best of them all. For some reason I've always found Iced Earth at their best when they do the slower songs and with only one exception I would say all of the songs on a top ten Iced Earth songs list would be slow songs (like Watching Over Me, When The Eagles Cries, Ghost of Freedom and so on…). The exception of course being the self titled song Iced Earth, figuring on their first EP and full length album. The faster and more powerful songs on this album is very good too, I especially like the concluding and introducing songs, as well as Equilibrium. But the best songs are clearly Anthem, Anguish Of Youth and End Of Innocence. If you're familiar with this band, the best description would be that we've put all Iced Earth albums in a blender and then pushed start. Serve the album in chilled glasses and drink it with curly straws shaped as Set Abominae. If it's difficult to relate to how that sounds, let's just say that it's melodic, heavy and angry, but with traces of fragility and beauty. Simple, yet somehow complicated. Heavy metal, but with a touch of the prestigious concert halls where the the best musicians in the world gather and the grandness that this combination can deliver.

This is by far the best full lenght album from Iced Earth! If you like this band you'll do yourself a great disservice not to buy this album. It has everything that Iced Earth stand for and has ever stood for and it delivers every single piece better than they've ever done before! Science Fiction and Iced Earth does apparently work excellent together! Who would ever have guessed that?


Label: Century Media
Three similar bands: Wizard/Brainstorm/Helloween
Rating: HHHHHHH (6/7)
Reviewer: Caj Källmalm

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