Posts Tagged ‘ Iced Earth ’

Album of the Week 26-2018: Iced Earth – Night Of The Stormrider


‘Night Of The Stormrider’ is often mentioned as a favorite by those who followed Iced Earth from the very beginning and it is easy to hear why. The song material is notably more complex than the songs that would make the band a big name less than a decade after its original release in 1991, though there is more of a polish than on the self-titled debut. The fact that it’s a concept album certainly helps its continuity as well. Whatever happened in the intervening year, it helped. Most of the songs would remain live staples for many years to come.

Whether or not ‘Night Of The Stormrider’ would be your favorite Iced Earth album depends on what you want to hear from them. If you want the hooky choruses and dramatic vocals that are currently synonymous with them, the album may come off disappointing. Jon Schaffer’s trademark aggressive, hyperspeed palm-muted riffs are all over the record though. And there’s certainly a higher riff density than usual. Verse-chorus structures are broken up by extensive middle sections full of tempo and atmosphere changes, while the overall tone of the album is notably darker than most of the band’s other output.

Compositionally, the album contains some of Iced Earth’s finest work. Especially when the band combines fierce aggression and the first traces of theatricality, as is the case in the massive opener ‘Angels Holocaust’, Iced Earth proves they were easily among the best metal bands of the early nineties. Closing epic ‘Travel In Stygian’ manages to wrap up all the elements of Iced Earth’s style as well, with fierce semi-thrash riffs, balladesque sections and a particularly climactic chorus following each other seemlessly, though it could have used a shorter middle section. ‘Stormrider’ and the more melodic, oft-forgotten ‘Mystical End’ are more concise, but no less impressive.

Another song that doesn’t always get the praise it deserves is ‘Desert Rain’. It is easily the darkest moment on the album musically, with the rage and confusion of the lyrics perfectly illustrated by the juxtaposition of forceful metal and more desperate tranquil sections. Its chorus is one of the band’s first experiments with vocal harmonies and it is quite tasteful. If you’re splitting hairs, you could argue that the song is more a collection of riffs or segments than a composition, but that is the case for ‘Pure Evil’ as well and that one is still a fan favorite to this day.

The album is not without its flaws. First and foremost, John Greely is merely adequate, though significantly better than his predecessor Gene Adam. His cleans have a pleasant tone and his rawer work sounds delightfully aggressive, but his high-pitched screams lack character and his range is quite limited. The acoustic interludes ‘Before The Vision’ and ‘Reaching The End’ don’t add much musically and some sections (most notably the parts before the final verses of ‘The Path I Choose’ and ‘Pure Evil’) sound too similar. The pros outweigh the cons though. Unlike Schaffer, I think the bottom-heavy production benefits the music and there is a simple reason why a majority of these songs are considered Iced Earth classics: they’re very good.

Recommended tracks: ‘Angels Holocaust’, ‘Desert Rain’, ‘Stormrider’

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Iced Earth and more interviews in Gitarist


If you had told me 15 years ago that I would be interviewing Iced Earth main man Jon Schaffer someday, I would go insane. I was an Iced Earth fan to the point of obsession and although I have come to think about Schaffer in a more moderate light these days, it was great to sit down with him and discuss some developments surrounding the band with him for about an hour. A portion of this conversation can be read in this month’s issue of Gitarist, which should be in stores by now. We have been discussing the new Iced Earth album ‘Incorruptible’, his inimitable rhythm guitar style, sounds and equipment as well as running the band. I was pleasantly surprised by his honesty and self-criticism, resulting in what I think is a very interesting article.

As for my other contributions, I have interviewed guitarist Jan Wouter Oostenrijk about his brand new ‘We Are Connected’, an album heavily influenced by Middle Eastern and North African music, for which he modified his guitar to be able to play the quarter tones common in music from that part of the world. Naturally, we talk in-depth about this “quarter tone guitar” as well. What else is a guitar magazine for? In addition, there is an interview I had with Dutch session guitarist extraordinaire Age Kat about ‘Rhythm, Space & Time’, an album based around his guitar playing.

I wrote a handful of reviews as well, while my colleague Patrick Lamberts talked to upcoming djent and progmetal guitarists Plini, Sithu Aye and Jakub Zyteki. There is also an extensive feature about the Stratocaster that Robbie Robertson used at The Band’s ‘The Last Waltz’ concert as well as loads and loads of gear reviews. There’s even a short interview with Michael Schenker, who I consider one of the finest guitarists in the world. So if you are interested in guitars, there is no excuse to not check it out. You can do so right now!

Album of the Week 23-2017: Iced Earth – Incorruptible


Lately, it seems like Iced Earth has been trying to make up for the bombast that characterized their sound during the first decade of this century by proving they are still first and foremost a heavy metal band. ‘Incorruptible’ follows this same general idea, as the guitars are front and center on the record. Sometimes it’s band leader Jon Schaffer’s instantly recognizable riff work, sometimes it’s the triumphant guitar harmonies reminiscent of traditional metal acts like Iron Maiden, but the guitars are always the defining factors of the songs. Combined with the ballsy production, this makes ‘Incorruptible’ one of Iced Earth’s more powerful releases.

The album’s direct predecessor ‘Plagues Of Babylon’ was also relatively guitar-oriented, but that album’s somewhat bland production and samey song ideas made it fall short of their excellent 2011 comeback record ‘Dystopia’. Schaffer made sure that the songs stand out more this time around by switching up atmospheres and melodies without losing track of the powerful foundation of the band. It helps that he has the amazing pipes of Stu Block at his disposal, as Block is perfectly capable of carrying out an anthemic chorus or a highly emotional passage without making it sound artificial.

Ironically, one of the highlights on ‘Incorruptible’ doesn’t even feature Block at all; it’s been a while since Iced Earth attempted an instrumental that wasn’t an intro or interlude, but ‘Ghost Dance (Awaken The Ancestors)’ is a well-constructed track which lets its triumphant twin guitar melodies tell the story instead of the lyrics. That does not mean there aren’t any stories here. In fact, Schaffer’s fascination with American history prompted him to write yet another epic – ‘Clear The Way (December 13th, 1862)’ – this time about the Battle of Fredericksburg. Interestingly, even on this track, the guitars don’t yield for bombastic elements. There’s a few subtle keyboard flourishes, but it’s a riff-driven epic by nature.

While most of ‘Incorruptible’ feels pleasantly familiar, the best moments of the record show the band taking the slightest detour from their normal sound. ‘Brothers’ initially sounds like one of the band’s trademark power ballads, but quickly develops into a highly melodic heavy metal track with an amazing guitar solo by newcomer Jake Dreyer, while the following ‘Defiance’ does an amazing job alternating an angry, crushing verse with a refreshing melancholic chorus. ‘The Relic (Part One)’ has a brooding atmosphere, while the riff work is simple, yet brutally effective, which can also be said about Dreyer’s sparse, but amazing lead work. ‘The Veil’ has an amazing build-up and as a result, it is one of the band’s better power ballads yet.

Of course, that doesn’t meant that typical Iced Earth tracks like ‘Great Heathen Army’, ‘Black Flag’ and the dark, aggressive ‘Seven Headed Whore’ aren’t worth your attention. Those who have followed the band for a long time will definitely like those tracks, but the rest of the album might just convince a few people who have given up on the band around the turn of the century. ‘Incorruptible’ sounds like a deliberate attempt to confirm Iced Earth’s status as the kings of American heavy metal. As fas as I’m concerned, that’s the best decision they could have made at this point in their career.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Relic (Part One)’, ‘Defiance’, ‘Ghost Dance (Awaken The Ancestors)’

Album of the Week 09-2013: Iced Earth – Dystopia


When yours truly was 13 years old, he worshipped Jon Schaffer and Iced Earth’s ‘Alive In Athens’ was his gospel. But new Iced Earth albums have been somewhat of a bittersweet experience for me in the past decade. After a few years with Tim Owens, a good singer, but not the right man for the job, the return and subsequent second departure of ultimate Iced Earth singer Matthew Barlow and a couple of albums that seemed to have a stronger focus on bombast than coherent songwriting, ‘Dystopia’ is the first fantastic Iced Earth album since 2001’s ‘Horror Show’. A new masterpiece in American Power Metal.

At the microphone, there is “new kid” Stu Block, formerly of Canadian Prog Metallers Into Eternity. Although I was a bit wary at first, thinking his voice would be too “light” for Iced Earth, Block is actually one of the redeeming factors of ‘Dystopia’, possessing a versatile set of pipes with Barlow’s passion, Owens’ Halfordian screams and gruff territory formerly hardly explored. Also, Jon Schaffer has abandoned most of the pompous bombast of the former albums and has just written a bunch of powerful, American Heavy Metal tunes with all of his trademark high speed palm mute riffs and anthemic choruses.

The album’s opening track was the first song that surfaced and it immediately made me hopeful; Block sounded better than I could ever imagine him, the song was Heavy Metal to the bone and the melodies were strong. Luckily, that line was continued throughout the album. There’s catchy Power Metal anthems (‘V’, funny enough the fifth track on the album, and closer ‘Tragedy And Triumph’, which took some time to sink in, but quickly became one of my favorites), strong power ballads (‘Anguish Of Youth’ and especially ‘End Of Innocence’), obvious Iron Maiden references (‘Equilibrium’ and the epic album highlight ‘Dark City’) and even two scorching Thrashers (‘Boiling Point’, ‘Days Of Rage’). The bombast still isn’t gone (the album’s weakest track ‘Anthem’ lodges quite a bit of it), but the center of attention is Heavy Metal here.

Getting the limited edition of ‘Dystopia’ would be the only way to fully experience the album’s brilliance. Besides a redundant extra version of ‘Anthem’, there are two extra tracks, which are easily among the album’s best. In fact, ‘Iron Will’, is the second best track on the album, second only to ‘Dark City’. It’s a passionate, melodic and distinctly American Heavy Metal track. As such, a required listen.

Starting with ‘Dystopia’, Iced Earth seems a band again. A collective, contrary to the almost megalomanic Schaffer-led Rock operas of the past decade. Stretching out the brilliant ‘Something Wicked’ trilogy over two long albums was a bad idea, whereas ‘Dystopia’ is full of great ideas. This is what Heavy Metal is supposed to sound like and we can only hope that this lineup can be held together – although bassist Freddie Vidales has since left te band – to create many more masterpieces like this one. I for one welcome Schaffer back to the place where he belongs: the Olympus of American Heavy Metal.

Recommended tracks: ‘Dark City’, ‘Iron Will’, ‘Dystopia’, ‘Tragedy And Triumph’

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