It’s time for the Shred Box! 2/19/09
Sorry it’s late. But work decided that I needed to be there all week and give me no time for the site. But enough of this. It’s time again for another edition of the Shred Box! Who will I be talking about this week? You will just have to read more to find out.
This week we look at the long shredding career of one of my favorite bands out there, Iced Earth. Very few bands have been around as long as these guys have. And even thought Jon Shaffer is the only original band member left, his pride and caring for the band are the reasons it has become so prominent in the music scene. A little sidenote, they are awesome live! Mrs. James and I saw them in NYC at the Nokia theatre. It was so sweet!
The backbone and very reason for the band to have come into existence is the founding member and rhythm guitarist Jon Schaffer. And thats where we will start this weeks article. Jon grew up in Fort Wayne Indiana and at the age of 16 left school and moved to Tampa florida in order to start up a band and play music. In 1985 Schaffer founded the power/thrash metal band Purgatory, which quickly changed its name to become Iced Earth. He is now the only remaining member of the first line-up, and the band’s main songwriter. His passion for music and the band show not only in his on stage performances, but in his lyrics as well. And to further drive the point home about his seriousness in the music world, he also has colaborated with Demons and Wizards, and Blind Guardian. From Iron Maiden to Metallica Jon’s influances can be clearly heard in his music. Also to all those wondering, Jon mainly uses a Les Paul guitar with the IceBucker pickups which were made especially for him.
Another one of the reasons the band is so successful is because of vocalist Matt Barlow who joined the band in 1994. Barlow joined Iced Earth after the Night of the Stormrider tour with Blind Guardian in Europe, as a replacement for John Greely. The first album Barlow can be heard on is Burnt Offerings (1995). Barlow however left the band in 2003.
His reason for leaving was due to personal beliefs related to the September 11 terrorist attacks. He took a look at his life and realized that he wanted to contribute to the “real world” instead of living the illusion of a “rock star.” He then approached Jon Schaffer with this in late 2002, but Schaffer, known for his persuasive personality, convinced Barlow to stay with the band. The last album Barlow would record vocals for was The Glorious Burden. He became a police officer in the police department in Georgetown, Delaware. He was also a vocalist for the First State Force Band, which is made up of law enforcement members from different departments throughout Delaware. The band performs for schools, stressing such ideals as “Say no to drugs,” “Stay away from violence,” and “Respect your parents, teachers, yourselves, others, and life” through music.
On April 13, 2007, Barlow returned to music more fully as the new lead singer of Danish progressive power metal band Pyramaze. The reason behind his joining Pyramaze was because it would allow him to return to the music scene, while still being able maintain his current job. However, on December 11, 2007, it was announced that Barlow had officially re-joined Iced Earth and would be singing on The Crucible of Man (Something Wicked Part 2) and following albums. Pyramaze confirmed that he would remain with them to record their album Immortal, but that their professional relationship would end there.
Back to the band itself and their music. Although Jon remains the only original member of the band, the sound has been able to stay mostly the same over the years. This is due to the raw talent of the people he picks to be in the band and also his direction. This works in the listeners favor seeing that it is pretty darn hard to keep track of who was playing what on each album. The only thing you can hear in the albums clearly are the changes in the vocalists over the years. The current lineup (and my favorite to date) is
Matt Barlow – lead vocals (1994–2003, 2007–present)
Troy Seele – lead guitars (2007–present)
Jon Schaffer – rhythm guitar, backing vocals (1984–present)
Freddie Vidales – bass (2008–present)
Brent Smedley – drums, percussion (1996–1997, 1998–1999, 2006–present)
So lets get on with some album reviews, I dont have the time to go over every single album they did, so I am going to discuss a couple select ones that I feel were the best.
The First album we should talk about is their debut entitled Iced Earth. It was released in November 1990 internationally and February 1991 in North America. The original release of this album had three different covers (a worldwide cover, a European cover and a Japanese cover). This album was Mike McGill’sonly album with Iced Earth, as well as the last for singer Gene Adam. Like the album’s successor Night of the Stormrider, Iced Earth follows a more traditional thrash metal sound, rather than the power metal direction the band would follow after Matt Barlow had joined. If you have not heard Iced Earthbefore (the album), the I must insist that you go back and check it out. To truly understand the band and its roots in music, this is a must. It also serves as a great way to show how much the band has grown both lyrically and musically. For fans like myself, after hearing the later albums first, this one was a shock. Here is a short clip from the track “Written on the Walls”
Their second album is entitled Night of the Stormrider. It is a concept album about a man who is betrayed by religion and turns away from it in anger. The dark forces of nature reach out to this enraged man and use him as their vessel to bring death and destruction to Earth. He is commanded to travel to a desert, where he is given visions that reveal the truth of humanity, and warp his mind further to make him the “Stormrider.” After the destruction of the world, he is then damned forever into the depths of Hell, also referenced as the River Styx. After being forever damned and taunted by evil spirits, he eventually sees what he has done, and realizes that it is too late to repent. This album is John Greely’sonly album with the band as the vocalist. When you compare Stormrider and Iced Earth, you can definatly hear the diffference in their singing styles. And out of the two albums, I have to say I liked Greely’s vocals better because they are more aggressive and focused. This album is also more riff based compared to the other albums Iced Earth has done. Which is in no way a bad thing, in actuality it makes it more hard sounding and one hell of an album to drive to. Check out the example below. Its the intro for the first track on the cd, entitled “Angels Holocaust”.
The next album I am going to cover is titled Dark Saga. Now this album deals with a man who sells his soul to the devil to return to his one true love back on Earth. But the devil tricks him into becoming his slave and when he returns to Earth, he finds out his wife is now married to one of his best friends! Driven by anger towards the Devil, he vows to take him down and reclaim his life. Now if you are a comic book fan you will feel this is a bit similar to a certain “Hellspawn”… Thats right, this album is basically about Spawn! Hell the cover art is done by Todd McFarlane. This album is pretty interesting seeing that not many metal albums out there are based on comics. But when you put the musical ability of Iced Earth and the imagination of Todd McFarlane together; you get the Dark Saga. The main thing that stands out in this album are the vocals done by Matt Barlow. In fact he took signing lessons after the release of Burnt Offerings which is the bands 3rd release. So overall he is more polished and focused on what he does for the album. Check out a sample below of one of my favorite songs “The Hunter”.
The Glorious Burden is my favorite of all Iced Earth’s albums. But let me preface that statement quickly. I love the album for the content and the ability the band has to take eras from Americas military history and turn them into song. I personally feel that if Matt Barlow was the vocalist for the album, it would have been 10x better. But lets get back to the meat of the album. This is Tim “Ripper” Owens debut in Iced Earth. Owens was the new singer for Judas Priest but when asked to do this as a side project, he decided to join the band since Priest’s original singer was commingback. Now this album was first recorded with Matt Barlow doing the vocals, but Shaffer felt that his heart wasnt in it anymore and shelved the recordings, and thats where Owens came in. Though if you listen carefully, you can hear Barlow as backup vocals. Owens has a very different vocal style then any of the other singers for Iced Earth. He is more classic high pitched metal which couldnt be further from Barlows metal growl. Now I respect anyonesthoughts on this subject. But again I have to say I like Barlow better. This album starts off with an awesome version of the Star Spangled Banner and covers all the main military points in American history. From the signing of the Declaration of Independance, the Revolutionary war, Civil War, WWI, to the Trade Center Attacks and Atilla the Hun; this album has it all. And the cornerstone of this album is definatly the 3 piece Civil War trilogy at the end which totals an amazing 32 minutes of non stop historical metal. Here is an example from the album.
And now we come to the most fantast inspired albums Iced Earth has ever done. Framing Armageddon “Something Wicked Pt 1″ and The Crucible of Man “Something Wicked Pt 2. Lets take a look at Part 1 and give you the low down on whats going on here. Be warned though, there is a lot going on.
Something Wicked Part 1 tells the story of the Setians who were the first inhabitants of Earth and are directly decended from the Great Architect. They are also said to have limitless knowledge. Humans have developed space travel and invade Earth to try and gain total power and knowledge, killing all but 10,000 Setians who flee to the mountains to plot their plan for revenge. They form a council which make a plan to initiate “The Clouding” which is a total brainwashing of the human race. Once finished, the Setians will rewrite history by creating religions such as Christianity, Islam, and Judismto split the humans up. And once this is complete, they will wait 10,000 years for the birth of Set Abominae (basically the Anti-Christ) who will take revenge on the humans by destroying them all. Phew! That was a lot to follow wasntit? The album ends just before the birth of Set Abominae, and thats where the second album takes off.
Now the main thing you will notice on this album is the vocal style is drastically different then the previous albums. Owens goes for the high pitch screech and power chords throughout the album. Musically and lyrically the album is amazing, the guitars shred from beginning to end and you are attacked by pounding pass and drums to no end. To a hardcore fan of Iced Earth and their past vocals, this album is a bit hard to digest. The ultra high pitched vocals are personally a bit to much and really take away from the experiance. Take a listen and see what I mean.
And finally, on to the second part of Something Wicked, The Crucible of man. Time for some more story for you to follow along with! Crucible of Man tells the story of the anti-christ Set Abominae who was born in the 6th hour of the 6th day of the 6th month. He is born into the setian comminuty and constantly taught about the wrongs that were done to his people and how he will grow up to fullfill the prohecy foretold thousands of years ago, to destroy the humans and take revenge for his people. After many years of training, he is bestowed with the crown of the fallen and instructed to begin the task he was born for, the destruction of the human race. His first target is the one and only Jesus Christ, and from there he starts taking down the worlds great leaders of countries and tribes over the next two thousand years. But as time goes by and Set sees humanity grow, he realizes they have potential to become a great race of people and decides to let them live. But he warns them that they must get over their petty differences and flaws, less they face destruction.
And there you have it. First thing you notice is the lack of Tim Owens on this album as he was replaced by the returning Matt Barlow. And the next is the polished ideas about the story. Nothing is left unsaid and things are explained in great detail through the songs. Everything was painstakingly thought out and nothing is left to chance. I find this story to be pretty compelling and facinating in both the way it was told and in the musical tones throughout the album. I have added a clip of the single from the album called “I Walk Alone” . Which is about the the beginning of Set Abominae’s destruction of manking. And be sure to look out in 2009 for a special box set of the Something Wicked tale. Shaffer announced last year that it would be out sometime in 2009 and have Barlow as the main vocals for continuities sake. WOOO
So there you have it everyone. Iced Earth. The band, the myth the legend. If you ever get a chance be sure to see them live, it is a great experiance and they put on a hell of a show. Also please be sure to visit www.IcedEarth.comto check out their pics, tour dates, and merch. Tell em Sparkbox sent ya. Thanks again everyone for reading, and I will see you in two weeks for another episode of the ShredBox! Crank it up to 11 and LET THERE BE METAL!