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The Crucible Of Man: Something Wicked Part II
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While the 1998 album provided a general overview of the story, Schaffer has been conceptualizing for well over a decade. The saga is being fully brought to life with the release of the back-to-back conceptual albums "Framing Armageddon" and "The Crucible of Man." While both albums provide answers to mysteries the previous releases would create, the timeliness of the story in today's world is guaranteed to keep people thinking and guessing. Schaffer's ability to convey the central themes and events of the story without always revealing exactly "why" characters' decisions are made and "how" events come to pass, will keep fans of the saga coming back as future mediums for the "Something Wicked" storyline are revealed. "The Crucible of Man" is the culmination of the storyline. The absolute pinnacle of the American Metal Powerhouse's career, and happily - the full-length return of singer Matt Barlow.
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Let's get this out of the way first... I f***ing love Matt Barlow. Along with Chuck Billy from Testament, he is my favorite metal vocalist and I am so glad to hear him back on this album. I'm not sure how much of Crucible was written with Ripper in mind, but I can't see his vocals delivering the emotion or mood that Barlow brings to this half of the saga. Ripper's vocals were great for the up tempo Iced-Earth anthems like 10,000 Strong, but I believe Barlow was truly meant to helm this band and this saga. And Barlow hasn't lost his touch either; he still has all of the great range, from low singing to high tempo growling. He sounds better now than ever.
With that said, and speaking of 10,000 Strong, how come there's really not a song like that on this album? Most of the songs here are mid tempo and while they're not bad at all, there's not as much here that has the punch in the gut like Setien Massacre and 10,000. There are a couple of high tempo tracks at the end; Sacrificial Kingdoms and Divide and Devour are fast and the former is especially a fast Iced Earth track like I remember, but still not quite as memorable as 10,000 from Framing or Attila from Glorious Burden. BUT... While Framing may have been a little more rocking, it felt like a bit of a disjointed experience. There was too much filler and a lot of that filler I tended to skip every time I listened to it. Crucible doesn't really have filler. Each song flows seamlessly to the next and I really have no desire to skip any tracks at all, even if some of them are a little repetitive. I came to realize as I listened to it; this is not your typical Iced Earth album. Every track has a purpose and are put in the only order that they can make sense.
As far as the story of the whole saga goes, it is well thought out and pretty interesting. The artwork to accompany the story in the album booklet is awesome. I mean really awesome. If Schaffer really does get around to making a graphic novel of Set, I look forward to reading it.
I'm not going to go over each individual track, as with this album it would be almost pointless, since it almost feels like 1 hour long track. But a few standouts are Minions of the Watch/The Revealing (I put those 2 together because the first time I heard them, I thought they were one song), Sacrificial Kingdoms (fast and awesome), Something Wicked pt 3, Divide and Devour (also fast and awesome, if this album were Dark Saga, this might be Violate), but there's not a bad song in the bunch. The album starts with some killer stuff, seems to taper a tad in the middle with some songs that sound too much like each other, and then really picks up at the end. The instrumental intro and outro and interludes throughout the songs are haunting as well. Overall, it's a pretty consistent listening experience.
In conclusion, I like this album. It's not as kick me in the face amazing as I would have hoped it to be, but it provides a nice contrast to Framing Armageddon, a lighter tempo yet darker album than it's predecessor. Schaffer once again proves his worth as a song writer and guitarist as well. Some people have complained that the two albums having different vocalists makes it inconsistent, but I disagree. I actually think it's cool to have two albums, each with their own singer and their own flavor tell one solid story. Ripper deserves some credit, and I would actually be just fine not hearing Framing rerecorded with Barlow at the helm.
I eagerly await to see what we get next when Shaffer and Barlow are truly working together as a team again. Long live Iced Earth!
First off the biggest treat for me was the fact that two of Iced Earth prime line-up returned. Brent Smedly and of course the true voice of Iced Earth Matt Barrlow! Yes I did feel a little upset that Tim Owens couldn't finish the project after a supurb job on 'Framing Armageddon'. Eventhough I love Matt Barrlow and I love the atmosphere he brought to this band in past releases. I was just a bit scared that the whole story musically was going to change. I loved the passion and emotion that 'Framing Armageddon' had and how the telling of the story allowed Tim Owens to climb new heights in his vocal talent, I was afraid I wouldn't get that with Matt Barrlows return. I did, I had never heard Matts voice used to such scales with amazing new directions, John Schaffer kept the atmosphere alive and when I listen to the story as a whole it kind of made sense to make the switch because in this new album the story is being told by an entirley new character who was not brought into the story until the very last track on the previous record. The second thing I noticed was this album was more musically driven. There are only 15 tracks as opposed to 19 tracks. This chapter of the story is alot less visual because there is alot more happening in the very begining. Now the pieces have been put in place and the whole purpose of the story is now in full force that character is Set and it is about this character knowing his mission and watching his prey as they live out their lives. The songs grip you with much detail and emotions of this unfortunate creature who had to carry this burden through time and he is willing to throw it all away because he sees redemption in the human race. You don't need breaks in the song with sound effects to shape this part of the story and again another great accomplishment by Iced Earth. Finally this is not the best album Iced Earth has ever released though it is no where near so so or terrible.
I have seen the reviews that some people have posted on this site about the new Iced Earth release. I feel that people always expect too much from any band. John Schaffer finally did what he wanted to do for so long and that was to tell a story that he wrote...HIS WAY! He is such an admerable person because he is driven by his passion projects and doesn't care about money or fame. Being noticed however is something he does want and I don't blame because he is a true artist and those are so hard to come by in music today. I feel this project has brough his band one step closer to his goals because they are now touring more are getting bigger stages. With Barllow back who knows how much further they can go? Perhaps if things keep moving forward more familiar faces will return and that will only give Iced Earth more incentive to do what we fans love most about them... Bring us more heavy metal!!!
After Barlow left the band, my interest just began to wane. "Glorious Burden was decent (check my review of it, 3 stars) but 2007's "Framing Armageddon" just completely underwhelmed me. To use an old line, there just wasn't a lot of wind blowing through that CD. Or the band for that matter.
So hearing of Matt Barlow's return to Iced Earth was some of the best music news I heard this year. The storyline and songs he began in the "Something Wicked" trilogy could be completed by the same voice.
And listening to "Crucible Of Man", it feels like there's a new current of energy running throughout the music. The songs feel more focused than in Part 1, the riffs and song structure seem tighter and more high-energy. I came away (once again) impressed by Jon Schaffer's guitar playing, probably the best rhythm guitar player out there right now. The rest of the band performs admirably, with Matt Barlow's vocals being the expected spotlight. His voice just adds a dimension of emotion and weight to the lyrics that propel the songs.
Highlights of the CD are many, there aren't a lot of weak points. Songs like "Sacrificial Kingdoms", "Crown Of The Fallen", and "The Revealing" all deliver satisfying guitar riffs. The high point is the penultimate track, "Come What May", which has a great vocal melody and chorus that sticks in your head as the album closes. A great mid-tempo rock song.
A strong 4.5 stars for a very good album and a renewed excitement coming from Iced Earth's corner of the metal world.
So now we here in 2008 and Iced Earth comes full circle with Matt Barlow back as lead vocalist. Ahead or behind? Looking forward or looking back? Well that is where the opinion is varied but why does it matter - this is who Iced Earth is today and one thing we know from the history of this band is that this may not be who Iced Earth is tomorrow!
For me Crucible of Man is a huge step forward from Framing Armaggedon where other than Ten Thousand Strong I could not really get into the CD. For me it is also welcome return to the voice that hooked me onto Iced Earth in the first place. Crucible of Man is extremely solid from start to finish has a number of really good songs I Walk Alone, Crucify the King, Divide Devour and Come What May just to name a few.
Opinion will vary from mine and I respect that but who cares if some stuff sounds like Blind Guardian (did not see that myself) or whoever you want to compare it to or the songs are too short (hey the CD clocks in at 59 minutes plus so you are not getting ripped off). This is a great metal CD that is getting over analyzed by fans (hey I did it too) that have spent way too much time carrying on the Tim vs Matt thing for 5 years now. Just enjoy and listen and try not to spend time comparing the two singers as they are different.
I dont think anyone should be surprised when a metal band that orginally broke on the scene with an angry sound begins to soften as the money arrives. Schaffer is no different...what's to be angry about? He's no longer roofing houses to eat, hes comfortable, pampered and full of ego. Its called sucess. The anger that originally fueled Iced Earth and other great bands (take a guess) is gone, and cannot be replaced. Just be glad it ever existed in the first place and enjoy the early years.
I feel Framing is closer(but still not the same)then this to being classic Iced Earth anger and emotion. This is a good album, just not a great album.