Iced Earth was formed as early as 1985 as Purgatory and came to the forefront of the scene in the early 1990's when pure heavy metal bands were a rarity. The band was initially dubbed as one which follows the footsteps of Iron Maiden, but gradually gained its own identity thanks to guitarist Jon Schaffer's perseverance.
The band always enjoyed more popularity in Europe than in its homeland with even Century Media's American office wary of the band in the early 1990's. The American office for Century Media, for instance, would not release Night Of The Stormrider with the original artwork. The early band rehearsed in Indiana and featured Jon, Dave Abell and Gene Adam. A demo called Psychotic Dreams was issued by the band. The band had a theatric stage presence and even released a demo called Horror Show in 1986. The title and some tracks would be reused fifteen years later. It was a renamed and reworked band that issued the Enter The Realm demo in 1988 which attracted the attention of Germany's Century Media Records. The band was the host of numerous line-up changes from day one including Schaffer taking over the microphone for a while. Gene Adam was scheduled to sing on the sophomore effort, but supposedly was ousted after refusing to take vocal lessons.
Former Cauldron singer Matthew Barlow was inducted for the third album, Burnt Offerings. He would add a new dimension to the band's sound and become a permanent fixture alongside Schaffer. Bassist Abell would play on 1996's The Dark Saga, but would soon depart. The Dark Saga sported a McFarlane - creator of Spawn - cover artwork and a story line to match. Engineer Mark Prator would contribute drum tracks. Iced Earth issued a sampler in 1997 which was appropriately called Days Of Purgatory.
Schaffer and Barlow would relocate to Florida in 1998, not only for a change of weather but also proximity to the band's favourite studio and availability of musicians. 1998's Something Wicked This Way Comes was the band's breakthrough album selling well in Europe and propelling the band to cover page material for most metal magazines. The band's headliner status was assured in Germany, Italy and Greece by this time. The band's popularity was soon celebrated via a three or two-disc - depending on edition - live album, entitled Live In Athens. The album shot to number one in the Greek Charts. This album again featured Brent Smedley. Iced Earth had always had an aversion for video clips, but a live clip was made available at this juncture for promotional purposes. Interestingly, Jon Schaffer found time to band together with Hansi Kirsch of Blind Guardian to form Demons & Wizards. This project turned out to be a successful venture charting in Europe. More shows followed world-wide and former Control Denied skin basher Richard Christy was introduced to the fold.
A covers MCD called Melancholy was soon forgotten in favour of the band's horror concept full-length, the interestingly entitled Horror Show. The album was another triumph for Iced Earth. It featured a majority of song narrating familiar horror themes. A breakthrough in North America also seemed in the offing when the Floridans grabbed the opening slot for the Judas Priest and Anthrax tour. The tour was soon cancelled with the attacks from 9/11 getting in the way. Iced Earth had earlier cancelled European dates in order to tour the USA. The band later embarked on a tour with Megadeth. Regardless, business continued with the release of the Enter The Realm/Dark Genesis compilation. The discs featured even more cover versions.
The Horror Show proved to be Iced Earth's last album for Century Media. Following a protracted bidding process the band signed with SPV. At first, Century Media seemed to be the winner when the band's popular singer Matt Barlow left the act in order to pursue a degree in Criminal Justice Administration. It was rumoured that the singer's decision was influenced by the events of 9/11. The vocal tracks were re-recorded and the band was again on track with the recruitment of the recently unemployed Ripper Owens of Judas Priest fame. Guitarist Ralph Santolla would soon join the revamped line-up. The Glorious Burden was another sales success for the band justifying SPV's investment in the band. Shows with Primal Fear, Evergrey and Children Of Bodom followed. Richard Christy was soon out pursuing a career on the Howard Stern show, but the show continued with Halford drummer Bobby Jarzombek when the band headlined shows with Beyond The Embrace and Trivium. At the same time, former members Gene Adam, guitarist Bill Owen, bassist Dave Abell and drummer Mark Prator united for the not-so-subtly-named Unearthed. Century Media squeezed some more money out of Iced Earth in mid-2004 when it issued The Blessed And The Damned compilation. Tim Owens' solo ventured was named Beyond Fear in 2005. The band had a new DVD called Gettysburg (1863) in early 2005. Century Media issued the video equivalent to the band’s Alive In Athens from footage it reported as “recently discovered.” The band, in the meanwhile, calls the release a “money grab.” Simultaneously, guitarist Ernie Carletti was facing rape and kidnapping charges in Delaware. The new guitarist was UK-based Tim Mills in 2006 who was the owner of Bare Knuckle Pickups. Brent Smedley also returned to be the band’s drummer once again. The title of the next Iced Earth album was announced to be Framing Armageddon (Something Wicked Part 1) for late 2007. The album was to be followed by a second part roughly six months later. In the meantime, Bo Wallace left the band due to family issues. Beyond Fear’s Dennis Hayes replaced him. Former singer Matthew Barlow joined Pyramaze of Denmark in 2007 as a replacement for another American singer, Lance King. Iced Earth and Annihilator began touring together in late 2007. Former guitarist Tim Mills joined Civilization One in 2009, which featured former Firewind singer Chitral "Chity" Somapala. Other former and soon-to-be future members were also present. Matt Barlow surprisingly rejoined Iced Earth replacing his successor Tim Owens months after returning to the metal scene by joining Pyramaze. Jon Schaffer claimed he had received much encouragement from the fans of the band for this decision and the old/new singer would be heard on the upcoming Something Wicked Part 2 album. Barlow would also continue in Pyramaze as well as continue his career as a policeman. Ripper Owens soon joined Soulbender and Yngwie Malmsteen. The band’s next full-length album, The Crucible Of Man (Something Wicked Part II), was released through SPV Records in September. A single called I Walk Among You preceded it. The band announced the release of a full-length DVD entitled Festivals Of The Wicked for the autumn. Jon Schaffer of Iced Earth completed work on an album for his new political act, Sons Of Liberty, in 2009. The new act’s album, Brush-fires Of The Mind, is available for free and is affiliated with conspiracy theory website http://www.infowars.com. Iced Earth cancelled its tour of Argentina, Chile and Colombia next “due to circumstances out of our control.” The band’s Mexican and Brazilian shows were proceeding in February however. Iced Earth Box Of The Wicked was released on April 26th by SPV/Steamhammer Records. The set was limited to 10,000 copies worldwide. The band’s Something Wicked concept was included in the box set featuring the original digipak CDs Framing Armageddon and The Crucible Of Man as well as the original digipaks EPs Overture Of The Wicked and I Walk Among You. The band announced four North American dates for the autumn of 2010. Meant as an ‘Escape From The Studio,’ these dates would also give people the chance to see Jon Schaffer's new political project Sons Of Liberty on stage for its first live performances. Richer fans could pay for so-called VIP packages. Further blurring of the line between metal and pop: 70,000 Tons Of Metal, a heavy metal themed cruise ship, would sail Monday, January 24th, 2011 aboard the Royal Caribbean from Miami, FL to Cozumel, Mexico and would return on Friday, January 28th, 2011. Several of the bands participating included Iced Earth, Agent Steel, Testament and Trouble. Iced Earth's live DVD, Festivals Of The Wicked, was out in February of 2011. The right-wing band, featuring Jon Schaffer. included several shows and a documentary on its DVD.
In 2011, singer Matt Barlow once again left Iced Earth citing the need to be with his family more as a reason. He would tour with the band for the rest of the year. He had returned to the band in 2007. Iced Earth picked up Into Eternity’s Stu Block upon recommendation from someone in the industry. Iced Earth, with former Into Eternity singer Stu Block, picked Dystopia as the title for its next album, which was due in the autumn 2011 through old/new label Century Media Records. Bassist Freddie Vidales left Iced Earth in 2012 following the band’s Chinese shows. His replacement was Luke Appleton of Fury UK, which toured with Iced Earth in the winter of 2011. He would be with the band on June 16th in Bangalore, India. Iced Earth would tour Europe in December, 2012 with support from Evergrey, Steel Engraved and Dead Shape Figure. Former Iced Earth members Matt Barlow (vocals) and Freddie Vidales (bass and guitar), as well as former Nevermore drummer Van Williams picked Ashes Of Ares as the name of their new project.
ICED EARTH - HORROR SHOW - CENTURY MEDIA
One of the most anticipated metal albums of 2001 is here. Iced Earth's follow up to the last studio album Something Wicked This Way Comes of 1998 was bound to be a disappointment and so it is. There are two reasons for this. The first is inherent to Horror Show. Concept albums, as a rule, make the music subservient to the demands of the motif. Should the writer not have adequate suitable material for the completion of the concept, he has no choice but to compromise with the quality in order to finish the album. This phenomenon seems to happen time and time again with concept albums. With the exception of the one ballad on the CD, the remaining tracks represent a horror motif. There are very few successful and fun concept albums out there. The second reason has to do with the aforementioned Something Wicked...album of 1998. With its sheer brilliance and true metallic qualities, that album was bound to become unsurpassable. There was little chance that IE could better it and, of course, they have not. Having said that Horror Show, while employing cliche elements like the female vocals (again) and themes of Dracula and Jack The Ripper is still a pure heavy metal album and you don't hear that too often - certainly rarely from a band that's been releasing albums for a decade. Additionally, the guitar signatures are undoubtedly IE and remain true to the initial spirit of the band which is certainly a welcome development. Horror Show might be a good album in itself, but not a recommended purchase in the above-discussed context. - Ali "The Metallian"
ICED EARTH - THE BLESSED AND THE DAMNED - CENTURY MEDIA
Past experience shows that compilations like this are usually the product of contractual obligations, rather than a authoritative sense to celebrate a band's art. Nonetheless, The Blessed And The Damned seems to be a legitimate release given the band's participation and contribution to the two-CD set and the extras that accompany the discs.
The Iced Earth compilation traverses the American metal band's journey with Century Media Records and therefore and obviously eschews the act's most recent release Glorious Burden which was issued through SPV Records.
The discs are divided as Book One (The Blessed) and Book Two (The Damned) and feature optional and powerful cover artwork to match which is a nice touch. There are no new songs here and the inclusion of re-recordings over original versions is questionable, but the choice of the songs seems appropriate and should please most fans. The label has also made sure that the lyrics and an ordinary Iced Earth/main man Jon Schaffer history is also in place. Although, the liners' notes author might indicate that the disc might have suffered some delay before being released. Loana dP Valencia has not worked at Century Media for nigh on a year now.
All in all, The Blessed And The Damned is a comprehensive and tasteful compilation of Iced Earth material that lasts some two hours and should satisfy both die-hard fans and initiates. - Ali "The Metallian"
ICED EARTH – OVERTURE OF THE WICKED – SPV
Overture Of The Wicked is a taster of sorts for the upcoming double whammy of albums Iced Earth intends to release in the next year or so. The upcoming albums will form a two-part continuation of the Something Wicked This Way Comes saga of 1998. Clearly, the albums that followed that release, 2001’s Horror Show and 2004’s The Glorious Burden (with Ripper Owens on vocals), did not reach the same standard as Something Wicked… The upcoming albums have a lot to prove, including for the bean counters at the new label SPV, and by extension this EP’s music will be eyed as a harbinger of the band’s future.
Overture Of The Wicked features one new song and a rerecording of 1998’s Something Wicked trilogy which ended that album. The cover artwork is promising with its fantastic theme which is evocative of the band’s earlier material. The new song, entitled Ten Thousand Strong, quickly impresses. It is vintage Iced Earth and naturally has the roaring vocals of Ripper Owens to boot. As good as the song is a couple of things seem amiss. The song seems unfinished given its simple structure, lack of lead work and the predominance of Ripper’s vocals in the mix. In comparison, the subsequent trilogy comes across as disappointing. For any band to re-record older material is foolhardy and asking for discontent, but given the atmosphere of the original versions and powerful and emotional vocals of earlier singer Matthew Barlow this was always going to be a bit of a stretch and more. Prophecy lacks the heroic feeling of its original version. The track falls short in terms of grandiosity both vocally and musically. The bass sound is somewhere between annoying and amusing. Birth Of The Wicked is much better. The song has a lot more feeling and remains evocative. John Schaffer puts in some good rhythm and lead work worthy of the original. The Coming Curse is shorter than the original version and missing an intro. The rhythm sound is dry to say the least, but the solo and the vocals make up for any other missing elements.
Overture Of The Wicked is impressive and interesting at the same time. Bands should quit spending time on rerecording, cover versions and anything else that detracts from new, original and quality material. Having said that, Iced Earth is proficient, strong and imposing enough to pull this kind of thing almost off. Most fans would soon enough get over the overture and turn their attention to the actual new material contained in the coming full-length. – Ali “The Metallian”
ICED EARTH – FRAMING ARMAGEDDON - SPV
In an effort to ape its pin-up idols in Washington, the UK government enacted an anti-terrorism law in 2001 designed to incarcerate or detain suspects without charge for four weeks. With terrorism spreading and more instances of it occurring in the UK after the law than prior new Prime Minister Gordon bushBrownoser decided to renew and expand the law instead of scrapping it. After all, logic and failure apparently never deter demagogues from their mission.
Cut over to the music business. Marketing 101 dictates that success follows customer satisfaction. Great businesses realize this tenet; most ignore it. The promo CD for Iced Earth’s Framing Armageddon is riddled with ‘voice-overs’ and interruptions rendering it useless and impossible to listen. Taking a page from AFM Records’ playbook it is now SPV’s turn to insult the audience by assuming guilt and trying its hand at a failed scheme. After all, just like the British simpletons, no one at SPV bothered to ask why if the idea did not work for labels like Metal Blade or AFM it would work now? Neither AFM nor Metal Blade Records has seen an upswing in sales since the launch of the scheme. In order to add insult to injury, and with sense of humour firmly exiled to pre-internet la la land, Iced Earth’s Jon Schaffer interrupts the music every few seconds with, among others, a line expressing the hope that the listener is enjoying the music. Hilarious. - Ali “The Metallian”
ICED EARTH – THE CRUCIBLE OF MAN – SPV
Iced Earth’s The Crucible Of Man is the second chapter of the Something Wicked story whose tale started last year on part 1, Framing Armageddon. While last year’s album concentrated on the first 10,000 years of humanity’s evolution the current album takes a narrower focus on the last 2,000 years.
More significantly, The Crucible Of Man marks the return of former singer Matt Barlow who had left Iced Earth to pursue a career away from music. That obviously not being satisfactory, Barlow has regained his enthusiasm for music and returned to replace hapless Ripper Owens who continuously manages to get himself into untenable situations.
Focusing on the fifteen tracks at hand, it is gratifying to report that Barlow has lost neither his voice nor his range. His presence is felt on The Crucible as was on his previous best showcase the original Something Wicked trilogy and 1998’s Something Wicked This Way Comes album. His screams, phrasing and power are what they always were. Good thing too. Concept albums are consistently hazardous to the careers of bands and the enjoyment of fans. While Iced Earth pulls it off here better than most the fact remains that very few artists – with the notable exception of King Diamond or ‘80s Queensrÿche – really manage to both compose a concept album and make it heavy and enjoyable. Cases in point are the last studio albums from Judas Priest or Manowar. Repeatedly the concept envelops the music and the power and becomes more an exercise for the composers’ gratification than a metal album proper. The Crucible Of Man suffers from the same fate, but thankfully still has a lot of good Iced Earth and a lot of good heavy metal. Nevertheless, as good as these riffs and vocals are the listener will still spot the plodding riffs, the boring intro/outro routine, the classical sections and even a lack of guitar solos. These, and more, are typically a function of the story overwhelming the imperative to make a song succeed.
Behold The Wicked Child is the album’s first proper song and it quickly exemplifies this problem. The song has an insanely electrifying riff, speed and belting vocals when the samples of a child and some female wailing interrupt it all. Thankfully, the album has many more potent riffs to come. Barlow is impressive on Minions Of The Watch or The Revealing. The latter ends with an Iron Maiden riff from the Powerslave album however. Crucify The King, in contrast, is dull and like much of the album the riffs remain relatively simple. A Gift Or Curse is almost poppy in its slowness. On Divide And Devour the vocals are reminiscent of Blind Guardian and speaking of which the layering and multi-channel recording is notable for the vocals throughout.
Iced Earth’s The Crucible Of Man is vintage Iced Earth and even more so with the return of Matt Barlow. Brimming with confidence and energy, this is a high-quality metal album. It is hoped, however, that with ego and intellect satisfied, guitarist Jon Schaffer having gotten concepts out of his blood can maintain a stable line-up and go back to creating unsullied metal like he knows how. – Ali “The Metallian”