Here we are in the middle of winter again and I'm reviewing Iced Earth. For the 3rd straight year, I managed to review this band while temps in my neck of the woods are well below freezing. I believe a tradition has been set...
This time I'm focusing on the band's most recent studio album, the conclusion of their 2-part concept album, Something Wicked Part II-The Crucible of Man. Surprisingly, much has transpired within the band between this album and it's predecessor. The most significant change is that Matt Barlow has returned to the band as lead vocalist, and replaced Tim 'Ripper' Owens (who had replaced Matt prior to The Glorious Burden).
It is interesting that this change occurred between two halves of a 2-part concept album. Barlow's return restores the band's classic formula from their late-90's era, a cherished reunion in the eyes of many fans. At the same time, this leaves many hypothetical questions in the minds of Iced Earth followers: What might the "Something Wicked" double-album sound like if Tim Owens had sung on both parts? Or if Barlow had? Fans of Iced Earth will probably be able to debate this issue for quite a while, but it is as is it.
Something Wicked Part II: The Crucible of Man continues the plot from Framing Armageddon and the Something Wicked 3-part epic track from Something Wicked This Way Comes. Iced Earth blends melodic clean guitar with rapid-fire thrash riffs throughout this album much like they did on Framing Armageddon. Barlow's vocal range may be a bit more confined to the mid-range than Ripper's was on the first half of this concept album, but it still does not subtract from the overall experience.
The concept of an alien race that seems poised to pass judgment on the human race is developed a bit more. Most of the lyrics focus on the nature of humanity; laced with examples of deceit and hypocrisy. There is a track, "Something Wicked (Part 3)" that musically continues themes from the previous album, as do several other tracks. A melancholy instrumental Epilogue closes the album... Overall, a successful musical endeavor, if a little heavy on its ambition.
My picks from Something Wicked Part II:
-Behold The Wicked Child
-A Gift or a Curse? (This is a slower tempo track. Minor-key clean guitar throughout. A great deal of the concept's plot is developed with this song.)
-Crown of the Fallen
-The Dimension Gauntlet (More of a thrasher here, but again more plot points are revealed.)
-I Walk Alone
-Crucify the King (This one really sounds like classic Barlow-era Iced Earth!)