Iced Earth - The Glorious Burden
The third week of the new year has just started and with that one of the more major events and one of the more hyped and anticipated releases since Iron Maiden's Dance of Death unabatedly take place: Iced Earth and their latest effort The Glorious Burden. We've already been given a hint of what was to come with the Mcd The Reckoning that also introduced ex-Judas Priest vocalist Tim "Ripper" Owens as the one given the heavy burden of replacing by now almost legendary Matthew Barlow. A release of this magnitude from a classic heavy metal act like Iced Earth passes no metal freak by and it's of course in focus on many other sites as well. As far as I've read it has already received both great praise but also been heavily critizised for among other things its patriotic overtones, lack of imagination in the songwriting and of containing too much re-use variations of already released material and also that the tunes don't deliver the usual Iced Earth high standards.
That the album is a very patriotic one becomes clear straight away as the US national hymn is the first tune that strikes and throughout the whole deal it gradually becomes very clear that this is a lasting theme in many ways. Some titles might give a hint or two, general lyrical content, the national hymn re-occuring, the incorporation of well known American melodies etc. But we're dealing with a US-based band here right and without generalising too much we can just state that they are quite proud of their nation and that's just such a well known fact that I'll just leave it there. That there should be some lack of imagination regarding the compositions I can agree to a little and also that there's some recycling going on but that's also issues that don't bother me that much. However there are some more immediate matters to consider.
Other than the obvious change in sound due to the new man in the vocal chair The Glorious Burden is also different from many other Iced Earth albums. Shaffer has first of all chosen to trim the fat from his songwriting a little and The Glorious Burden doesn't feel as heavy and fast as previous band issues. It's much more mid-paced driven and even the thrashy installments have been reduced to a minimum. The only real tracks where the speed increases to a similar older Iced Earth measure of that sort is on parts on The Reckoning, Greenface and Red Baron/Blue Max while the others besides the ballads (When the Eagle Cries and Hollow Man) are more of semi-paced fueled metal anthem character. In other words it's not a carbon copy of Shaffer's earlier work but his former tried and tested formula hasn't by far been erased either.
Shaffer's unmistakable crunchy and galopping guitar riffing style of course remains and so is his way of composing. Confirmed Iced Earth followers will have no trouble recognizing who's the songwriter here and will have a very familiar experience. He's also probably composed one of his most ambitious tracks ever in Gettysburg (1863). This 32 minute epic killer consists of three segments, all mid-paced, where each covers events that took place during the three days of the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. On this closing opus the in metal circuits well known Prague Philharmonic Orchestra (also involved in Rage's Lingua Morgis for instance) accompanies the band and do it in great form too. This final track brings great closure to this journey and for me immediately turns up the grade a notch.
I also have to admit that I made a mistake in my review of The Reckoning when I predicted that not the entire Mcd would make it to the final album, but hey- nobody's perfect. This is one of the flaws with this release though. I so much wished for that just the title track itself would be on the final version of The Glorious Burden and that the others had been replaced by new material. When the Eagle Cries, Hollow Man and Valley Forge are good tracks but feel way too much like left-overs or upcoming material for the next Demons and Wizards instead of strong solid Iced Earth sounding metal hymns. But still, the remaining cuts are way above just passable quality and tracks like Declaration Day (a future IE classic?), The Reckoning, Attila, Red Baron/Blue Max and Waterloo plus of course the afore praised Gettysburg (1863) are the album's most memorable and brilliant moments and they at least for me make this album better than for instance their previous Horror Show.
Tim Owen's got a set of pipes that of course should be well known to all metal junkies and should need no further introduction and what was hinted at on the Mcd comes to full bloom on these discs. I've written it before and I'll do it agan; It feels like Iced Earth make much better use of his qualities than Judas Priest ever did and his efforts also contribute to change the grade towards a more positive approach. The other new-comer in the band, guitarist Ralph Santolla also makes a profound impression although Shaffer could have given him even more room for solo and shredding segments since the album feels a bit short of those. The production by Jim Morris is very good and exactly what can be expected and there's really nothing more to comment there. But in all honesty I also wished that the album could have contained a little more speed and power instead of almost only focusing on mid pace epics and that Shaffer would let go of his ego somewhat and include other band members in the compositions.
But my conclusion then is still that The Glorious Burden is a worthy member in the Iced Earth record catalogue although it lacks some of the raw intensity and atmosphere of grand releases like The Dark Saga and Something Wicked this Way Comes that also stand 1-1,5 chalices higher at the very least. If you consider a purchase make sure to get the 2-CD version with the Gettysburg trilogy since it's especially in that shape that I think that The Glorious Burden becomes an album that will keep a majority of the Iced Earth purists satisfied, undersigned included. With this issue a new era has started for Iced Earth and although some of the the former magic has been (temporarily?) lost I'm sure that the final chapters of the saga are far from written.