Iced Earth - _The Crucible of Man (Something Wicked, Part 2)_
(SPV, 2008)
by: Jeremy Ulrey (9 out of 10)
Christ it's good to have Matt Barlow back. Tim "Ripper" Owens is not a bad singer by any means, and in certain regards is actually the superior vocalist, but his is an icy, merciless shriek methodically scaling jagged shards of mile high granite, whereas Barlow plays more to the strengths of the Jon Schaffer machine: passionate, bathetic, beatific... forlorn peals of anguished rage like the collected torment of a pillaged civilization promising revenge from beyond the pale. Barlow even contributes lyrics to four songs, so his return is a true rejoinder of the classic ensemble and not just a symbolic union (for the record, Owens' sole lyrical output for Iced Earth was limited to one song on _The Glorious Burden_, an album on which Barlow penned two songs himself despite having bowed out before the album's recording).

After a case of diminishing returns during the Owens era -- a time when it was starting to appear Schaffer might regress into a bloated caricature of his former glory -- the first impression _The Crucible of Man_ imparts is that it seems as if those Owens years never happened. Starting off with a familiar Wagneresque preamble choir voiced in Latin ("In Sacred Flames"), the chugging triplets and plangent wailing of "Behold the Wicked Child" is absolute vintage Iced Earth. A thousand comparisons could be made with any of the pre-_Burden_ albums; so many that a sort of pointless irrelevance precludes the very bother of it. If you've heard an Iced Earth album prior to 2004, you'd be forgiven for thinking this might in fact be one of them. That said, this is hardly been there, done that material.

I couldn't tell you the first thing about the story's plot, a continuation of the _Something Wicked..._ storyline if the album's subtitle didn't tip you off, because god forbid record companies send journalists lyrics booklets these days, but like any concept record worth its pillar of salt, a familiarity with the narrative is not essential to enjoying the results. Like many as such, _Crucible_ starts off almost ridiculously strong before gradually fading to a mere mortal level of achievement. I'm on record as "A Gift or a Curse" being the best Iced Earth ballad as of yet extant, an almost disembodied Greek tragedy of a tune posthumous in delivery, monolithic in reserved intensity. It's the longest track on the first half of the album, _Crucible_ succeeding early on by trading primarily in short, sharp blasts of mournful, barely reserved outbursts of power, "A Gift or a Curse" carving a swath through the bookending anthems like an engorged river of dry ice.

Pre-album single "I Walk Alone" unofficially kicks off side two, a more conservative (if that even makes sense in this context) foray into trad thrash riffery and bombastic, multitracked vocalizing. Largely familiar yet always satisfying, this latter half is quality-dominated by the Maidenesque "Harbinger of Fate", thereafter dipping deep into familiar territory before finally regrouping with the faux symphonic metal of "Divide and Devour" and penultimate closer "Come What May", a single worthy beast easily eclipsing "I Walk Alone" but perhaps hampered by its 7.5 minute running time... nonetheless a colossal night cap to the band's crowning achievement. By focusing in and expanding on the band's essence, Schaffer and Barlow have not only recaptured the prestige of Iced Earth, but irreversibly enhanced it.


(article published 17/9/2008)

8/12/2001 A Bromley Iced Earth: The (Horror) Show Must Go on
9/1/1998 A Bromley Iced Earth: Glaciers Are Us
8/12/1997 D Schinzel Iced Earth: Icing on the Cake
8/12/1996 A Bromley Iced Earth: Spawn-Ing New Territory
10/3/2007 K Sarampalis 6 Iced Earth - Framing Armageddon - Something Wicked Part 1
6/23/2007 J Ulrey 5.5 Iced Earth - Overture of the Wicked
10/12/1999 A Bromley 8 Iced Earth - Alive in Athens
7/8/1998 P Schwarz 4 Iced Earth - Something Wicked This Way Comes
8/12/1997 D Schinzel 9.5 Iced Earth - Days of Purgatory
8/12/1996 A Bromley 7 Iced Earth - Dark Saga
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