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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Iced Earth

Framing Armageddon: Something Wicked Part 1

Review by Gary Hill

The latest CD from Iced Earth is a stunning concept album. The focus is on an epic metal approach that is emotional, technical and powerful all at once. For my money there are points where it gets just a little bit over the top, but that’s sort of the nature of the beast when it comes to this style of metal. With Tim (“Ripper”) Owens handling the vocals one might expect this to feel like Judas Priest. The fact of the matter is, there are times when it does, but those are not all that frequent. In fact, Owens shows that Rob Halford-like singing is far from the only trick in his book. This is a great metal disc, one of the best of the year.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Overture
Latin, tribal sounding percussion starts this. It gives way to a nearly classical sort of playful excursion. Towards the end of this instrumental we get some choral type vocals. This serves as a great introduction to the disc, although it may have you scratching your head wondering if you put on a metal CD or not.
Something Wicked Part. 1
Frantic and powerful epic metal takes away any question as to the metal quality of this disc. Through the course of this powerhouse Tim Owens works between fairly guttural sounds and soaring Halford-like screams. The music works through several themes and just plain kicks with a dark and ominous feeling. It becomes very well aligned with the European epic metal sound at times. There is a lot of technical work here. Still there is plenty of space to break your neck banging your head. This segues straight into the next number.
Invasion
Percussion and odd sound effects are joined by female world music type vocals to create the mood of this short connecting piece. Nearly pure noise (the sounds of warfare) ends it.
Motivation of Man
Coming right from the last one, this comes up a little tentatively, distant, but seeming ready to explode out. It reminds me a little of early Queensryche. When they pound out into the song proper, Owens’ vocals call to mind Sabbath era Ozzy a bit. This track is a lot rawer and less technical than “Something Wicked Part 1). Only a little over a minute in length, this is more of an introduction to the next piece than anything else.
Setian Massacre
Coming out of the last one, as sort of a part two, a short burst of more technical riffing takes it to the faster paced, turbo charged song proper. This turns into quite the anthemic track later. It’s actually one of my favorites on the disc. The guitar solos segments are extremely tasty. A crescendo gives way to noisy feedback that ends it.
A Charge to Keep
The metal modes that lead this off are staccato and very tasty. This has a prog metal approach, rather like an epic ballad. They fire out with an epic chorale motif later. This has a feel a bit like Royal Hunt in some ways. The powerhouse version further down the road is incredible. I’d have to say that Owens’ vocals on this one remind me quite a bit of Dio. The instrumental section here starts off rather understated. When the guitar solo kicks in it calls to mind some of the more melodic of Ace Frehley’s work.
Reflections
Based in a moody acoustic guitar ballad style, this is a short track that packs quite a bit of emotional punch.
Ten Thousand Strong
This is incredibly like Judas Priest. Certainly a good part of that semblance is Owens’ scream from hell on the opening. This is another killer metal jam. It has more of that European epic metal texture at times, too.
Execution
The majority of this short cut is in a moody, ambient texture. When it fires out into metal, though, this is Judas Priest all over the place.
Order of the Rose
Dio meets Royal Hunt seems the order of the day on this grinding stomper. It’s another strong cut, but it seems silly to expect anything else here. The twin guitar solo here is quite tasty and reminds me a bit Alice Cooper for some reason.
Cataclysm
This short connecting piece is essentially just sound effects.
The Clouding
At almost nine and a half minutes in length this is the epic of the disc. It starts with a guitar ballad approach. As layers of echoey guitar come over the top of this arrangement it feels a bit like Pink Floyd to me. This grows very gradually. We get a cool retro styled guitar solo at around the two and a half minute mark. They use this opportunity to bump it to the next level. It starts feeling a bit like Queensryche at this point to my ear, but I also hear a bit of the Judas Priest ballad sound here. An instrumental segment at around the three and a half minute mark brings back those Pink Floyd textures in spades. It’s about five and a half minutes before the real metallic sounds kick in. When they, do this really stomps. The overall texture, and Owens’ vocals at times, really has a Judas Priest vibe here. An instrumental movement later is pretty awesome, complete with tolling bells and a shuffling grind.
Infiltrate and Assimilate
Raw Judas Priest meets epic metal serves as the overall effect of this number. I particularly like the off-timed segment that makes up the backdrop for the guitar solo. Owens’ blood curdling scream as they come out from there is also priceless. The tune ends abruptly.
Retribution Through the Ages
Still quite metallic, this has more a melodic bent to it. The Dio leanings show up a bit here, but this turns quite technical, much more Euro-epic metal in nature. The guitar solo, with its Eastern modes (at times) is killer. It runs for quite a while and takes the track back up to its powerhouse chorus.
Something Wicked Part 2
This is a reprise of the earlier number. It feels almost prog at some points and has some great dual guitar work.
The Domino Decree
A powerhouse jam with middle-Eastern sounds starts this. A stalking mode makes up the mass of this cut. With a definite Egyptian feel to the lyrics and the music, this thing is pretty incredible. I love the vocal arrangement, layers upon layers of varied singing/screaming complementing each other. I’d have to pin this killer as my favorite on the disc. At about six and a half minutes in length it’s also the second longest track here.
Framing Armageddon
This is raw and frantic. It name checks pretty much all the important people in the major religions of the world. The section with its climbing pattern seems to me to be a metal rendition of a piece of music from Pink Floyd’s The Wall – and I mean that in that I really think it’s a musical quote. The song is really transformed into a more progressive metal piece once that sets in and we get some female vocals thrown into the mix (I think they might be sampled) here. When they turn to the brutal segment after this the music is pounding all sense out of the listener while Owens is giving a thorough Halford-type scream fest. When it’s done it’s all you can do to say, “wow!”
When Stars Collide (Born is He)
A pounding grind, the vocals on the chorus here are in a wall of sound, gang singalong mode. This is another killer track, very much in an epic metal configuration. That said, it’s not nearly as over the top as a lot of that genre can be. They move it out to a twin guitar dirge that really feels like (especially from the lyrics) a requiem for the human race. When they come back out into the song proper it feels even more intense. This is without question one of my favorites here. It would be a great tune for the first exposure to Iced Earth.
The Awakening
This classical choir like arrangement, based around female vocals is a bit over the top in terms of production. I’d have to say that it might complete the story in a way, but it seems to me to take away from the overall impact of the CD. I would have closed it with the killer that is “When Stars Collide (Born is He).”
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