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Iced Earth The Glorious Burden

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Tuesday, April 6, 2004 @ 10:33 PM


(SPV)

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About the only thing bigger than Iced Earth leader Jon Schaffer’s ego is his ambition. And with every album, the band — despite a revolving door line-up with him as the lone constant — delivers something more grandiose and high-concept, from The Dark Saga’s “Spawn” storyline and Horrorshow’s monster movie thematics to the curiously awful covers album Tribute To The Gods. But Schaffer, and whomever makes up Iced Earth in the future, are gonna have a hell of a time topping the band’s latest — and perhaps prophetically titled — effort, The Glorious Burden.

Epic doesn’t even begin to describe Burden, an album with the audacity to open with “The Star Spangled Banner” and conclude with a three-part, 32-minute retelling of the Civil War’s Battle of Gettysburg — complete with embellishments from the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, a drum corps, flutes, bagpipes and extensive notes within the lyrics that not only more fully flesh out the action, but note the exact times within the song where the tides of battle turn. About the only thing missing is some Manowar-approved Orson Wells-style narration, but maybe Schaffer’s keeping that in his quiver for next time. We shall see.

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With Burden, Iced Earth present a veritable textbook lesson in history that spans from the reign of Attila The Hun (“Attila”) all the way up to Sept. 11 (the pretentious “When the Eagle Flies,” which does little more than prove that country music doesn’t hold exclusive license to cloying, flag-waving anthems) and its aftermath, the ass-ripping “Greenface.” There also are stops for the Revolutionary War (“Declaration Day” and “Valley Forge”), the old West (“The Reckoning”) and World War I (the very “Aces High”/“The Trooper”-like “Red Baron/Blue Max”). The only track that doesn’t seem tied to some event or era is “Hollow Man.”

Given its meticulous — nay, obsessive — detail, sprawling scale and Schaffer’s control-freak nature, the Burden package would be a recipe for disaster if the execution wasn’t spot-on and the material deftly crafted. Lucky for him, there are way more hits than misses here. Overwrought as it is in places — “Eagle Cries” is an embarrassment, “Valley Forge” never overcomes its clunky structure — Burden still rocks pretty hard. And the intricate arrangements and complex construction of “The Reckoning,” “Attila” and, yes, even the staggering “Gettysburg (1863)” work quite well, proving that while the turnover may be constant, Schaffer’s vision for Iced Earth — and his ability to rally the troops he has on hand around it — remain unswayed.

Schaffer gets a huge helping hand this time out from singer Tim “Ripper” Owens — who signed on almost immediately after his tumultuous, no-win-situation tenure with Judas Priest ended. Free from the burden of being “Rob Halford’s replacement,” Owens is much more confident and charismatic here, delivering a sensational performance as “Matt Barlow’s replacement.” Ironically, his air-raid siren wail is more Halford-like on “Declaration Day” or “Red Baron” than it ever was on the two forgettable studio albums he did with Priest. Owens’ sure, certain voice and inspired delivery bring the kind of passion to Schaffer’s heady material that it desperately needs. Without it, Burden might have been just another trip down metal’s windy memory lane. But with Owens behind the mic, Schaffer’s lofty vision comes to life — and kicks some ass in the process.

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