In the stagnant metal environment of 1995 you basically had very few chances to hear a new
band. MTV's "Headbanger's Ball" was long gone, replaced by videos from 'heavy'
bands like The Cranberries, Garbage and Crash Test Dummies. Sure you had the five second
sound samples online but back then your online experience was limited to ten hours per
month and if you exceeded that then your parents were forced into a second mortgage to pay
internet bills from the likes of AOL and Compuserve. Photos from Metal Maniacs and rare
imports from mom and pop record stores were pretty much the norm for your average mop-headed
American metal listener.
We had four metal guys in our group growing up. Normally one of us would take one for the team and deprive themselves of a good taco meal to special order a CD from companies like Century Media, Relapse or Noise. Typically the mom and pop we utilized, "The Record Exchange", took our five dollars and ordered some album or band that we knew nothing about. In the sixty to ninety days shipping wait we typically swore that upon its arrival this special disc would be the greatest thing since Drew Barrymore dropped her drawers for Playboy (we saw the pics at the Gettymart). So with great anticipation and foolish spending we ran down to "The Record Exchange" and special ordered Tampa, Florida band Iced Earth "Burnt Offerings". At the time, based on album title alone, we had collectively agreed that Iced Earth were the greatest band ever and once we actually heard them then we could be reassured of our faith.
I remember the weeks leading up to its arrival. We had all tried to find some glimmer of hope online and through the various alternative and metal magazines. Typically you had a good twenty minutes of reading time at Waldon Books before the clerks either asked you to buy the magazine (the horror!) or to stop playing air guitar near the entrance. Regardless we weren't able to locate anything about an Iced band and eventually dismissed the whole thing as another CD that would never arrive from whatever part of Hell had it to begin with.
I had a factory job polishing platinum rings with a brother of the cloth, a raggedy blonde haired kid who swore Alice In Chains were the second coming. His friend's copy of "Burnt Offerings" had indeed arrived from whereabouts unknown. That night he went to his friend's house and did what any sensible metal fan would do; he brought along a blank Memorex tape to get the night's festivities on tape. While the CD played at real time he was able to successfully pirate the CD on cassette. This was the inexcusable equivalent of downloading a torrent, dropboxing all of your friends or ripping the album stream from Spotify. Back then it was simply three letters and you were in metal bliss with your second generation copy...REC.
The next day he again did what any sensible metal fan would do; he brought over his Memorex second generation "Burnt Offerings" to me, my anticipation spilling over on the sidewalk with my very own Memorex blank tape in hand. After the last piano notes of "Dante's Inferno" my friend concurred that this was indeed the Devil's work and that whatever hole this band climbed out of surely must have originated in fire and sulphur. I was concerned the tape surely invited some sort of wretched demon spawn or at the very least provided enough evidence for my mom to expel me from her good graces.
Three minutes after ejecting and labeling the tape I put it back in only to find my tape player not emitting sound. Of all the horrible things...a perfectly good third generation copy of "Burnt Offerings" was simply not playing due to my underwhelming, non-expensive Jensen radio. After hours of trouble shooting my piss-poor Jensen, and screams of anguish, I eventually came up with two possible ways of hearing the new Iced Earth; a Sony Walkman with broken headphones or the busted Jensen radio. Somehow I hooked a VCR cable from my Walkman to a small Sanyo TV. Channel 3 was the landscape for the brutal soundtrack of "Burnt Offerings". I was ecstatic over the near perfect state-of-the-art technology broadcasting my new tape; a third generation dub from a portable Sony Walkman played through two paper cones on a plastic television.
To this day I can't remember ever playing an album as much as "Burnt Offerings" in 1995. I spent at least two days straight in a lawn chair in front of my television playing the record over and over repeatedly. I think I went through every battery powered flashlight and appliance in the house to provide enough juice to run a Sony Walkman for forty-eight hours.
I was obsessed with "Dante's Infeno" at the time and the "songs within a song" arrangement. In the pre-metalcore environment of the 90s singer Matthew Barlow's performance was ahead of its time. His clean singing crossed with aggressive growls and screams was really innovative and original. The triplet riffs with machine like double bass is the perfect battery for the whole thing. The writing on the album is extremely dark, anti-religious with themes ranging from sacrifice to Lucifer. At the time the band was experiencing label turmoil and poor sales which surely contributed to the darker subject matter. This was the third band release and also third different frontman, possibly creating a lack of confidence or label and lineup instability.
"Burnt Offerings" is more conceptual than just track to track and by listening to it in its entirety over repeated listens really creates an intense atmosphere. As good as Iced Earth were at one point, I don't know if they were ever able to recapture the magic of "Burnt Offerings". It is simply timeless and a special album that fans will continue to admire and respect as the decades pass.
Personal Notes and Musings
- About a week after obtaining "Burnt Offerings" a friend and I went to see the premier of John Carpenter's "Village Of The Damned". I played this tape on our drive back and we were so caught up in singing "Creator Failure" that we ran a red light and just about died right there in front of the roller rink. Luckily no one was injured but that song to this day reminds me of that intersection.
- Our group of metal meatheads saw Iced Earth live two years later on their "Something Wicked" tour with Destiny's End. We ran into singer Matthew Barlow at a nearby pizza pit and ruined his calm and collected lunch by talking to him for nearly ninety minutes about this album. He was extremely pleasant but was obviously annoyed after an hour of "what's Europe like" and "can you do Dante's for us". That same gig, I went into the bathroom and accidentally knocked opener James Rivera (ex-Helstar) into an aluminum trash can.
"Brother, metal ain't pretty...but a good band will burn the hair right off ya ass" - Rod T.