The carousel of characters revolving in and out of Iced Earth's caustic cauldron continues in 2008 with the release of The Crucible of Man (Something Wicked Part 2) as the revered Matt Barlow is back behind the mic; Tim "Ripper" Owens now off to sing for Yngwie Malmsteen (for a short spell I'm sure!). It's a welcome return despite a superb performance on Framing Armageddon (Something Wicked Part I) by Mr. Owens.
For the uninitiated, this "double" concept album has roots that go way back to the trilogy found at the end of 1998's Something Wicked This Way Comes. The story found there is now fully fleshed out over the scope of 2 albums with 2007 seeing Part 1 released while "Ripper" was still singing with the band, and now Part 2 concludes the tale in 2008. But that's not all diehards, Jon Schaffer has intimated he intends to re-record Part 1 with Matt on vox, and clean up a few minor details in the production/mix of that release, only then to be issued in a "box set" with Parts I & II together. Get out your shillings so you can purchase these albums, again!
Anyway, despite that bit of annoyance, what we have here is an average Iced Earth album and nothing more. I can't believe things turned out as such as I, like most, see Barlow as the rightful vocalist to front this band, but something here is missing, and after many months of listening to this I think I can finally put my finger on it. There just isn't that mean snarl coming out of the mix like in the past. We know Jon can write concept albums, just look to The Dark Saga for a stellar example, but here things feel a bit uninspired, and like I said, there just isn't that viciousness heard from the music (or Matt) that we've heard in the past. Everything is in place here too, which just makes things that much more of an enigma; great crunchy riffs, instantly recognizable as being Jon and his style, epic constructs, majestic movements with lots of shading, Matt's vocals spot on, and a grand mix to boot. "I Walk Alone" and "Harbinger of Hate" are definite live fare, as well as the grandiose climax of "Come What May", yet, despite all this, I'm still liking Part I better, the songs there being more memorable and a bit more dynamic.
This isn't a bad album, all the elements that make up the power metal periodic table are here and in place, but Iced Earth can and has done better. Maybe it's because this was all written before Matt returned, hence he didn't have as large a hand in the shaping of the songs and melodies this time out. Maybe I'm just getting jaded with this genre, or the whole "concept album(s)" idea in general. Whatever the reason, it's a decent release, but here's hoping that Jon and whatever gang he ends up with next time around pares things down and get back to giving us a nasty power metal kick in the pants!
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