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Iced Earth
The Crucible of Man: Something Wicked Pt 2

Company: SPV/Steamhammer
Release: 2008
Genre: Power
Reviewer: Etiam

  • Doesn't live up to their former pedigree

  • As the first album with Matt Barlow back on vocals following a four-year absence and the third installment of Iced Earth's heralded 'Something Wicked...' saga, 'The Crucible of Man' is Iced Earth's most loaded LP since Ripper Owens' vocal debut on 2004's 'The Glorious Burden'. Much has been made of Barlow's return, and it is undeniable that his punishing bombast is more at home in Iced Earth than Owens could ever be. The latter contributed some great performances, to be sure, but as Jon Schaffer says, he and Barlow are "spiritual brothers", and the chemistry between those two was never recreated with Owens. So, with the dynamic duo back in action and the mojo of the Wicked One behind them, the band's 10th LP was primed to dominate.

    Unfortunately, it seems that the gears haven't clicked yet in the Iced Earth camp, as 'The Crucible of Man' spins its wheels more than it burns rubber. Barlow seems to love brooding these days more than he does (ironically) ripping things up like the days of yore. Now few and far between are performances like the excoriating 'Disciples of the Lie', or the power/thrash hybrid found on 'Burnt Offerings'. After fifteen tracks of mid-tempo multi-layered leads, the trademark choir of Barlows in grandiose choruses, and nearly constant doubling of his verses, one quickly becomes fatigued and begins to wonder whether Ripper was really so bad a fit after all.

    Musically, 'The Crucible of Man' is far less triumphal than its predecessor. Schaffer might call it sinister, but it can more bluntly be described as flat. It's as if Schaffer wanted to return to the dark flavor of the 'Burnt Offerings'/'Dark Saga' days, but lacked the inventive songwriting and riffing that helped make up for those albums' overwrought Gothic overtones. Perhaps a better comparison for 'The Crucible of Man' is 'Horror Show', but minus the good half--the driving vigor of 'Wolf', the palpable tension of 'The Phantom Opera Ghost' and riff-rocking drama of 'Jeckyl & Hyde'. Largely absent of these qualities, this album relies too heavily on self-derivation, repetition, and a plot that most of us never really cared that much about to begin with. To be sure, a handful of songs here have promising foundations, and the collective experience of Barlow and Schaffer ensures that 'The Crucible of Man' is no embarrassment. It just doesn't live up to their former pedigree. It's telling that this albums' press material spends most of its time focusing on the album's concept, saying next to nothing about the music itself, and only in the last paragraph is mention made of Barlow's return.

    Iced Earth do deserve kudos for, if nothing else, streamlining this epic a bit more than its predecessor, which was frequently bogged down by interludes and forgetful ballads (this album's 'A Gift Or A Curse?' might actually be more tedious than the last album's 'The Clouding', however). Though a few choral processions are used to frame the action here, Schaffer shows credible restraint in developing this more than decade-old saga by typically adhering to straightforward arrangements. (This presents its own issues, which are explored later.) The performances on 'The Crucible of Man' are tight as usual, with Schaffer's guitar rendering the bass practically superfluous, also as usual, and a new lineup providing competent if somewhat interchangeable support. The drums are a bit over-triggered, but sit fairly well in the mix and are never an annoyance. It would be nice to say more about the supporting cast here, but they frankly cannot compete with Iced Earth's erstwhile star power of Steve DiGiorgio, Richard Christy, Ralph Santolla, and Bobby Jarzombek, all of whom are long gone.

    Also frustrating are the needless interlude sections that pop up in a number of songs, repeating main verse riffs without vocals, sometimes in support of a lead, and almost always without variation. Some of these sections are slapped-on codas that plod on towards an arbitrary ending. They would be bewildering if they weren't so clearly an attempt to stretch out songs that struggle to pass three minutes. Frankly, not a one of these songs can legitimately stand with those of Iced Earth's glory days. The riffs are telegraphic and drab, and while Schaffer's triplets are as tight as punchy as ever, no amount of production chunk will turn a boring riff into a memorable one. 'The Crucible of Man' isn't decidedly bad; it just isn't much of anything.

    All that said, the album does end on promising notes. 'Divide and Devour' is this album's 'Infiltrate and Assimilate', and is one of the few times Barlow lives up his legacy. 'Come What May' features a new melodicism that breaks Schaffer's stereotypical mold of either hyper-masculine metal or contemplative acoustics. Combined with Barlow's sky-scraping cries (seriously impressive), the elements of would have been a welcome change of pace on the rest 'The Crucible of Man'. If these ending themes are developed on subsequent releases, then the Barlow/Schaffer duo will indeed be dynamic, breathing life back into this a shell nearly thirty years old.

    Maximum Metal Rating Legend - Click for Full Details
    5 Excellent - Buy it and say a prayer to the metal gods that you were tuned on to this masterpiece. A classic.
    4-4.5 Great - Almost perfect records but there's probably a clunker or a lacking somewhere to keep it from perfection. You won't feel bad about dropping some bones on these.
    3.5 Good - Most of the record is good, but there may be some filler. This is the OK range where you'd search for the record on sale or used.
    3 Average - Some good songs, some bad ones at about a half/half ratio. Could show skills but be dull overall. Redeeming qualities for indy bands are effort and passion. Majors that don't try or suck outright end up here.
    2-2.5 Fair - Worth a listen, but best obtained by collectors. There is much better metal out there.
    1-1.5 Bad - Major problems with music, lyrics, production, etc.
    0 Terrible or an otherwise waste of your life and time.

    Note: Reviews are graded from 0-5, anything higher or not showing is from our old style. Scores, however, do not reveal the important features. The written review that accompanies the ratings is the best source of information regarding the music on our site. Reviewing is opinionated, not a qualitative science, so scores are personal to the reviewer and could reflect anything from being technically brilliant to gloriously cheesy fun.

    Demos and independent releases get some slack since the bands are often spent broke supporting themselves and trying to improve. Major releases usually have big financial backing, so they may be judged by a heavier hand. All scores can be eventually adjusted up or down by comparison of subsequent releases by the same band. We attempt to keep biases out of reviews and be advocates of the consumer without the undo influence of any band, label, management, promoter, etc.

    The best way to determine how much you may like certain music is to listen to it yourself.

    All reviews for this band:
    Days of PurgatoryIced Earth
    Frank Hill9/30/2003
    DystopiaIced Earth
    Greg Watson10/23/2011
    Festivals of the WickedIced Earth
    Greg Watson8/5/2011
    Framing ArmageddonIced Earth
    Gettysburg DVDIced Earth
    Ken Pierce6/9/2005
    Live In Ancient KourionIced Earth
    Eric Compton5/10/2013
    Plagues of BabylonIced Earth
    Greg Watson2/21/2014
    The Crucible of ManIced Earth
    The Crucible of ManIced Earth
    Raising Iron1/13/2009
    The Glorious BurdenIced Earth
    Ken Pierce6/16/2004
    The Glorious BurdenIced Earth
    Eric Compton1/21/2004
    The Glorious BurdenIced Earth
    Anthony Burke12/11/2003
    The Reckoning EPIced Earth
    Frank Hill11/21/2003

    Interviews found from this band:
    Jon SchafferIced EarthGreg Watson2/7/2012
    Jon SchafferIced EarthKen Pierce9/14/2005

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