Iced Earth…a retrospective
It was 1991 and I remember it like it was yesterday. I was at Danile’s house hanging out for a few and I saw a cassette sitting on his bed. Iced Earth (self-titled debut)? Who? Century Media Records? What? Well, it had a cool cover. That was a good start. So I popped it in. Whoa. Cool opening riff. Singer was a bit odd but it worked well. As the tape went on I just sat there kind of quiet (rare I know). The riffs, the vocals, everything. This was refreshing. Remember, this was 1991. Metal was going back to the underground and MTV was pushing new cash cows. And hey, good for them. But Iced Earth brought something new/old back to the game. Galloping riffs, decent lyrics, and just well-played metal in general. The riffs were well-crafted.
Shortly thereafter I was buying a copy for myself and hoping that a follow-up was in the works. Much to my joy in 1992 they put out Night of the Stormrider. New singer, better album. This album is practically perfect from beginning to end. Just awesome really. It was really nice to have a newer metal band to dig on. They were getting few and far between in the 1990s, ya know? I absolutely adore this album and still listen to it regularly. You should too! Seriously, this is such an awesome album.
Three years later they released Burnt Offerings. Another singer change. Some dude named Matt Barlow who ended up being their most popular singer and a favorite by most of their fans (not by me, mind you). This album is very good, though. A little darker than Stormrider, but the patented Jon Schaffer riffs are all there. Barlow’s vocal performance is strong but he has always reminded me of Hetfield and Paul Stanley wrapped up into one, but with a better range. Last December is the standout track for me for sure. This album is definitely worth owning if you liked the first 2.
Flashing back to 1991 again, I went up to JMU to see Kelz for a weekend. From my beer soaked memory of that weekend, I remember him letting me read a newer comic called Spawn. I read the first few issues and thought it was a cool story. When I had read that Iced Earth was doing a concept record based around the Spawn story, I was intrigued. I’m not a big comic book fan but this one kept me interested for a few years. As it was, Iced Earth released The Dark Saga in 1996 with an album cover by Spawn’s creator, Todd McFarland. While this album is more straightforward than the previous 3, it was well done. They fleshed the story out pretty well in my opinion and I still listen to this album quite often.
It was right around mid-1997 time that I had started my own little online CD business and was starting to get promos from labels like Metal Blade and Century Media. I remember them sending me Iced Earth’s Days of Purgatory. Essentially it was rerecorded versions of some demos and songs from their first 2 albums with Barlow handling the vocals. In the words of Homer Simpson…”BORING!” Seriously, what a letdown. But it gets worse for me.
In 1998 they released Something Wicked This Way Comes. Iced Earth was at their height of popularity in the US and were HUGE overseas. This album was them jumping the shark for me. It got whimpy. Too many ballads, the riffs were lacking, and Barlow’s voice was really grating my nerves now. Do you really need that much emotion? I was done. Jon Schaffer, their mainman, was integrating too much comic book imagery and such and in my opinion their music started to suffer. Sure, it’s his band and he can do what he wants, but I always felt that he was selling out to a degree.
On this tour I was given the privilege to interview Schaffer and Barlow before the show. I don’t think Schaffer was too happy with the interview. I pulled no punches, I never do. Iced Earth is legendary for their numerous lineup changes and I questioned him about it. He gave the right response in saying that it’s his band and if someone isn’t toeing the line like he wants, they’re gone. Right on, I respect that. But he didn’t like the question. hen when I asked him about Keith Menser (Mystic Force) being pictured on the album but not actually playing on it, he got a little pissed and talked shit about Keith, but in a politically correct sort of way. Overall Jon was cool and he had some issues with the venue that I think had him worked up. They almost didn’t play at all because of the hip-hop that was playing on the jukebox when they were setting up for soundcheck. Barlow didn’t speak much, but he was super cool and very amicable. The show they put on was great and Barlow even mentioned my little cable access TV show between songs. Very cool! I never aired the interview. I should post it one day.
So in 2001, Iced Earth released Horror Show which had songs related to characters in horror films. Without saying anything else, I’ll just say this. “zzzzzzzzzz”. That was it. No more for me. I heard clips of subsequent albums that featured Ripper Owens (one of the most boring singers ever!) and the return of Barlow but I just couldn’t get into them. That early stuff just couldn’t be touched. It still can’t.
With the above being said, I do have a ton of respect for Jon Schaffer. While I may not like the changes he made in the band’s musical style, I love how he marketed his band. He obviously read the marketing handbooks written by KISS and Iron Maiden. Put out shirts, EPs, anything. Make the cash! I totally respect that. Make people know who you are! They have done a great job with that, even if it did come mid-way through their career.
If you’ve never heard them and want to start somewhere, this is the order that I’d recommend them to anyone:
- Night of the Stormrider
- Iced Earth
- The Dark Saga
- Burnt Offerings
- Everything else
Through much of the 90s, I used to work November-January at a mall record store for some extra cash and just out of boredom. When people would come in asking for metal recommendations, I’d quiz them a bit about the style of metal they were into and if they were of the Maiden/Priest/Accept/etc type metalhead, I always offered up Stormrider as my recommendation to them. I even offered a guarantee that if they didn’t like the album to bring it back and I would buy it off of them. I guess I probably sold about 10 or so of them and no one ever brought one back. A few people even came back and thanked me for it. That was pretty cool.
Video from the show I filmed in 1998. The rest of the show is up there as well. Enjoy!
Subscribe to comments with RSS.