|Review: Iced Earth - The Glorious Burden|
|The Glorious Burden|
Year released: 2004
Genre: Heavy Metal
Review online: January 18, 2004
Reviewed by: Michel Renaud
for:The Glorious Burden
Rated 3.94/5 (78.78%) (49 Votes)
Here's an album I was awaiting with a little bit of apprehension, following Matt Barlow's departure, and his replacement by former Judas Priest frontman Tim Owens. I'm not a fan of Owens to begin with, and didn't really see how he could possibly fit into Iced Earth's style. Well, the surprise for me on "The Glorious Burden" is that the vocals are pretty much what stand out the most on the album. Tim did quite a great job in the vocal department and overall comes out sounding very good. I'll be curious to see how he pulls off the older material, however, but that's for some upcoming live show review. :) The problem is that I can't shake the feeling that the vocals and the music often sound distant from each other - like a bit of a mismatch, not unlike the feeling one got when, for example, Blaze was singing new Maiden songs that had been written with Bruce's voice in mind. This I predict will be kind of a hit and miss depending on the listener. I guess being a "fan" of Barlow might have something to do with this.
This is an Iced Earth album, so you are bound to see the usual: "The album sucks", "The album rules", and more middle-ground opinions. I'm in the middle. I'm neither blown away, nor bored by the album (OK, I was kind of bored the first couple of listens... It's one of those albums you have to let sink in a little.) I first thought of a track-by-track review but I'd rather not - it's a pain to write and a pain to read. :) But above all, a lot of the stuff on this album is not really worth writing about. There's only so much to say about the album kicking off with the Star-spangled Banner (except on the European version of the album) which is repeated at the beginning of Gettysburg anyway (and it actually makes sense there), or the Sept.11, 2001-inspired "When The Eagle Cries" which is an OK song (if you can stomach the patriotism - as the title suggests, it's a kind of "snif-snif-booh-booh"-toned song that's also presented in an unplugged version on the 2CD edition) but doesn't fit in here much. It does succeed in reminding me of my mix of angry and sad feelings at the time, but I just don't see the appeal... This stuff comes out as a bit of a cheese-o-rama, really. Anyway, it's a very average song.
Musically the Iced Earth signature sound is quite recognisable, I guess I could pick Schaffer's style out of a hundred guitars. There's a bit of the rehashing I complained about when I reviewed "Horror Show", but this album has more of a solemn feel to it so the so-called rehashing is not as striking. What I find is really missing musically here is material that grabs me and makes me want to play this all day (although I have played this several times a day on a few occasions - yeah I'm weird... :)) Except maybe for "Valley Forge", which is undoubtedly the catchiest song here and the one that really rocks, there isn't really any song that stuck in my head. The others are practically forgotten once they're over. They're not horrible or anything, just not memorable - except for the last part of the album...
...The most ambitious piece in Iced Earth's history, "Gettysburg (1863)" is an epic song (split into three) that lasts about 32 minutes and recounts the story of the battle of Gettysburg during the U.S. Civil War (it's no secret that Schaffer is a history buff with a particular interest in the Civil War.) I first got this album in mp3 format (what can I say, I have no patience) and originally found this song to be pretty much of a bore. I picked up the album a few days ago at a local store (not patient enough to order it online) and went through the booklet. The part about Gettysburg is quite detailed, with not only the lyrics but several annotations by Schaffer which put every part of the song in context. Having read that, I was able to immerse myself more into the song and appreciate it to its just value. It is a bit overwhelming because of its length and there are a few weak moments, but overall you're in for a good ride, especially if you take the time to check out Jon's annotations before and during the song. Definitely an album where the booklet is more than a pretty face. :) Each song has the lyrics on the left page and very well-done art related to the song on the right page. I wouldn't mind having the same thing in vinyl format but I guess the cost of supersizing this would be astronomical. Also worth noting is the participation of the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra on Gettysburg (1863), and this is not your usual half-baked symphonic gimmick but rather an excellently well orchestrated (no pun intended) participation that's fully integrated with the band's own playing.
So... Overall this is a good surprise for me. When I learned of Tim's arrival, I was expecting the worst, but that turned to be unwarranted and in general this is a good listen, even the bland songs still have a little something going for them (except maybe one or two - but that varies with my mood - hehehe.) The good stuff almost makes me forget the more average material (well, that material helps a bit by being forgettable to begin with.. :)) I wouldn't be surprised if I were to re-read this review in a few weeks/months and want to change something, but that wouldn't be a first. A good album overall, but a little too much filler for its own good. Still well worth the purchase.
Favourite tracks: Greenface, Valley Forge, Gettysburg (1863).
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