Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Comparison: Something Wicked Parts 1 & 2

Something Wicked is the newest release(s) by Iced Earth, labeled as "Framing Armageddon" (2007) and "The Crucible of Man" (2008), released almost exactly one year apart. These two albums are an expansion of an earlier Iced Earth concept off of the "Something Wicked This Way Comes" album, the last three songs more specifically. These songs, "Prophecy" "Birth of The Wicked" and "The Coming Curse," begins the story of Set Abominae, which is pulled into greater detail in the new albums.

The story is as follows:
In the original trilogy a species (not named) learns a prophecy of the coming of human kind (not known from where), who will eventually enslave them. They decide that to deal with this threat, they will take on the characteristics and likeness of "man" and will prepare for their retribution. That, in ten-thousand years, a child will be born who will "Walk this Earth, two thousand years or more," he will be the downfall of mankind. Fast forward ten thousand years, the child is born to much rejoicing; "Child of the wicked and ancient man, baptized in black magic, their master plan." The tale then moves to the narrative of the child, as he tells his plan for the damnation of the human problem. The end is never truly mentioned and is left up to the listener.
In the new, double disc version, the original inhabitants of Earth (now named Setians), are an almost omniscient species, and invaded from space by Humans who want the knowledge for themselves, killing all but 10,000 of the Setians. The survivors go into exile where the Setian High Command (numbering thirteen members) come up with a plan for revenge. They begin "The Clouding," forcing the Humans to forget their origins, and create religions to further divide the Humans. As Humans fight amongst themselves, the Setians will wait in hiding, 10,000 years for their savior (and the Human's Anti-Christ), Set Abominae to be born, starting the end of the Human occupation and bringing about a new age for the Setians. Set Abominae is on the sixth hour of the sixth day of the sixth month, and is raised within the Setian community, told the story of the Human invasion and the near-extinction of his people. As he is trained to be the destroyer of Man, Set wonders if he is the "blessed child" the elders tell him he is, or if in fact he is cursed. When he is released unto the world, his first target is Jesus Christ, and begins to tumble empires over two thousand years, promoting himself to God-like status. At the culmination of his efforts, the deed he was born to do, he decided that there is hope for Humankind and decided to spare the species, stating that they must overcome their own flaws, or face destruction.
"Framing Armageddon" tells from the Human invasion up to the birth of Set Abominae, with "The Crucible of Man," beginning at the actual birth of Set Abominae until he decides to spare Mankind.

While the story is epic in both its span and content, the ending product is lacking in substance. The original trilogy (from "Something Wicked This Way Comes") is a nice mix of the thrash/power metal we are used to from Iced Earth, with some piano and slower moments to give it depth. This ends up melding very well, with the three songs totaling just about twenty minutes, there is plenty of time to change the tempos drastically without it seeing unnecessary.
The first album within the new chapters, "Framing Armageddon," sets the tone very well. It follows in the footsteps of the original, with several songs in Iced Earth power metal fashion, and with a few of a slower pace, to break up the story. Favorite songs include; "A Charge To Keep" and "Ten Thousand Strong." With "The Crucible of Man," there is not that much of a break between styles. While I was listening to it I looked to see what track I was on, expecting to be on track four, I was surprised to see I was actually on track ten. There was almost no difference between the separate songs. I am planning on listening to it all the way through again, but from the first time listen, none of the songs really stood out to me. While the music was decent, there was nothing special (from a first listen).

I think one of the problems with the albums is the lack of continuity, for the original trilogy (and several previous albums) the lead singer was Matthew Barlow, at Barlow's departure in 2001, Tim "The Ripper" Owens (formally from Judas Priest) joined the band. Owens re-recorded the trilogy (heard on the "Overture of The Wicked" EP) and recorded "Framing Armageddon," with the intention of finishing off the series. When Owens was fired in late 2007, it was obvious that this would not be happening. Matthew Barlow was back in and quickly recorded "The Crucible of Man," and has intentions of re-recording "Framing Armageddon" (at least parts) and releasing both albums in a double-disc set-up.
Now, I love Matthew Barlow's lyrics, I view him as the "Voice" of Iced Earth, but I think that Tim Owens did a better job on this project. His falsetto voice, with John Schaffer's deeper back-up, did well at conveying the message of Set Abominae. And while I'm sure that if it had been Barlow's project from the beginning I would feel different, I think Owens put more into it, and should have been aloud to finish the story.

I have spoken to several Metal-Heads and they seem to be divided about new albums. Some thing that Matt Barlow is the only one worth of singing on Iced Earth albums and anyone else singing it is not the "real" Iced Earth. While others agree with me (and are a little less fanatical), and thing that "The Ripper" should have been able to finish what he started. Only time will tell which is more highly regarded.

Currently listening to: Ayreon - The Final Experiment (Album)

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