The Crucible of Man: Something Wicked Part 2 by Iced Earth
Release date : September 2008
Reviewed by Mark Fisher
A genius, the likes of which us mortals have rarely seen, or simply a madman; which category does Iced Earth mainman Jon Schaffer fall under? Taking Iced Earth's millennial activities into consideration, it's difficult to say. Following the departure of longtime vocalist Matt Barlow, Schaffer hired Tim Owens (ex-Judas Priest, Beyond Fear, Yngwie Malmsteen), and Iced Earth subsequently released 2004's The Glorious Burden. Encompassing all that longtime fanatics loved regarding Iced Earth (great cover artwork, historically significant lyrical content, and epic, heavy anthems), The Glorious Burden was driven over the edge by the very fact that Owens' vocal range happens to be much broader than Barlow's.
Schaffer initially announced that Iced Earth would channel its efforts upon an expansion of Something Wicked This Way Comes (1998), and within Metal's sphere, anticipation reached fever pitch. Having witnessed Owens' live interpretation of several of those 1998 numbers, the expansion of that initial concept was a delightful premise. Unfortunately, that anticipation dissipated upon the release of September 2007's Framing Armageddon, quite possibly Iced Earth's weakest studio album to date. Poorly authored, Schaffer parted ways with Owens in an attempt to remedy the harm reaped via its issue. Announced on December 11th, the move was caused by in-depth discussions Schaffer conducted with Iced Earth fans whilst touring the United Kingdom the previous month alongside Lamb of God, and Heaven and Hell. In support of the concept's final installment, namely The Crucible of Man, vocalist Matt Barlow returned to the fold. Barlow had joined Danish Progressive Metal act Pyramaze that April, making such a move more feasible. Bassist Dennis Hayes additionally left the group, likely fuelled by the man's allegiance to Owens, the two being fellow members of Beyond Fear. A search was conducted, with Schaffer settling upon Infusion bassist / vocalist Freddie Vidales. Hailing from San Antonio, Texas, his appointment was announced in March 2008.
That same month, Iced Earth unveiled plans for a pre-release June EP in support of the album. Entitled I Walk Among You, its artwork was additionally revealed. The EP comprised an exclusive version of “I Walk Alone”, and remixed / remastered takes of both “Setian Massacre” and “The Clouding” (original renditions of which featured upon Framing Armageddon), now featuring Barlow at the microphone. The EP's Itunes release included a bonus cut, more specifically the remixed / remastered track “A Charge to Keep”, which additionally featured Barlow's vocals. In early April, audio samples were streamed via the group's official MySpace page. In late May, a widget in support of the EP surfaced. During its first week of release, I Walk Among You sold 1,450 copies in the United States, enough to garner position two upon the Billboard Maxi Singles chart, and position three upon the Billboard Top Singles chart. Recorded at Schaffer's studio, Soaring Eagle Sound, mixing and mastering occurred at Florida's Morrisound Recording.
In mid June, Iced Earth's official website unveiled The Crucible of Man's cover artwork. A mere week later, release dates were announced. By early July, the album's track listing emerged. Late August saw the release of audio samples from the album, all available for streaming via the group's MySpace page.
Barlow's imminent return caused delight amongst longtime fanatics, though the man's actual presence certainly weakens The Crucible of Man. Vocally speaking, Barlow’s sinister growl comprises the album's only glimmer of radiance. Without soaring vocal work, the possibility of lending these specific cuts an actual spirit is seemingly remote. Indeed, The Crucible of Man's tunes never soar to life, and “Crown of the Fallen” forms a perfect example of this. Bearing the hallmarks of a potential Metal anthem, Barlow nonetheless ventures nowhere with the track as a consequence of his limited vocal range. A towering menace could've possibly defined “Harbinger of Fate”, a number which falls victim to the very same fate. An additional ingredient is necessary to thrust the song over the edge, and “Harbinger of Fate” lacks that ingredient. It's an unfortunate state of affairs, especially in light of the fact that “Harbinger of Fate” particularly showcases Schaffer's greatest guitar work to date, and its dynamics prove almost sufficient to maintain your focus - irrespective of the track's lacklustre vocals. The slightly beyond average “Behold the Wicked Child”, and the heavier “Divide Devour”, form The Crucible of Man's lone sparkling moments.
To be quite frank, The Crucible of Man fares no better than Framing Armageddon. Lengthy and drawn out without an apparent motive, the album's concept is so excessively complicated that only Schaffer has a remote inkling as to what the concept actually entails. As opposed to Something Wicked This Way Comes, both Framing Armageddon and The Crucible of Man needlessly alienate listeners. When embarking upon a conceptual affair, a group can spiral towards excess. A potential threat, these two aforementioned full lengths are a central example of when an act does just that. This reviewer is an Iced Earth admirer, and sincerely hopes that the group ventures towards new pastures.