Iced Earth - Night of the stormrider 5/5
1. Angels holocaust
3. The path I choose
4. Before the vision
5. Mystical end
6. Desert rain
7. Pure evil
8. Reaching the end
9. Travel in stygian
Iced Earth's best CD to date, by far, is 'Night of the stormrider'. While I wouldn't call the numerous follow-up CDs by the band "disappointments", none of them have come close to matching the pure magic that is 'Stormrider'. This is the 2nd CD for the band, released in 1992. Their first CD (self-titled) was also very strong from a songwriting standpoint, but was marred greatly by subpar vocals. 'Stormrider' was a breath of fresh air the first time I heard it. To my ears it perfectly fused the best elements of Metallica's 'Master of puppets' and the majestic sense of melody of Iron Maiden. I'm not sure if I have ever made up my mind about the genre of the CD. It sort of seems to hover somewhere between power metal and thrash. Simply put, it's a masterpiece.
The CD is a very dark concept album. It features an antihero who has developed such a scorn and hatred for the religious that he willfully allows himself to become the dark, powerful avatar for the forces of hell. He then goes on a violent, mostly unrepentant rampage, before his life ends and he somewhat stoically realizes his soul is damned and he must spend an eternity in Hell. No, this isn't a happy story. But, more important than the lyrics (which are very well done) is the music. On most of the follow-up Iced Earth CDs, my favorite songs tend to be the ones that have a lot of the classic Metallica "thrash galloping" coupled with some very compelling melodies. I'm referring to songs like "Dante's inferno", "Vengeance is mine", "Prophecy", and "Dracula". Well, on this CD, the WHOLE CD is in that style. This is the song style that I feel (rhythm guitarist, songwriter, and bandleader) Jon Schaeffer most excells in, and you get a full dose of it on 'Stormrider'.
One other element that sets this CD apart from the rest of the band's catalog is the incredible vocal work of John Greely. Greely only appeared on 'Night of the stormrider' and was replaced by the much more popular Matt Barlow for the band's next 4 CDs. But, for my money, Greely is a far superior singer. He is able to offer convincing clean singing, and incredible shrieks which Barlow always seemed to falter at. His voice is diverse enough to give the emotional story its full impact. I was apalled at the remade songs from 'Stormrider' from the 'Days of purgatory' compilation. Barlow's vocals just didn't do the material justice. I wouldn't, however, be adverse to hearing how current singer Tim Owens handled this classic material.
The CD opens in epic fashion with keyboards and choir ringing in "Angels holocaust". Back in 1992, this level of operatic influence was still somewhat of a novelty in metal, and I remember being blown away by it. After the "overture" in the beginning, we hear quiet acoustic guitar and Greely's calm, clean vocals. Then things explode with a glass shattering shriek of Greely and the trademark Iced Earth gallops! "Stormrider" follows and features even more intense, heavy, crushing galloping riffs, and the more gruff vocals of Jon Schaeffer himself. After this short, blistering song, you only get a moment to catch your breath before "The path I choose" opens with even more furious galloping. The melody the gallops create here is just so majestic and epic. The CD continues in blistering fashion with tons of thrashy galloping greatness, clean guitar breaks, and some backing keyboards before coming to its tragic, infernal end in "Travel in stygian". The CD ends with a quiet, sad, and beautiful piano outro which really makes you regret the plight of the Stormrider. (No pun intended.)
While I have enjoyed all the CDs Iced Earth has released since, I just don't think any of them can match the epic grandeur of this masterpiece. I know a lot of fans prefer the more varied approach than the band has taken since then, but I just think this focused effort showcases the band's strengths much more greatly than the other CDs. One element that I haven't yet talked about is the tremendous lead guitar work of Randy Shawver. Shawver left the band after 'The dark saga' CD, and I feel his defection is a great loss to the band. Schaeffer has recruited perhaps more technically gifted shredders than Shawver, but Shawver's leads have such a great sense of melody. This melody just seems to enhance and fit the songs (particularly on 'Night of the stormrider') moreso than the guitar wizardry that replaced it. I really think its been a void the band has been unable to adequately fill. If you're a newcomer to Iced Earth, you really need to pick up this CD and experience what the young, hungry songwriter Jon Schaeffer came up with when he was most inspired.
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