Iced Earth - Framing armageddon 3.5/5
2. Something wicked pt. 1
4. Motivation of man
5. Setian massacre
6. A charge to keep
8. Ten thousand strong
10. Order of the rose
12. The clouding
13. Infiltrate and assimilate
14. Retribution through the ages
15. Something wicked pt. 2
16. The domino decree
17. Framing armageddon
18. When stars collide (Born is he)
19. The awakening
It's been almost 10 years now since Iced Earth mainman Jon Schaffer introduced the 'Something wicked' concept and its anti-hero Set Abominae, and the time has finally come for him to tell the full epic story over 2 CDs, the first of which is 'Framing armageddon'.
Things have changed considerably in the Iced Earth camp since the story was first presented on 1998's 'Something wicked this way comes' CD, the most notable probably being the absence of Matthew Barlow, whose place at the microphone has been occupied by Tim Owens since 2003. Owens received a lot of criticism from fans and critics for his performance on the previous 'The glorious burden', but while he lacks his predecessor's range there is no doubt that he is a real talent, and his performance here is a possible career-best.
Since the original trilogy of songs that paved the way for the full concept, Iced Earth's days as a full-throttle band have ended up well and truly behind them, and the music here is much more in line with their more recent output than the power/thrash of their early work. The band have been going in a less aggressive direction since around the time of the original 'Something wicked...' CD anyway though, and those expecting 'Framing armageddon' to be an exception to this rule are in for a disappointment. Not that the CD is without its heavy moments, but on the whole, the entire focus of the songwriting is geared much more towards the epic and atmospheric. This provides many of the CDs strengths, but unfortunately also detracts from its overall strength from time to time.
As with many concept CDs, the lyrics, and how they are worked into the songs, definitely seem to have been Schaffer's main priority with 'Framing armageddon', and the music inevitably suffers as a result. Often a song will ride along on the same riff for far too long in order to fit the lyrics, and there is an overall lack of intricate lead guitar and solos. The only real show of guitar trickery comes towards the end of the piece on "The domino decree', with the rest of the CD mostly based on a more straightforward musical approach only punctuated by little flurries of double-bass drumming and faster chord sequences.
Similarly to this reduced focus on musicianship, the pacing of the CD can drag when the more reflective of tragic parts of the story take over and it takes a degree of patience to fully appreciate it. Most of the more mid-paced and slower songs are real winners, though, with the ballad "Charge to keep" a real standout in the vein of "Hollow man" from the preceding CD. On the other hand, the lead single 'Ten thousand strong' is a contender for best song on the CD – one of the fastest and most aggressive, but also with a sorrowful chorus that showcases the versatility in Owens' display as he varies piercing shrieks with a more mournful overall touch.
Another concept staple Schaffer has saw fit to include is the use of several interludes scattered between the actual songs, as well as the obligatory intro and outro tracks. Their usefulness is probably most comparable to the use of segues on Blind Guardian's 'Nightfall in middle earth' opus, in that they are mostly unessential to the enjoyment of the CD, but never really feel as though they are cluttering things up; nowhere near as seamless and effective as those on Kamelot's 'Epica' and 'The black halo' CDs, but also a far cry from what they are probably already referring to as 'Gods of war' syndrome.
'Framing armageddon' is definitely not versatile enough a CD for all moods – the brooding atmosphere is too prevalent over a near 70-minute running time for that, with the more direct moments scattered too few and far between. But on the whole, what is done here is done very well, and while it won't appeal to all tastes, the first half of Jon Schaffer's attempt at his magnum opus has been an admirable one.
Listeners who like to immerse themselves in the story behind a concept CD will be able to lose themselves in the ambience, while those who demand something a little more direct are going to find themselves turned off by its patient, meandering nature. But for those who end up fans of 'Framing armageddon', Part 2 is certainly to be looked forward to.
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