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Iced Earth Framing Armageddon: Something Wicked Part 1

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Friday, November 16, 2007 @ 11:29 PM


(SPV USA)

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Nineteen songs, 70 minutes of music - and this is only part one. Damn! The epic world of power-metal cult heroes Iced Earth - and, specifically, band leader Jon Schaffer - just keeps growing more grandiose with each passing album.

Where 2004's Glorious Burden concluded with the 30-some minute, three-part "Gettysburg (1863)" opus, Framing Armageddon is the opening salvo of a colossal sci-fi conceptual work that will conclude sometime next year with the tentatively titled Revelation Abomination: Something Wicked Part 2. The ambitious project is something Schaffer, Iced Earth's creative director and lone original member, has been talking about for years. And with a story line as involved as this, and music so intricate and convoluted, it's easy to see why it took so long to come to fruition.

The Something Wicked saga is kind of like the metal equivalent of "Star Wars" or, perhaps more fittingly, "Battlefield Earth," where two civilizations - the Setians, deemed here to be the original inhabitants of Earth, and Humans, who vanquished said Setians and nearly killed them off after arriving via spacecraft (take that creationists and Darwinians!) - are headed toward a climatic battle that will decide the fate of the planet. Throw in some ancient prophecy, religion, genocide and a Christ/Antichrist-like - depending on which side you're on - spiritual leader and you've got quite a lot of thread to unravel.

Framing Armageddon spells out the first act in painstaking detail, each song - save for the half-dozen instrumental interludes - serving like a chapter in a book. A cursory read will give anyone a pretty clear idea of what's going and where everything is headed - and see that there are plenty of real-world parallels in the sci-fi plotting (the surviving Setians living a shadowy, al Qaeda-like existence, fomenting the cultural and religious divisions that will eventually be the downfall of mankind.)

But does it rock? Indeed it does - in places. As is often the cases with these epic thematic albums, too much time is spent on transitional stuff - the aforementioned instrumental interludes - and overblown theatrics - in this case, one bombastic, choir-like chorus after another - at the expense of simply kicking ass. And with something as sprawling and massive as Iced Earth is attempting here, pacing is key.

But because there is so much space - and so much deliberate, slow-to-midtempo material - between the effectively thrashy "Setian Massacre," "Ten Thousand Strong," "Infiltrate and Assimilate" and the title track, Framing Armageddon does tend to drag. And with "the band" here basically being Schaffer and an army of guest musicians - Brent Smedley does return to play drums - there isn't much in the way of interplay that, for example, Queensryche or Iron Maiden employed with great effect back in the day to liven things up, leaving it with a somewhat clinical feel.

That said, however, there are lots of big, crunching hooks here, so Framing does boast plenty of muscle, often even when things slow to a crawl. And much-heralded Tim "Ripper" Owens - the guy who replaced Rob Halford for a time in Judas Priest, just in case you need a reminder - really comes into his own, delivering an impeccable, resoundingly powerful performance behind the mic. Much more so than on his Iced Earth debut Glorious Burden, when he might still have been shaking the Priest cobwebs, Owens deftly utilizes his incredible range here, adding drama, scale and scope to the material merely by opening his mouth.

He seems much more comfortable and natural now, no longer simply relying on his Halford-esque howls to carry the day. Indeed that you often barely notice them in the mix - notable exceptions being the scream that opens "Ten Thousand Strong" and the iron-lunged "Fra-ming Arm-a-ged-don" chorus that concludes the title track - bears witness to the effectiveness of his overall effort.

Iced Earth have always been an acquired taste, and with as something as monumental as Framing Armageddon that's probably more the case than ever - although the album did crack the Billboard Top 100. Once again they've raised the bar for epic power metal, and look to do so again with Part 2 of the Something Wicked story. But things have reached the point of ridiculous excess, and going even higher could be a recipe for disaster. Framing Armageddon just manages to straddle the fence between spectacle and tedium. Expanding on what's here might just make it all sound more like some cheesy high school musical than a metal album.

* * 1/2

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