The Porcelain Throne: Iced Earth

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Today we have the eccentrically named John here to talk about one of his favorite bands. I am in mid-hiatus for posting Porcelain Throne articles due to a cross country move, but please continue to send them my way and I will post them as soon as I can. My queue is currently empty so hurry up and get that first spot in line! 

Full disclosure: I’m an Iced Earth fanatic. As in, know-all-the-words-and-sing-along fanatic. Dig-obscure-bootlegs-and-live-albums fanatic. So forgive me if I wax poetic about a band that has been equally praised and tagged “lolbuttz,” in our little community bowl.

I grew up in Northern Ontario in the 80s and 90s where I basically enjoyed meat-and-potatoes metal. My formative years consisted of religiously wearing out tapes of Maiden, Priest, Slayer, and Metallica. Since I lived in Bumfuck Idaho, Canada, I never got a taste of the more obscure bands until I was an adult. Fast forward to the early aughts when, chatting on IRC (IRC!) with a fellow metal-head, I expressed my love for both thrash and power metal. “Behold!” he exclaimed, “what if you could listen to BOTH at once?” Thus I fell down the rabbit hole of Iced Earth.

The band’s sound was honed during this classic period–rhythmic galloping riffs interspersed with thrashy solos, accompanied by Matt Barlow’s dulcet lows and ear-splitting screams. Truly, they ARE a mixture of the best of power and thrash, killer riffs and time changes, cool subject matter and epic themes. At times some of the heaviest music there is, while at other times some beautiful ballads, even with the occasional operatic or classical component.

Iced Earth was formed by figurehead and guitarist Jon Schaffer in 1985, originally dubbed Purgatory. They recorded their first demo, Enter the Realm, with Gene Adam on vocals, in 1989. Shortly after they signed to Century Media Records, released their first self-titled album, and toured Europe with Blind Guardian. They quickly began work on their second album, unceremoniously dumping Adam (who refused to take singing lessons), replacing him with John Greely. They released Night of the Stormrider, and again toured with Blind Guardian.

Night of the Stormrider (1991)

The first of many concept albums, Night of the Stormrider follows a man betrayed by religion; the dark forces of nature take him under wing and christen him the Stormrider, using him as their weapon to sow death and destruction. This is their most classically “metal” album, featuring spectacular artwork and evil, violent themes. John Greely’s wailing, sorrowful vocals suit the work more appropriately than Barlow’s later recordings. The eponymous track is the best of the bunch, featuring galloping riffs and several great tempo changes. Crank it!


Burnt Offerings (1995)

Burnt Offerings began the band’s “classic” period, followed by The Dark SagaSomething Wicked This Way Comes, and then finished off with arguably their best album, Horror Show.  (In between that, they also recorded, in my opinion, the best live album ever recorded, Alive in Athens.)  Greely left the band and they took a hiatus, returning with now-legendary vocalist Matthew Barlow. Their first critical success, Burnt Offerings is the band’s darkest and most heavy work, inspired by Schaffer’s own anger and frustration with the music industry. A few tracks stand out, not least of which the 16-minute epic “Dante’s Inferno”, which takes us through the nine circles of Hell. It is truly a masterpiece; I suggest sitting back with your eyes closed for this one.


The Dark Saga (1996)

Iced Earth’s second concept album is based on Todd McFarlane’s Spawn, a comic that gained popularity in the 90s thanks to its violence and mature themes. The album is a true tour-de-force; heavy, thrashy tunes like “Violate” and “Vengeance is Mine” are interspersed with the poignant, soaring power ballads “I Died For You” and what is arguably their most popular song, “A Question of Heaven.” No other album better illustrates the immense vocal range of Matt Barlow, and his ability to bring out moments of raw emotion like no other.

Metal Storm called The Dark Saga “a great album that has to be listened to entirely in order to grasp the harmonic line which gives it unity.” I agree, making choosing one track difficult. How can I not go with Matt Barlow’s finest hour?


Something Wicked This Way Comes (1998)

Thus begins Jon Schaffer’s Magnum Opus: the journey of Set Abominae. See that cool looking dude on all the band’s album covers? That’s Iced Earth’s mascot, Set. The Something Wicked saga turns the conventional biblical origins of man on their head, postulating that humanity was an invading force from another world, subjugating and eventually wiping out the native Setian race on Earth. The story is long and winding, but suffice to say Set Abominae becomes the biblical Antichrist, hiding behind many great moments in history, using advanced magic to get revenge on humanity for their crimes. Heavy stuff.

This album is heavy. While every track has merit (including the ballad “Watching Over Me”, which the entire crowd sings along with at every show), I simply must include the Something Wicked trilogy. When listened to as one unbroken song, it paints an unbelievable picture, sung from the point of view of Set himself. Listen in particular for the gorgeous classical piano intro to “The Coming Curse”, which then crashes into one of the heaviest riffs you’ll ever hear!


Horror Show (2001)

Horror Show was another concept, but clearly a “fun” one, recalling the classic monsters of cinema. No mistake about it though, maximum effort was still put forth, and the result was arguably their most popular album, the one casual fans point to when they think Iced Earth. A rollercoaster of gentle and hard, a killer thrash track like ‘Jack” followed by the non-stop screaming of “Dracula”, and culminating in the epic “Phantom Opera Ghost”, an amazing duet performed with Yunhui Percifield.

I wanted to post that duet, as it’s an unbelievable miss-mash of operatic vocals and stage performance, ending with a huge Barlow scream and a killer solo. You can almost picture yourself sitting in a theatre watching as it unfolds. Please go listen. But how can I not deliver “Jack”, Iced Earth’s heaviest song?

Shortly after this period, 9/11 happened. Barlow decided he wanted to contribute to the “real world” instead of living the illusion of a “rock star,” and left to become a cop. Iced Earth, however, had long had a revolving door policy for membership, Schaffer being the only constant. Tim “Ripper” Owens was hired to finish another concept album, The Glorious Burden. The album was divisive, diverting away from the band’s supernatural themes, focusing instead on the American Civil War. Reviews were mixed, the album more somber, with more ballads and less screaming and thrashing. Schaffer was unapologetic, being an unabashed patriot. I personally was not a fan either, so I’ll just skip it.

This was followed by Something Wicked Part 1 and Part 2 from 2007-2010, concept albums finishing the Something Wicked story. Again, they were less than universally acclaimed, being rather long and drawn out and repetitive. Many felt Ripper was criminally underused, spending too much time on slower, plodding lyrics and less time screaming his throat off as he was known for. With perhaps an even bigger kick in the teeth, it was announced Matt Barlow would return to the band, and promptly RE-RECORD Something Wicked Part 1. Schaffer, an obsessive perfectionist, felt a 2-part album should have the same vocalist. Owens was out.

Ironic, as Barlow again left the band in 2011 due to family commitments. This marked another change in their style and themes, as Schaffer hired Into Eternity frontman Stu Block to lead the band, releasing Dystopia later that year. This album featured a slightly grittier, heavier sound, bolstered by Block’s remarkable “Ripper meets Barlow” vocals. It focused on dystopian themes, with call-outs to films like Dark Cityand V for Vendetta.


Plagues of Babylon (2013)

The boys released their eleventh studio album, Plagues of Babylon, in 2013, and really seem to have hit a new, relaxed stride that you often see in older metal bands. The latest album is plenty thrashy, and takes on themes both small and large, from zombie infestation to the big guy himself, “Cthulhu.”

They’ve had their ups and downs, but with a huge discography and a varied lineup, anyone is bound to find something enjoyable. Truly, has any metal band covered as much subject matter as Iced Earth? Concept albums about a force of nature rebelling against religion, a comic book character, classic horror movie characters, and their own sprawling, multi-album epic, spanning thousands of years with an alternate, alien history of the Antichrist!

Just my opinion of course, but I think they’re worth the effort of a listen. It’s taking all my self-control not to post another ten or twelve killer songs!

Thanks to John for his wealth of Iced Earth knowledge, and as always, check out The Official Porcelain Throne Guidelines.

  • Dubzlinger, Malandro Slayer

    Great post, John. I was a fan of the band up until Dystopia, but the last two efforts kinda lost me. I still crank Something Wicked and Burnt Offerings every now and then. Ripper is underrated.

    • Ripper is a very hard singer to enjoy to me because his Priest work. He isn’t a bad singer, he is very good in fact. It is just that Rob Halford is Rob Halford.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9h7b9h1Vx7s

      He did that band with Richard Christy, did you liked it?

      • Atomic Wedgie Massacre

        I like him, but he needs to expand past that JP karaoke tribute style and try some new techniques.

        • I think he is good. If you listen carefully that video I shared, he really pull those Halford tones in which he recites and give more colours to the lyric lines. I will always thank Halford for that work, he isn’t called the Metal God only because his monstruous vocal range in his prime age, it is because he was indeed a storyteller. And Ripper make it good.

          I think he should just have a better backup band (like he had in Priest, obvs).

      • Charred Walls of the Damned? *flush*
        Suecof sterilized that shit so much you could perform surgery on it

      • john

        I just feel like Ripper has spent a CAREER being criminally mis-used. His chops are impressive but he seems to get with projects that either suck, are merely cover bands, or like Iced Earth, are in a weird place at the time.

        • ME GROG B.C.™

          GROG LIKE BEYOND FEAR!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • DCLXVI

    This is such a great series!

  • Paddlin’ Rites ov Beargod

    For me Stu Block is Iced earth best vocalist. And I probably prefer the two first to any Barlow-era albums :/
    But this wall well written, a good read. And I’ll join Dubz in praise of the Ripper.

  • Tyree

    I can’t remember who it was or what album it was, but one of their vocalists had a really high pitched power metal voice.

    http://i.imgur.com/z6BW9Wk.gif

    • Dubzlinger, Malandro Slayer

      That was Ripper, former vocalist of Judas Priest.

      • Tyree

        Ah, makes sense. I think I owned The Glorious Burden years back. I remember it being not very good.

        • that album has their best song ever: When the Eagle Cries

          • Kevin Nash & Friends

            I enjoyed the Iced Earth cover album. It had a lot of good classic rock covers.

          • john

            Indeed. Something I didn’t even mention, because dammit I ran out of room. Love their cover of Hallowed Be Thy Name.

          • It’s hard condensing the information about bands you like down to about 1000 words. When I did my Woods of Ypres article, and that wasn’t even a Porcelain Throne article, I had 17 pages of stuff written. I ended up condensing it down to seven pages (around 4,500 words).

        • Dubzlinger, Malandro Slayer

          That album is arguably their low point.

      • Atomic Wedgie Massacre

        That’s what I was thinking. Barlow could hit high notes for sure, but not quite those diamond-slicing high notes Ripper has. PS, Beyond Fear needs to finally put out another CD.

        • john

          I’d like to think Stu Block can hit similar notes.

          • Atomic Wedgie Massacre

            Stu Block sounds like the name of an 80’s action star.

            “Stu Block is a good cop, on the wrong side of the law…………”

          • Atomic Wedgie Massacre
          • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

            Whatever happened to that show lol

          • Atomic Wedgie Massacre

            Cancelled, like all good Adult Swim shows. 2 seasons.

          • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

            the first episode of the new Rick and Morty was very underwhelming.

            Let’s hope Mike Tyson Mysteries wi’ll see a second

          • Kevin Nash & Friends

            I love the Eric Andre Show and that’s still going. I hope it doesn’t get cancelled for a while.

          • Kevin Nash & Friends

            He’s a literal ass man!

          • CyberneticOrganism

            “You’re off YOUR case!”

          • Dubzlinger, Malandro Slayer

            Stu Block is probably their most powerful vocalist.

  • KJM

    Sorry to go OT but IT’S HERE! IT’S HERE! IT’S HERE! My new Orange amp is here!

    • john

      wtf, stealing my glory!!!!

      The amp is pretty sweet tho.

      • KJM

        Rest assured, I will never go OT without reading the article either before or after.

        I love the amp already. It sounds like a little slice of Heaven.

        • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

          I go OT all the time

          #wildcard

  • Didn’t like that much Plagues of Babylon, but I liked two songs (Among the Living Dead and the first one). Liked the production, but it got boring pretty quickly to me.

    Since I like some Power Metal, I think I can try again. Thanks John!

    • I also want to point that Horror Show have the guest bass power from Mr. Steve Di Giorgio.

      • CyberneticOrganism

        SDG is a monster on bass

        • I love Steve Di Giorgio’s playing, he’s one of my favorite musicians ever, very humble and talented.

      • Max

        Yes, Di Georgio was great on that.

        So was Richard Christy. The previous record I’d got with him on it was Death’s final album, and as good as his performance is on that, you’d be hard-pressed to assume it’s the same guy given how specifically he applied himself to the material on each.

        • To be honest, I don’t like Richard Christy drums in TSoP 😛 I don’t know why, must be the production, I don’t know. My favorite drummer in Death is Sean Reinert.

  • Atomic Wedgie Massacre

    Something Wicked This Way Comes is the only one by them I can actually stand. Love that one!

  • This was a solid read. Good work, John.

    • john

      Why thank you.

      • Lacertilinger

        Yeah man, agree with Papa Joe.
        I have been into Iced Earth since Something Wicked but sadly that was the last album by them I could really dig.
        the first 5 or so are pretty immaculate, was cool reading someone else’s detailed thoughts on them.
        m/

  • JW(E)G

    I’m eagerly anticipating the new Into Eternity album, even though Stu Block moved on to this other IE.

    • Atomic Wedgie Massacre

      Always wondered what happened to them. Their debut is a fucking classic.

  • KJM

    ^_^

    • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

      Cool little cab, and I’m a big fan of the double cutaway body style in terms of playability

      • KJM

        Makes the higher frets easier to reach. Hopefully I’ll be able to afford a real(i.e. Gibson) SG someday.

        I was gonna go for the 12W cab at first, but the 20W was only $40 more so fuck it.

        • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

          Fuckin a bro.

          I’m pretty well a jackson/ibanez man, myself. Dat neck. But I like all guitars in some fashion

          • KJM

            The Epiphone SG is very easy for me to play. Despite the grief we give Joe, I’m really the one with Kewpie Doll baby hands so I need a fairly thin neck.

          • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

            Ibanez and jackson necks are much thinner. A little wider, though, would be my guess. I have regular sized hands, but I can reach a 6th from the root if im stretching

          • KJM

            I can feel my fingers wanting to pop out sometimes.

          • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

            Early onset AGE

          • KJM

            Nooo, must find more youth serum(and a couple percs)!!

          • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

            I got some tequila and some baby limes and half a kpin and some mids. I’m pretty set. The old lady is out of town. I’m gonna be playing ESO for like 4 days, buddy of mine owes me some xannies. It’s gonna be a trill next couple of days

            #foreveryoung

          • KJM

            Tomorrow is Roxi day(more like Roxi 2-3 days). Just chillin’ with some herbs until then, might jump on the stepper.

          • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

            Man i got some wax for the first fime the other day (does that date me?). Jeebus

          • KJM

            I only have you beat by 4 months.

          • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

            Some potent shit, i was impressed, and I just smoked it. I don’t dig vapes

          • KJM

            Same here, did it the old fashioned way.

          • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

            ##budbrothers

          • more beer

            It works really well in a hash oil pipe. Or what tweekers like to call a bubble.

          • more beer

            Here is some food for thought. Wax is great once in a while. If you smoke it everyday. It really raises your tolerance to thc. I personally love bud. So I go easy on the wax. I really like a lot of the edibles they have here also.

          • The Fish Boz

            Sometimes I get the strange feeling you are my father.

          • KJM

            Well, you were born before 2011 I’m guessing(i.e. before I had the vasectomy)so it’s a remote possibility. Are you pale? Reddish blonde, but not quite Ginger? Short?

          • The Fish Boz

            I don’t share the hair color but I am short with small hands. I did the math for you being 12-13 when The Exorcist dropped and you’re the same age my father is.

          • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

            #toiletbabydaddydrama

          • KJM

            There’s a mistake. I was 12 when I saw The Exorcist, in 1979. It was released in 1973 so Maury sez..

            http://i.imgur.com/TkhG9.gif

          • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS
          • The Fish Boz

            FUCK

          • more beer

            Ask for a paternity test. On the brightside he is past child support age.

          • Now it is my turn.

            KJM…

            YOU’RE MY FATHER!!!

          • Sir Tapir The Based :]

            Plot twist: we are all KJM’s children.

          • KJM

            Do you burn to a crisp after being in hot sun for about 30 minutes unless you have sunscreen?

          • Sir Tapir The Based :]

            I burn after two minutes

          • Uhhh. Yes.

          • KJM

            OK, that’s something. Are you short and pale? I can’t really tell from the pix.

      • BLACKBEARD!

        • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

          ELFBRO!

  • Monkey D. Luffy, Pirate King

    I stayed away from Iced Earth, mostly because ewww power metal, but they seem to be at least more tolerable than most power metal, so that is a really good feat in my book.

    • john

      Hmm…. I will optimistically choose to take that as praise! 😀

      • Monkey D. Luffy, Pirate King

        It was, one it was a damn good article, two its power metal that doesn’t turn me off faster than a *censored because no* piercing.
        As you can tell, not a power metal guy.

      • KJM

        It was a good article. Despite not caring for Power Metal myself, I read and found it interesting.

    • Lacertilinger

      I didn’t really consider their first couple completely power metal, kinda hybrid of thrash and melodic/power.

      • Monkey D. Luffy, Pirate King

        Thats probably it. I love thrash, so thats why I find them so tolerable compared to other shitty power metal.

  • killer read, John! i might be the odd man out (though i see @disqus_kqxyUNPxty:disqus might be with me here) in that i really enjoy both Something Wicked albums, preferably the first with Ripper.

    • john

      I think you’re definitely in the minority, but I can respect it. And they have their moments, to be sure. I really like Ten Thousand Strong (despite the silly music video), and The Clouding.

      • ME GROG B.C.™

        DOMINO DECREE ROCK!!!!!!!! SOUND LIKE WHEN DIO IN RAINBOW!!!!!!! DIO ROCK!!!!!!!!

  • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

    I luv iced earth, stu-era into eternity, and demons & wizards probably my favorite side collab of all time.

    Needless to say this is right up my alley

    • john

      I’m trying to put together another Porcelain Throne for Demons & Wizards. hopefuly I can, with only two albums. Love ’em.

      • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

        I was about to say, better to start up a petition article to get hansi and jon to release another album.

        *hides
        I like demons and wizards more than iced earth. Mainly cuz hansi

  • Rob M

    Ive always been crazy picky about Power metal, but Iced Earth was always one of those bands I meant to dig into a bit….think this article may be the kick in the ass I need to check some stuff out

    • john

      Excellent.

  • Waynecro

    Back in the day, one of my friends gave me “The Dark Saga” in exchange for a 40 of Mickey’s. I really wanted to like the CD, but I couldn’t get into it.

  • Max

    Power metal is a genre I can just never get into. When I scroll through the list of new releases every Toilet Tuesday, I invariably skip the ones earmarked “power metal” simply because I know it’s almost a given that I won’t find favour.

    And yet, Horror Show is a record I’m proud to say I own. It’s full of strong songs and great performances from start to finish, with a quite powerful production job.

    I especially need to point this out, because another tendency of mine is to generally avoid bands who play songs longer than six minutes unless they can REALLY justify it. I’ve often felt that Iron Maiden’s various ten-minute epics were really just five-minute songs with twice as many verses and choruses as they needed. On Horror Show, by contrast, the longer the songs are, the better they get.

    • KJM

      Powerslave and Somewhere In Time were the only Maiden albums where the longer tracks worked.

      • Max

        They certainly didn’t work on Virtual XI!

        • KJM

          I didn’t bother with that era at all.

          • Max

            You missed nothing but a lot of musical padding, from what I recall.

        • Kevin Nash & Friends

          I enjoyed the Virtual XI album. I even loved the hated epic The Angel And The Gambler.

          • Max

            Well, then you need to give us the second installment of the “Justify Your Unflushed Shit” series I tried to inaugurate. You can do it, man!

          • Kevin Nash & Friends

            I’ve been thinking of doing one of Siren Charms because that’s the ultimate candidate for me. There’s a lot of despised metal albums that I love.

          • i really wish i could contribute to that, but i can’t think of anything i really like that nobody else does. Periphery comes close, but a lot of people still enjoy them.

          • Max

            Periphery, I think, would be a great candidate. Sure they have their supporters (I myself think they’re a band not without merit although I can’t get past the vocals) but most of what I read about ’em is fairly negative.

    • john

      Yup, that’s the exact thing I hear from non-Iced Earth fans. “Dunno about the rest of that shit but Horror Show ruled!” …. While I am a die-hard power metal guy, I really hate a LOT of power metal… As a half-assed vocalist myself, my big hangup is the vocals; if they sound like Every Other Power Metal Ever Made (see 95% of all power bands), I have zero interest. But to me that’s why the GREAT Power Metal stands out, because of the vocals… Three Inches of Blood, Grand Magus, Iced Earth, Blind Guardian, Demons & Wizards, Visigoth… Unique shit that stands out.

      • Max

        I should point out that, besides the pumping guitar sound and crisp, tight drumming, one of the things I really enjoy about Horror Show is the vocal performance. Matt Barlow did a job as fantastic as it was measured and nuanced. I mean, Judas Priest is one of my seven all-time favourite bands so it’s not like I’m not used to that style of singing (not that he really sounds like Halford, of course, but I’m sure you get my gist – he’s perhaps more in the Dickinson tradition now I think of it), but something about Barlow’s vocals on it really spoke to me. So did the female vocalist on the last song.

        It might be the most paradoxical record in my collection, as far as my tastes go. Long songs, choirs, lyrical concept-album tropes, keyboards, female backing vocals, the power metal genre itself….on paper, it’s everything I generally don’t get into. On paper, I would have rejected it out of hand. And yet, it’s just such a great record. I’m proud to own it.

        • john

          That’s a great idea, actually.

  • Iced Earth is a band I just haven’t really listened to that much. I don’t as if I’ve ever sat down and listened to an entire album. As a fan of most things relating to heavy, power, speed, and progressive metal, I’ll probably like them.

    • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

      Are you moved in at App or wut bro?

      • Not yet. My move date is on August 10. I’ve been slowly packing this week and trying to find a cheap desk that doesn’t suck.

        • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

          Protip: we live within an abundance of thrift shops in our area

          • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

            Take a weekend and go to old bills flea market in Whittier

          • I found a pretty bitchin’ desk for $180. I had to have something big enough so that I can fit three monitors on it. Managed to to find one that does so. Additionally, it is called an “executive desk” so I’ve been forcing everyone to address me as Executive Xan.

          • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

            The fable of the L-shaped desk

          • I couldn’t find very many that weren’t in the $300-500 range that didn’t look like someone through a piece of wood on some sticks and were selling it as a desk.

          • BEARD OV GREAT DAWKINS

            Some of the tables I’ve seen carved out of trunks around here have been quite beautiful, but expensive

    • CyberneticOrganism

      Iced Earth is a bit more ballsy than most power metal, less emphasis on dragonfucking

  • Nice article, John. Glad to see some traditional metal getting talked about a little too :} Barlow-era Iced Earth is good as fuck but I think Stu Block is the man. He delivers live too:
    https://instagram.com/p/nCA_BBvdu4/?taken-by=jayalangoodwin

    • john

      Fuck yes. Blew my mind live in Toronto a year ago.

  • KJM

    Gimmick infringement post

    (listen to top video at 300% volume, bottom at 0% WARNING; True Detective spoilers)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cgb93KVOYIs

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=obBpHkWmRlE

  • KJM

    There’s a killer on the road
    His brain is squirmin’ like a toad

  • CT-12

    Iced Earth rules