Forming in 1985, but not releasing their first album until 1990, Iced Earth is a Power / Thrash Metal band from Florida who have made a number of concept albums over the years, as well as albums based on history. Guitarist Jon Schaffer has been the only constant member in the band, which, amongst other things, has had five vocalists. Despite this, they have maintained a consistent sound which is a testament to the vision and leadership of Schaffer, and they continue to be a significant force in the world of Metal.
Like most bands of their era, Schaffer has stated that he is influenced by 70s bands like AC/DC, Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, however, his biggest influence in terms of metal is Iron Maiden, especially Steve Harris, who clearly is the driving force behind Maiden in the same way Schaffer is the undisputed leader of Iced Earth. His other big influence in terms of songwriting and creating atmosphere is Pink Floyd. Like most guitarists who started in the early to mid 80s, memories of Ace Frehley in KISS were also an inspiration.
Classics (the albums even a casual fan owns)
Something Wicked This Way Comes (1998)
Introducing a Jon Schaffer-penned storyline and part of a trilogy that was to be completed 10 years later, this album saw Iced Earth get heavier and more focused. Considered the high mark of their output with vocalist Matt Barlow, this album is absolutely the starting point for getting into Iced Earth.
The Glorious Burden (2004)
This was the first album Iced Earth recorded with Tim “Ripper” Owens. At the time, Matt Barlow was drifting away from the band. He did initially record vocals but they were not up to par. His backing vocals are still on the album and he has two writing credits. In time, Priest reunited with Rob Halford and Ripper joined Iced Earth. This album was a marked departure for the band in the sense that, instead of sci-fi themes, the band explored conflict through history. The centrepiece of the album was a second disc containing three songs that together told the story of the Battle of Gettysbury. Schaffer being an enthusiast of Civl War history, his passion for the subject resulted in an astonishing suite of music that lifted the band to a new level. Elsewhere songs about 9/11, the Red Baron and Attila the Hun were also high quality, making this a must-purchase disc.
The arrival of Stu Block on vocals after a second stint from Matt Barlow was made easier by the fact their first album together is so good. Some of the songs follow the theme of Something Wicked, and others simply explore the idea that its dystopian themes are not as far removed from reality as we may hope. As well as the usual batch of great heavy songs, the album included a ballad called ‘Anthem,’ which calls out in solidarity with disadvantaged and forgotten members of society.
Next Steps (One step below, but these albums still shine in the catalogue)
Horror Show (2001)
It seems Schaffer works best when he has a theme to warm to, and here the theme was classic horror movies. It’s a straight up Power Metal album that touches on classic characters like Dracula, Frankenstein and Jack the Ripper. It also includes an Iron Maiden cover, ‘Transylvania,’ an instrumental from the first Iron Maiden album. For some, this is the best Iced Earth album of all time, perhaps because it’s lighter on the Thrash elements, which is obviously good or bad depending on your tastes.
Controversial (The one fans disagree on)
Plagues of Babylon (2014)
This is the second album with Stu Block, and again half this album is based on the Something Wicked concept. This album continues in the same vein as Dystopia before it. While it is certainly not as good as Incorruptible (the one after), it was well received at the time, but for some fans has not weathered as well, with online ranking lists often pushing it closer to the bottom. However, it’s still a fine album and well worth checking out.
Buy this last (Not all bands have a ‘bad’ album, but this is the worst of them)
Tribute to the Gods (2002)
Covers albums can be a bit hit and miss, and Iced Earth certainly have the chops to churn out these songs that are nearly all from the 1970s. However, what kills this album ultimately is not the covers, which are competent and very much straight up perfect copies of the songs in question, as much as the fact that, out of 11 songs, only three artists are represented once. In other words, if this is a tribute to the band’s influences, it doesn’t have enough breadth and the overall impression is that they didn’t like enough bands to come up with 11 different bands to cover. When a noticeably heavier band pays tribute to their less heavy influences, you hope for a result like Metallica’s cover of ‘Breadfan,’ where the original song is beefed up and played with more energy. Here, you just get songs covered verbatim, and really nothing to hold the concept together.