The Crucible of Man - Something Wicked Part 2 Review
The Crucible of Man, a potential crucible for the band itself, stripped of the rather significant vocalist Tim Owens, shows what has become apparent in recent years: John Schaffer has matured as a songwriter.
Not that his staple triplet doesn’t appear, but Schaffer’s lush vocal arrangements, guitar stacking, melodic ideas and overall delivery of classy material are a far cry from the forced quasi-thrash of the Dark Saga and what came before it. Iced Earth’s marginalization of tired tough-guy histrionics and “aggressive” songs as they move towards bigger, panoramic anthems mirrors my interest in them (read: I dig Something Wicked This Way Comes onward). The reintegration of departed singer Mathew Barlow into the fold is seamless, and while I prefer Tim Owens’ voice, the melodies and harmonies on The Crucible of Man are better than what Barlow was singing ten years ago, and his improved upper register (which was really spectacular on Horror Show [esp. in “Dracula”]) is put to good use.
When comparing the two pieces of the Something Wicked duology, I favor the sequel. Framing Armageddon is a very top-heavy album (the only song in the last twenty-five minutes of that album that I fully like is “When Stars Collide”), but The Crucible of Man is always enjoyable, if unspectacular. Actually, the new album is the most consistently enjoyable album Iced Earth made (up until Dystopia), though it lacks the greatness found on The Glorious Burden (“The Devil to Pay,” “Hold At All Costs,” and “Declaration Day,” are still the bands three finest tunes) as well as that album’s tough guy duds (“Red Baron/Blue Max” and “Green Face,” both shitsmears).
Because of this qualitative consistency, and the elimination of any “aggressive” pretense, this album really flows like one giant song. Certain tunes stand ahead of the pack— “A Gift or A Curse?” and “Come What May” are the highlights— but the album is a huge, even, enjoyable and patient experience. With The Crucible of Man, Schaffer’s confidence and aplomb as a songwriter of simple material fleshed out with deep layering is further established and the switch in singers is instantly overcome, despite apprehensions.