|Album Title: Burnt Offerings|
|Artist: Iced Earth|
|Year: 1995 (remastered 2002)|
|Label: Century Media|
|Secondary: Power Metal|
|Production: ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● (90%)|
|Songwriting: ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● (100%)|
|Muscicianship: ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● (90%)|
Comment: "The masterpiece album of one of the most underrated metal bands."
+: Insightful, powerful lyrics/vocals; riffy, tight rhythm guitar playing
-: A few awkward, momentum-killing parts; poor original production
Burnt Offerings is one of those records by a band that typically only the people truly dedicated to the metal genre know of an appreciate. Within those cirlces, Burnt Offerings is almost unanimously considered a masterpiece. In many ways the Master of Puppets of Iced Earth's catalogue, the similarities to Metallica don't stop there. In addition to also being a third release (similar to Puppets for Metallica), Iced Earth take up the mantle where Metallica left off with deep, poetic lyrics and themes, precise and palm-muted riffs, and an accessible, yet very heavy sound.
Burnt Offerings sees the formation of the band's most iconic lineup, or rather, duo, in the joining of then-new vocalist Matt Barlow (replacing previous vocalist John Greely). Along with rhythm guitarist and primary songwriter Jon Schaffer, Iced Earth would cement its trademark sound with Burnt Offerings. Unlike most typical power metal-esque vocalists, Barlow sings in a much less archetypical (read: cheesy) style, opting for a more mid-range shout, not far removed from James Hetfield. However, he is not limited to said bark, and displays his vocal range from higher, falsetto styles, to a lower, ominous tone, all the while doing so in a musical and trained manner. For many, Barlow's voice just might be the element that makes the album as good as it is when contrasted with Schaffer's chugging guitar and well-written, soft interludes. Matt Marlow has arguably the perfect voice for the dark lyrics and tones used in the songs.
There's very little that can be said about the guitar playing, specifically of the rhythm variety, other than it is incredibly tight. Jon Schaffer's picking hand and technique is the stuff of legend. Every rhythm guitar track is clear, articulated, and perfectly timed. Some of the triplet and sixteenth note patterns that Schaffer plays are incredibly technical and syncopated, sounding almost as if they were coming from a machine. For me, it is this man's muscular palm-muted riffing that gives this record its attitude and sheer heaviness. Much the same way that James Hetfield gave Metallica its bite with a similar style, Jon Schaffer ups the ante, providing the record with an incredible degree of balls and attitude. It is this aggressive guitar playing that separates Burnt Offerings from the rest of the power metal pack, treading firmly into thrash metal territory.
Simply stated, the song writing on this album is impeccable. Everything from varied song structure, to contrasting mellow and aggressive song sections, to deep and poetic lyrics brings Burnt Offerings far above the oft-heard cheese metal of European contemporaries. The album also does not rely much on shreddy guitar solos, but instead chooses to let its arrangements do the speaking in their stead. I rarely give an album credit for its lyrics, typically because they are unintelligible or very cliché, but Burnt Offerings excels in this department. Musically, the orchestration is extremely well-done, but the lyrics are what truly shine. Although based on the divine comedy of one of the album's tracks, Dante's Inferno, the lyrical theme is universal enough that one not have read said poem (I didn't). The lyrics deal with, obviously, hell, purgatory, heaven , sins, and the like, as well as the hypocrisy of upheld religious systems. While not outwardly anti-religious, the theme seems to be one of angst towards organized religious beliefs and systems. The incredible, concluding 16-minute epic, Dante's Inferno, displays these themes most prominently and is a prime example of all of the above elements coming together to form a cohesive masterpiece.
As they say, "if you want it done right, you have to do it yourself." This statement seems to hold true, as Jon Schaffer has always been the one responsible for everything that Iced Earth has ever done. Almost every great band has had one (or two) main members responsible for the majority of the songwriting and arranging (Metallica: James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich; Megadeth: Dave Mustaine, etc.). All of the songs on this piece of art are a cohesive and master-crafted vision of the sometimes-anal Jon Schaffer and are not watered down by the input of other band members' or producers' vision.
There is really nothing I can take away from the album other than when it was first released, it was rather poorly produced. Like most amateur releases of its period, the sound was quiet, the drums were flat, and the overall tone was muddy. While I have not personally listened to the original recording, the remixed/mastered version I am reviewing (from the Dark Genesis box set) is superb-sounding, with crystal clear drums and guitars as well as a prominent focus on Matt Barlow's aggressive voice. Burnt Offerings is an album that may take a few listens to grasp the full scope of its breadth, however, it is by no means a hard listen and is recommended to anyone who likes aggressive, insightful metal.