Jon Schaffer, the only enduring element, the heart and soul of ICED EARTH, has been waving the flag of heavy metal pridefully for decades. He has done so during periods of the genre's popularity, and equally so even when metal hasn't been the flavor du jour. His tenacity and resilience led him to helming the ICED EARTH ship, creating such memorable releases as "The Dark Saga" (1996) and "Something Wicked This Way Comes" (1998). The ensemble has had great vocalists including Matt Barlow, JUDAS PRIEST's Tim "Ripper" Owens, and current frontman Stu Block. But it all began with an independently released demo EP titled "Enter The Realm" in 1989, which caught nascent record label Century Media's attention. A bulk of those songs and a few others would comprise the band's self-titled debut full-length album, an eight-song juggernaut of well-written, memorable, energetic heavy metal.
While 2020 hasn't exactly been the best year for the music industry due to the all-consuming pandemic, the year marks the 30th anniversary of ICED EARTH's debut. Century Media is commemorating the classic by releasing a new edition — on vinyl, limited CD digipak and digital formats — that features remastered versions of the songs handled by none other than Zeuss, who has worked with the likes of OVERKILL and QUEENSRŸCHE. His nob-twiddling efforts were tasteful and crafty, to say the least. The majestic energy of eighties metal isn't betrayed, yet the revamped songs benefit by the virtues of modernity and technology managed by a master craftsman who rendered a fuller and more robust sound to the songs.
"Iced Earth" features the vocal talents of Gene Adam, who was a member of ICED EARTH's precursor outfit PURGATORY alongside Schaffer. Adam's snarly voice morphs from banshee-like thrash metal wailing to a more traditional vibrato. He provides the occasional narrative spoken word delivery, and his voice sometimes takes on a timbre akin to King Diamond. But Schaffer steals the show with his impassioned soloing and riffs. His melodic riff midway through the self-titled track is absolutely riveting.
Elsewhere, "Life and Death" provides a reprieve from the galloping and thrash-influenced up-tempo assault with its subdued qualities during the intro. "Iced Earth", the album, succeeds because of its songs which are stripped-down and succinct while being dynamic at the same time. "When The Night Falls", the album-concluding, nine-minute-long epic voyage, offers the kind of experience that an immersive novel can with its depth, twists and turns. There is little wonder as to why ICED EARTH has remained relevant decades after its inception.
The band would go on to integrate more elements of prog and thrash metal as it progressed, never releasing a bad album. But looking back at their early days allows one to realize that ICED EARTH was an ambitious band that was a work in progress, in the best way possible. "Iced Earth" is the kind of album that makes one yearn to hit repeat over and over if given the time to do so.