I wanted to review an album to honour fallen metal guitarist Ralph Santolla. I knew he worked with Sebastian Bach on the great album Angel Down, and have been wanting to review that one, but he played a lot more on this Iced Earth album.
Iced Earth is very much a love ’em or hate ’em band. Many metal fans dismiss them. I’m not sure the exact reason why. Maybe they`re not hard enough. Maybe the lyrics. Admittedly also Jon Schaffer is a polarizing figure. Firing Tim “Ripper” Owens from the band by email was a classless move for sure. Jon also seems like a hard guy to work with. Perhaps that may be why Iced Earth seem to have a high turnover of personnel. I do enjoy their music. Some better than others. I went into this album with an open mind. It always seemed to be full of way too much over the top, rah-rah, USA bullshit. After Ralph Santolla had the heart attack and fell into a coma, I wanted to re-visit this album. The more times I played it, the more I enjoyed it.
Star Spangled Banner – Over the top, rah-rah, USA bullshit. No need for this to be on any metal album. Unless you plan on only selling it in the USA. Why would someone from Canada, Great Britain, Sweden, Germany etc. want this on an album, especially as the lead off song. Besides, Jimi Hendrix performed this better than anyone ever could. ‘Nuff said.
Declaration Day – USA Declaration, rah-rah. The first song with vocals features the amazing voice of none other than Tim “Ripper” Owens. He is not a Rob Halford-lite vocalist people. I enjoy the way he sounds, and he does a great job here. 3 minutes in Ripper let’s ‘er rip and really lives up to his name. This is also the first song featuring Ralph Santolla doing the solos. They are good but sedated compared to some of the ones to come. He saves the best for last, although he does strangely have the tail end of the star spangled banner in at the end, just in case you didn’t know the band was American (my guess this little tidbit was Schaffer’s idea).
When The Eagle Cries – Ok. A song about eagles. Hmm, bald eagle. USA symbol. Got it. Rah rah etc. The piano work is nice here. It has a soft and loud contrast that I like. This has parts that remind me of a Maiden song, and Ripper does remind me of Bruce here. Jim Morris takes over for Ralph Santolla in the guitar solo department and does a fine job.
The Reckoning – The drums are ace here. The guitar work is fast and thrashy. Ripper rips almost as well as Halford has ever wailed, and this is mixed with almost choir like background vocals. Pretty cool song.
Green Face – The only one with a green face(with envy) is me when I realize will never be able to play guitar as well as Ralph Santolla. It has kind of a Ratt- You`re In Love sound at first but then goes off in a thrash direction.
Valley Forge – Really? Another USA battle for a song title. Rah rah etc. This one starts off with an acoustic guitar but when the bass kicks in followed by Ralph Santolla wailing away, we can`t help but rock out. Ripper does not rip as much here(he does near the end though). His vocals are deeper but they are a nice switch. I am thinking more early 90`s Geoff Tate like, which can`t be a bad thing.
Attilla – Jon Schaffer lets us know he can still lay down a wicked track. The guitar work and of course Ripper`s vocals are the stars here. Ripper growls out the lyrics in his best Dio voice and the drums pound at a furious pace. The monk like chants are a nice switch. Pretty damn fine song.
Hollow Man – Mellow acoustic begin this one and the mix between Ripper and background is nice. Then about a minute in Ralph Santolla`s guitar rips through the air.
Red Baron/Blue Max – What is this? A song about a German war ace and a German medal. That is not exactly rah rah b.s. Jon. Tim`s voice is wicked here when he reaches for those wailing high notes. “RED BARONNNNNNNN!!!!!!!” The drums pound us into submission and Ralph Santolla leaves the album on a really high note.
Gettysburg (1863) – This is 3 songs on the album (The Devil To Pay, Hold At All Costs, and High Water Mark). It is basically 1 long song. I would have titled it Over The Top, Rah-Rah USA Bullshit. The song is titled after yet another USA battle and starts off with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra (not sure why they went outside the USA for this) playing the Star Spangled Banner. AGAIN! I fucking shit you not. How much rah-rah bullshit can you possibly fit onto one album? As much as I hate all the rah-rah, I must admit this is a good song. It kind of reminds me of a Maiden song. It does have that history aspect, and Ripper sounds very Bruce like here.
R.I.P. Ralph Santolla. Your work on this album and many others is 10/10.
As for the album itself, even with all the rah-rah, it deserves a 8.5/10.