Sound — 10
What more can be said about power/thrash metal legends Iced Earth? In the more than 20 years they have been around, they have managed to put out quality releases on a consistent basis, cementing themselves in history in the process. From Jon Schaffer's phenominal songwriting, to the unparalled skill of most of the singers they've had over the course of the band's existence, there is not much to hate on in the long run. So now, with the sad but necessary departure of Matt Barlow from the band (again) I feel it in my heart to review his first appearance with the band, in what is in my opinion Iced Earth's greatest triumph to data. Burnt Offerings is without a doubt one of their most unique releases. It is a display of frightening brutality combined with melodic and progressive elements, which together form a sonic feast to the ears. The songs typically switch back and forth between heavy and soft, allowing beauty to compliment the uncompromisingly heavy guitar work. Jon's rhythm is as solid as ever, proving his riff-lord status to the listener at breakneck speeds. Randall Shawver is no slouch either, whipping out more than his fair share of blistering solos over the course of the eight songs, most noticibly on Burnt Offerings, Creator Failure, and Dante's Inferno. Dave and Rodney do what a bassist and drummer do best: keep the song going strong. Here is the breakdown, song by song: 01. Burnt Offerings: Begins with a very creepy keyboard intro that Three Days Grace completely ripped off. After this and a spoken sample taken from the Dracula movie, we the song quickly bursts into the fast tremolo picking and galloping Schaffer & Company are known for. The song remains in this standard format until, the bridge where a clean section comes in, which not long after builds into a crescendo with Shawver's first solo of the album. Take it from me, it's a ball-buster. 02. Last December: Pretty good song. Begins with some acoustic work, followed up by a riff you just can't help but headbang to. Unfortunately, I would say that this is overall the weakest song on the album. It has no solo at all, and not many characteristics besides the acoustic intro to make it stand out from most other songs this band has written. 03. Diary: Very overlooked in my opinion. Begins with a distortion swell, which evolves into a slow chugging. This song switches all over the place in accordance with the lyrics which I will get to later. Some parts slow, others blisteringly fast, never staying in one place for too long. At first it may seem a little sporadic to some listeners, but after repeated listens it proves to be one of the more memorable songs here. 04. Brainwashed: Starts with acoustic work, but with a noticeably darker feel than Last December. Awesome riffs, with a nice solo to top it off. Another standout. 05. Burning Oasis: This one begins with a very progressive opening, focusing on buildup through atmospheric guitar work and drumming. Soon, it finds its way into one of the most memorable riffs on the album. Eventually it becomes much faster and thrashier towards the end. Like Diary, this one is very underrated and is probably one of the best on the album. 06. Creator Failure: This one is a slower riff-heavy song from start to finish. That doesn't necessarily mean it's bad though. It is actually quite good, with probably the greatest solo Shawver ever wrote for the band. It does get a little repetitive towards the end, but not enough to damage the song as a whole. 07. The Pierced Spirit: Probably the only Iced Earth song that Schaffer had no part in writing the music for. It is a short acoustic piece, similar to Before the Vision and Reaching the End from the Night of the Stormrider album. It also includes some beautiful piano work that gives a very sorrowful atmosphere to the song. 08. Dante's Inferno: Now here's the main attraction of the album. A 16-minute long epic ride through the nine planes of hell. Each plane has its own unique section, all combined to form a quick alternative to reading the book. The musicianship is top notch, with choral work, keyboards, violins, and even bells adding to the atmosphere. This is by far the best song on the album and probably one of the greatest songs Iced Earth has ever written. Worth the price of the CD alone.
Lyrics — 8
Schaffer has never been a slouch when it comes to writing lyrics, and this album is no exception. The majority of the songs here push a very anti-organized religion theme forward, most notably on Brainwashed. Many of them are also based on several works of literature, perhaps taking a page from Blind Guardian's playbook. The lyrics were supposedly written in a time of great anger, delivered expertly by Matt Barlow with his monstrous lows and highs, in addition to his unique, dramatic singing style. 01. Burnt Offerings: The lyrics would most likely give the impression of someone selling their soul to the devil and making himself a sacrifice in exchange for Satan's infernal wisdom. However, according to Schaffer, this is merely metaphorical for the frustration and anger he experienced with the recording company over the course of the album's production. 02. Last December: Most likely based off of Romeo and Juliet. It tells the story of the two star-crossed teens falling in love with one another but killing themselves for fear of not being able to be together in life. 03. Diary: The first song with lyrics written by Matt Barlow. It tells the story of Dracula. The music complements the lyrics in that it is based around what occurs as Barlow sings the disgraced prince's sad tale. Becoming slow and eerie during the day when the count sleeps, and becoming faster and more thrashy as night falls and he comes out to prey on his next victim. A spiritual successor would be written on the Horror Show album a few years down the road. 04. Brainwashed: Very anti-religious. Basically about how the church is trying to take over the general population's minds and use the word of God as bribery to force people to follow their own ideals. 05. Burning Oasis: This one is the story of Paradise Lost. That's it. 06. Creator Failure: Now here is where I'm not sure what a song is written about. This could just be a song about the atrocities men commit, namely rape when taken into account the description of the woman held captive. However, the lyrics do mention the beast Leviathan, which means it could possibly be about something else entirely. 07. The Pierced Spirit: A short account of Christ's crucifixion at Golgotha. He tells those who wish to kill him he understands and that even when he is gone, they must remember not to judge one another. 08. Dante's Inferno: The song is written about the book of the same name. I must say however, Schaffer did get some of his facts wrong (the vicious beast is Cerberus, not Cerebus, and the boiling river of blood does not exist in the seventh plain of hell). Nevertheless, it is brilliantly written and a fitting closer. As mentioned before, Barlow's singing skills are spectacular and this is a great debut for him. However, seeing as he did not take vocal coaching until after this album's recording, he does not sound quite as good as on later releases. Still, he puts on a great performance, and set the bar for things to come.
Overall Impression — 10
Burnt Offerings was a very peculiar album, in that it was widely admired by all but it's own creator. Jon Schaffer has stated on multiple occasions that he does not like the album purely because it was written in such a time of anger and he does not feel that way anymore. As such, the only song nowadays that ever sees an appearance live is Dante's Inferno on occasion. I honestly believe that Jon has completely overlooked his greatest work to date. It is a milestone in the band's career, in that it forays into a darker style musically, is the first release to feature Matt Barlow, and brought back the band from the state of limbo it had fallen into only 3 years before. All in all, it is a phenomenal album, worthy of a place in any power metal or thrash metal fan's collection. If it were lost or stolen I would absolutely buy it again. Now that Barlow has said his final farewell to the band and the fans, who knows what will happen next? But no matter what, there will always be this album, to remind us of the good old days of Iced Earth.