EP Review: Iced Earth – Hellrider / I Walk Among You

Iced Earth

EP Review: Iced Earth - Hellrider / I Walk Among You
Reviewed by Dan Barnes

I think it’s fair to say that it has been something of a time of tribulation in the Iced Earth camp of late. With only Brent Smedley remaining with Jon Schaffer to carry the torch the future is looking uncertain for the Indiana-based Metal Titans. With only 2022’s interesting A Narrative Soundscape being released under the Iced Earth name since Incorruptible back in 2017 and national political events focusing Schaffer’s attention of late, it’s good to get anything new from the band; even if that is just a couple of compilations of previously unreleased material.

These new EPs include tracks from the transitional period in 2007 and 2008 which saw the end of the Tim Owens-era and the return of Schaffer’s Brother-in-Law, Matt Barlow, who was responsible for the vocals on all the band’s albums from Burnt Offerings in 1995 to the Tribute to the Gods EP in 2002. Previously available only on CD, these new versions, produced by Schaffer and Jim Morris, remastered and with new artwork, is the first-time they will be released on vinyl and for digital download.

Hellrider is a three-track disc featuring songs from the 1998 Something Wicked This Way Comes sessions back in 1998, dusted off and rerecorded in the summer of 2007 with Ripper giving his vocal take on the material.

As Something Wicked… is considered one of the best Power Metal records of all time – according to Metal Hammer’s vote – and Ripper is no slouch when it comes to soaring vocals, it all seems like a marriage made in Heaven (or Hell, depending on your perspective). Prophecy, Birth of the Wicked and The Coming Curse aren’t looking to reinvent the Iced Earth wheel, rather that all play into the band’s strengths, utilising rapid-fire, fist-pumping, chest-beating riffs, epic, overblown bombast and the grandiose subject matter for which this band is particularly known.

EP Review: Iced Earth - Hellrider / I Walk Among You

Jon plays all guitar on this selection, and his combinations of uncompromising rhythm work, against his flourishes with lead material – and his anchoring basslines – form a perfect platform for Ripper to weave vocal magic.

The second EP, I Walk Among You, features Matt’s vocals after his return to the band in 2008. Although Ripper recorded the voice for the Framing Armageddon (Something Wicked Part 1) in 2007, it was Mr Barlow who took up to the tour reigns. The first three tracks of this EP are his versions of Setian Massacre, A Change to Keep and The Clouding, the first and last of these have previously been available as bonus tracks on the Japanese version of the album.

Looking back to the period covered by these EPs, it was a little strange to see Iced Earth opening for Heaven & Hell with Ripper up front then, the following summer, seeing the same band but with Matt back on the microphone.

One of Iced Earth’s festival appearances I caught – other than the Bloodstock Open Air show – was at the 2008 Graspop Metal Meeting and three songs from that set make up the second half of I Walk Among You.

Dark Saga, Pure Evil and Iced Earth are all songs Matt knows like the back of his hand so all three are delivered in the large bombastic manner you would expect from such a band on such an occasion. As memory serves, Iced Earth played on a sun-bathed Saturday mainstage just before special guests Cavalera Conspiracy and headliners, Kiss. Oh, and the stage was opened by some up and coming Swedes called Sabaton.

Whatever your personal view of Jon Schaffer’s actions and the subsequent results, one should always be mindful of separating the art from the artist. I mean, Roman Polanski might be (allegedly) a massive nonce, but that does detract from how great Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown are.

It is writ-large throughout Iced Earth and Schaffer’s work that he is a staunch adherent of the principles of the US Constitution, the first of which is the freedom to express an opinion. Whether he went too far is for the US Justice System to decide; I’m just glad we’ve got some new(ish) material to spin.

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