If the four tracks on this CD single – all taken from the forthcoming album The Glorious Burden – are any indication, Iced Earth is poised for world domination. After nine full-length albums that usually always improved upon the previous one, the U.S.-based band snagged former Judas Priest throat Tim Owens not long after Rob Halford rejoined his former bandmates. The result is an unrivaled creative bond between Owens and Iced Earth guitarist and mastermind Jon Schaffer, one in which Owens takes bold chances with his voice and Schaffer parlays his love of history into heavy metal songs dripping with class — making for what it appears will be Iced Earth's definitive statement.
To his credit, Owens doesn't pretend to sound like former Iced Earth singer Matthew Barlow (who, on the band's last album, 2001's Horror Show, actually sounded a lot like KISS' Paul Stanley). Rather, Owens emulates Halford on "The Reckoning (Don't Tread On Me)," a vicious shriekfest that somehow manages to sound a tad Queen-like while pounding just as intensely as much of the Iced Earth's previous work. The song also revels in dramatic and atmospheric passages that sound like Owens is slowly being tortured. Actually, he's just warming up.
The other three tracks here are quieter and more melodic than the title track, but no less impressive, as Owens' voice takes on softer and darker tones buried deep within. Civil War imagery abounds on "Valley Forge," while "Hollow Man" boasts what sounds like a choir of desperately committed soldiers. And "When the Eagle Cries" appears here in an exclusive acoustic version that leaves listeners wondering just how stunning the balls-out version will sound on the new album.
The Glorious Burden, slated for release in January 2004, will explore America's origins with colonial-metal song titles like "Declaration Day," "Red Baron Blue Max" and "Gettysburg (1863)." "I hope we can do some good with this record," Schaffer states in press materials that accompany reviewers' copies of "The Reckoning" single, referring to the historical significance of the album's themes. Musically speaking, he already has.