While the 1998 album provided a general overview of the story, Jon Schaffer has been conceptualizing for well over a decade. The saga is being fully brought to life with the release of the back-to-back conceptual albums "Framing Armageddon" and … see full wiki
If you are going to listen to this album for the first time, I am going to ask you to do something. It will be hard, because you'll want to listen to it as soon as you pick it up, of course. However, you will benefit in the long run I promise. When you get this album, listen to _Something Wicked Part I_ first, THEN put this one on immediately after. Don't think of it as a new Iced Earth album with Matt Barlow back on vocals. Think of it as first and foremost as _Something Wicked Part II_ and think of the other stuff later. The way the story flows over the two volumes, the pacing of songs -- what can I say, Schaffer is a good storyteller, whose medium is music. You can tell he has some very epic ideas in his head while making this music. I am not referring to the sci-fi story of Set Abominae in the concrete, but just the emotional flow of the music on a more abstract level. The story itself that of an impossibly elaborate revenge plot against humanity, stretched over thousands of years, carried out by Earth's original inhabitants.
Musically there is not much need to comment, it's stylistically perfectly consistent with the last one. It does seem heavier though in part because Barlow has a heavier voice than the Ripper. Very power metal and straight-up, with songs and musicianship so strong it conquers the genre. In response to an apparent trend with reviewers to deride the album for being "so mid-tempo", I just don't see it. There is some kind of revisionism going on because Part I was mostly mid-tempo to my ears also. Heck, so was _Dark Saga_. So what? There are plenty of fast songs too. Nor do I see an issue with songs blending together or lacking identity. The guitars have amazing hooks over the usual Iced Earth gallop and huge epic vocal lines and they stand out as well as the first album. Again songs have a lot of the Blind Guardian/Demons & Wizards element, with an army of vocal tracks pounding out super-melodic lines. If you like the first one, I don't really see why one would think this was musically worse (or better for that matter). Every song is excellent and like Part I, there is a lot of variety. An interesting difference though is the lack of interludes. Part II is mostly just songs, except for "In Sacred Flames" and "Epilogue", the latter is more or less a reprise of Part I's "Overture" - a haunting piece with extra power at the end.
And yes there is Barlow! I must of course admit I was wrong about the Ripper, he is a great vocalist, and his performance on Part I is monumental. But Barlow is more than a great singer, he is one of THE metal singers. He just has that "it" factor. His voice is so epic and huge singings lyrics like "Kingdoms fall to the ground, crushed by their own greed!" and "I am your Antichrist, destroyer of mankind." His screaming, growling, and tenor are classic as ever.
The final stretch of songs on this disc is absolutely, the "climax" I would say starts at "Sacrificial Kingdoms", with fast instrumental lines combined in a march of low, brutal forward momentum and epic chorus and awesome Barlow screaming. gallop and classic IE chug , unbelievably good. "Something Wicked Part III" is like all the intensity of built by the previous songs approaching the breaking point. The chorus in the first part of the song is a marvel of tension, with an ascending figure sung by choir countered by a seething phrase from Barlow. "Divide Devour" is the fastest, most brutal song on the album and goes perfectly here, where Set Abominae's ultimate rage is about to be unleashed -- a spasm of punishing intensity, with an interlude of choral exclamations over bionic chugging. "Come What May" ends the album on a note that is ambiguous much like humanity's fate in real life. Just as the fate of humanity in real fate is undecided, the _Something Wicked_ story ends here with a bit of a cliffhanger - does Set Abominae see goodness and spare humanity, or merely ponder man's nature before proceeding with their annihilation? An epic song with an amazing chorus and haunting, slow middle section with some kind of eerie flute-like synth solo. Then the evocative, lamenting instrumental, "Epilogue". With that, Schaffer's epic ends.
Don't let any bad or so-so reviews discourage you from getting this if you liked Part I. This album is amazing and makes Part I seem even better now. The two combined are easily Iced Earth's best, in my opinion.
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