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Iced Earth returns with THE CRUCIBLE OF MAN, the long-awaited follow-up to their 1998 landmark concept album SOMETHING WICKED. Replacing the departing Ripper Owens with former frontman Matt Barlow, this troupe sounds reinvigorated when maintaining their patented power metal maneuvers on cuts like "I Walk Alone" and the rousing "Divide and Devour", yet this disc ultimately lends itself to a darker side of the spectrum, leaving behind the nuances which made this band such an underground sensation. Lead guitarist and band leader Jon Schaffer alternates between writing crunchy guitar tunes and gripping ballads that ooze metal , though some may complain that there are many songs on this 15-track disc which not so discreetly draw from prior Iced Earth works. The band's sinister precision and ever-present soaring melodic flair appear in the mix but don't stick around for long, yielding for a more atmospheric feel on cuts like "Come What May" and "Crown of the Fallen". But with Barlow's raging baritone back in the fold, fitting like a glove, there's more classic Iced Earth moments to be had as opposed to the last few offerings, making this disc something longtime fans should check out even if usual aspects are deficient .
- Mike SOS