Iced Earth – Night Of The Stormrider
Night Of The Stormrider
Every now and then, a band has a sudden spike in quality and never even approaches that apex again. Iced Earth is one of those bands, and 1992’s Night Of The Stormrider is the quintessential power/thrash album. Their first album was solid, but was a bit too repetitive and bland (I think there are 4 different drum patterns used…), and suffered additionally from a serious case of Gene Adam. With the sacking of Adam and drummer Mike McGill, and replacing them with John Greely (the best fit the band has had for a vocalist so far in their history; he can scream like a banshee and nail the mid-range far better than Matt-ah Barlow-ah could over-emote them) and Richey Secchiari respectively, they would put out one of the greatest riff monsters of all time.
The opening trilogy of “Angels Holocaust”, “Stormrider”, and “The Path I Choose” set the tone for the rest of the album. It’s crisp, bombastic, over the top, and intense. The acoustic passages serve to set the mood for what’s to come, rather than simply being an extra riff in the song and adding nothing; even the interludes serve a purpose. Folks, this is how you do a concept album.
“Before The Vision” advances the plot a bit and gives way to Act II: “Mystical End” and “Desert Rain.” These two are the “Iron Maiden Tribute” songs of the album, and are the catchiest songs as well. Both feature more great riffs and an incredible ear for melody. Of course, the best is yet to come… Act III begins as “Pure Evil” kicks off with a little guitar lick before erupting into a full-on thrasher. The cool slow-down gives way to one hell of a chorus that leads to another killer riff set before going back into the pure, unadulterated thrash riffage.
Another acoustic interlude in “Reaching The End” has our protagonist realizing he done mess up, setting up the best thing Jon has ever written. “Travel In Stygian” is a total monster of a thrash epic. Nine and a half minutes of riff after riff after furious headbanging riff (the most killer being the riff set following the first chorus and under the guitar solo). It’s almost impossible for me to convey how amazing this song is in words, so bear with me. Greely sounds absolutely demonic during the verses (considering the verses are the protagonist being condemned to an eternity in Hell), serving as a great counterpoint to the incredible melodic chorus, which is followed by the thrashiest riff ever picked by Jon. Another spoken word interlude and we’re back to verse/chorus (yes…this is a nine minute song with two verses and two choruses), and then the beautiful piano/acoustic finale.
The instrumentation is frightfully precise on this album. Schaffer is the Yngwie Malmsteen of rhythm guitar. Lead guitarist Randy Shawver isn’t bad, but Iced Earth has never been about guitar solos; lead players primarily stick to providing a melodic counterpoint to Schaffer’s riffs. The drumming is phenomenal, and makes me wonder why Secchiari has never appeared on another album (according to Encyclopaedia Metallum, anyways). It’s light years beyond what was on the debut, and far more expressive than what would follow with the revolving door of hired guns behind the kit.
It’s a shame that the band would focus more on trying to be the “metal ballad” band, most evident on Something Wicked This Way Comes. While there have been moments of brilliance since Night Of The Stormrider, Schaffer has never managed to pull off a quality cohesive album since (Horror Show comes close, but the middle of the album gives it a bit of Reign In Blood Syndrome). Oh sure, “Dracula”, the “Something Wicked” trilogy, “Dante’s Inferno”, “Diary”, and “A Question Of Heaven” are all ridiculously good as songs, but the albums as a whole just don’t stand the test of time the way Stormrider does. Iced Earth might very well be the only band I can think of to have an album bury the needle in the 5 star rating and have nothing else even come close to breaking a 4. But Night Of The Stormrider is something special. Something very special.
Kylie’s rating: 5 out of 5
Also, as a postlude, you want to get the original mix of both this and their debut, as Jon Schaffer decided it was cool to remove not just instruments from the mix (there are a ton of keyboard melodies on the debut where the remixes/remasters sound naked), but also the spoken part in “Before The Vision” and even an entire riff from “Travel In Stygian” (the lead guitar melody after the spoken part after the guitar solo). The drums sound so much more alive and the orchestral parts stand out a lot more, rather than being subdued by the guitars. Also, there are three different versions of the album cover for the original (pre-Dark Genesis) release (two in the logo and title layout, and a third completely different cover, similar to the debut album).