The Yer Metal is Olde segment here at Angry Metal Guy has always been one of my favorites. If you’re looking to expand your repertoire with some classics or need a reason to shuffle back through your library, clatter through your jewel cases, or dig through cracked cassettes for nostalgia, this is a segment for olde and younge alike. When flipping through my own collection in search of something to listen to, I came upon a couple choices that made me stop. Not only were these two albums released in ’95, I actually remember purchasing them at the same time. I’ve had a lot of good and bad times with these two albums, and while they’re not the bands’ best, I still love them dearly. When it came to writing a Yer Metal is Olde for one of them, I found the decision quite difficult. Not only because of my own personal comparisons of the two releases but also because of the similarities in events surrounding their creation. So, I chose them both and bring you a very special segment of oldness (well, special to me) that showcases two albums turning twenty this year: Iced Earth’s Burnt Offerings and King Diamond’s The Spider’s Lullabye.
Burnt Offerings is an interesting time in Iced Earth’s career. After not receiving royalties from Iced Earth and Night of the Stormrider, Jon Schaffer went on “strike” against Century Media. Finally settling after three years, Jon struggled with temptations to disband Iced Earth and maintaining the focus needed to write Burnt Offerings, as well as suffering endless setbacks and frustrations related to band member performances and production of said album. The result was a collection of dark, angry material; perhaps the darkest and angriest in the band’s twenty-seven year history.
For fans, frustration mounted as well. For many felt the release lacked the “umph” in riffage and lacked cohesion found in early releases (this is especially apparent following the amazing concept album, Night of the Stormrider). Songs like “Diary,” “Burning Oasis,” and “The Pierced Spirit” felt forced (or pointless) and the gusto of Schaffer’s signature riff changes were borderline mediocre. On the other hand, many fans were excited by the prospect of a singer that could actually sing. Though the vocal duty of Matt Barlow on Burnt Offerings was not exactly superb, this marked a relationship that would span nearly 15 years and initiated an era that many find to be the band’s greatest. Considering all the issues with this release, no one can argue with the badassery that is “Dante’s Inferno.” This piece (along with help from the above average title track, “Last December,” and “Brainwashed”) is what makes Burnt Offerings worth purchasing. The over sixteen-minute song based on the first third of The Divine Comedy finds the band in perfect sync and Barlow on fire. And of all the long-winded masterpieces by Schaffer, this one still remains near the top.
Where many feel that Burnt Offerings marked a new era for Iced Earth, many felt the opposite for King Diamond in 1995. After fulfilling their Roadrunner contract in 1990 with the underappreciated The Eye album (which the band never promoted via tour due to the lack of label support) and an offer to reunite Mercyful Fate, King put a near finished album and his band on hiatus. With a new contract penned, Mercyful Fate would release In The Shadows  and Time  before Metal Blade extended their offer to King Diamond; triggering a “reuniting” with fresh staff and the five-year sleeping beauty, The Spider’s Lullabye. Interestingly enough, Spider’s Lullabye and the debut album stand as the only albums in the band’s history that are not full concept albums (only the last four tracks of The Spider’s Lullabye represents a concept). So in a way, these two albums mark, in their own ways, “new beginnings” for the band. And so began a new eon for King Diamond that left behind five-classic Roadrunner releases and those diehard fans that feel the band never released anything of substance after 1990.
From ’93 on to ’99, King would share duties between King Diamond and Mercyful Fate before closing the latter up for good (please don’t let that be true). The short periods between album releases and the strain put on his falsetto voice during this time is another subject of discussion between fans; many finding his voice giving way and his dependence on the lower range taking the lead. Thankfully, Spider’s did not suffer from the workload like The Graveyard would later. But what it did suffer from was perhaps one of the worst productions jobs the band has ever released. Even the re-mastered version that sprang up in 2009 couldn’t do much to save the poor recording and mix. Ignoring the lack of a full concept and the lousy production, numbers like “Killer,” “Six Feet Under,” and (my personal favorite) “To the Morgue” do much to make this album memorable. The groove of the latter track would undeniably slay on stage but King never liked the album enough to play much of it live (well, until recently). Additionally, “Dreams” and “Moonlight” are here to give you all those signature falsettos you could ever want and the creepy, eight-minute ditty “Room 17” should fill any remaining voids between the emotive and heavy-as-hell songs of the album.
So, there you have it. A double album roundup of musical mediocrities, personnel frustrations, “disbandings,” “reunitings,” restructurings, label changes, and redirections. Musically, comparing these bands is like comparing apples and oranges, but the events that surround the release of these two controversial albums have always caused me to listen to one-after-the-other ever since I first found them in that rundown record store so many years ago.