Album Review – Iced Earth / Horror Show (2001)

Are you looking for the ultimate Heavy Metal soundtrack to spice up your Halloween party? Mr. Jon Schaffer and his henchmen can definitely help you with that.

IcedEarth-HorrorShowTampa, Florida-based Power/Thrash Metal veterans Iced Earth might be one of the most underrated bands in the history of heavy music, and I believe they’re not bigger or more famous due to Mr. Jon Schaffer’s fickle temper, which has resulted in countless (and unstable) lineup changes in the history of the band, lowering any expectations a fan might have about their future. I personally don’t care that much about the mood of any musician, as long as this doesn’t negatively affect the overall quality of the music. Take a look at Dave Mustaine and Dani Filth, for example, and you’ll notice there are some changes in their music, but the core essence of Megadeth and Cradle of Filth is always there for the delight of their fans. Due to those constant changes you never know exactly what to expect from Iced Earth, as they sometimes deliver really bad material, but fortunately for all of us their 2001 album Horror Show showcases the Iced Earth we all want to listen to, sounding powerful, well-engendered and, above all, very creative and entertaining.

Horror Show is not just a traditional Heavy Metal album, also bringing a lot of the energy from Power Metal and some of the violence found in Thrash Metal, and that’s in my opinion the best “formula” Jon and his crew can offer us. Furthermore, it’s kind of  a concept album focused on different horror stories, making it even more interesting for Heavy Metal fans that also enjoy reading a frightful book or going to the movies to see a good dosage of monsters and blood. For instance, all songs on the album are based on classic horror films, from werewolves to vampires and mummies, and many of the lyrics are lifted directly from the source material, proving that when Jon doesn’t let his personal issues interfere in his music, the final result is always fantastic. Add to all that some incredibly talented musicians like Matt Barlow on vocals, Larry Tarnowski on the lead guitar, Steve DiGiorgio (Testament, Death, Charred Walls of the Damned) on bass and Richard Christy (Death, Charred Walls of the Damned) on drums, and there you have the utmost recipe for awesomeness.

Wolf, the first track of the album inspired by The Wolf Man films, is an excellent heavy song to kick things off, showing why Jon is considered by many one of the best riff-makers in Heavy Metal. The speed of the song and its grinding riffs give it an amazing Thrash Metal touch, not to mention its chorus inspired by a poem that is recited in the 1941 film The Wolf Man, making any fan excited for the rest of the album. Then we have Damien, inspired by The Omen films, presenting outstanding lyrics that make a lot of sense if you have read the book or seen the movies like I’ve done (“When the Jews return to Zion / And a comet fills the sky / The Holy Roman Empire rises / And you and I must die”). As a matter of fact, the chorus was taken from the 1976 film The Omen, and the spoken section was adapted from a speech in its 1981 sequel, Omen III: The Final Conflict, just to give you a sense of how detailed this song is. Things get even better in Jack, inspired by the one and only Jack the Ripper, with Jon slashing our ears with his riffs in great “Ripper” fashion. Moreover, perhaps the funniest thing about this song is that Horror Show was the last studio album (apart from their album of cover songs called Tribute to the Gods, from 2002) Matt recorded before Tim “Ripper” Owens (The Ripper himself!) joined the band in 2003 and recorded The Glorious Burden in 2004, which is for me one of their best and most consistent albums of all.

The album continues with Ghost of Freedom, the only song that wasn’t inspired by any horror movie or character. It’s a very beautiful ballad and one of the top moments of the whole album, showing us a more “romantic” side of Jon and how good Matt’s voice can be even when he’s not screaming. The following three songs might not be masterpieces, but they surely keep the album at a high level of adrenaline and epicness. Im-Ho-Tep (Pharaoh’s Curse) (inspired by The Mummy), Jekyll & Hyde (inspired by The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), and Dragon’s Child (inspired by Creature from the Black Lagoon) not only have amazing concepts, but the music itself is very pleasant and cohesive, embracing us all and pulling us deeper into the world of horror created by the band throughout the entire album.

IcedEarth_Promo2001Frankenstein (“surprisingly” inspired by Frankenstein) is even better than those three tracks, raising your energy level and making you want to headbang like a crazy motherfucker, followed by the best song of Horror Show without a shadow of a doubt, the stunning Dracula (also “astoundingly” inspired by Dracula), a metal masterpiece that’s absolutely flawless from start to finish, presenting to the listener the duo Jon and Matt at the peak of their forms. This is an all-time fan favorite and a mandatory track in any of the band’s live setlists, also bringing to our avid ears ass-kicking lyrics (“Do you believe in love? / Do you believe in destiny? / True love may come only once in a thousand lifetimes…”). Lastly, we have The Phantom Opera Ghost, obviously inspired by The Phantom of the Opera, and despite all the additional elements and musicians it sounds too pretentious and doesn’t deliver what the fans are actually expecting.

The limited edition has a bonus disc with two totally opposite moments: an incredible cover for Iron Maiden’s Transylvania, where Jon does what he does best with his guitar; and a tedious interview with him that lasts for over an hour. I guess there’s a one-disc version of Horror Show that includes Transylvania as a regular track, so if I were you that’s the one I would buy. And finally, one thing that Iced Earth have always delivered are stunning album arts. The band’s own mascot, Set Abominae, might not be part of the compositions this time, but he certainly makes the front cover of Horror Show designed by Danny Miki and Travis Smith darkly captivating. In a nutshell, Horror Show, which makes the already distant year of 2001 look like it just happened yesterday, is a mandatory choice for that Heavy Metal Halloween party you’re planning with your friends (as well as a good source of inspiration for your costumes), or maybe you can just dress up as Jon Schaffer and walk around your neighborhood playing some of the tracks from Horror Show on your guitar, how about that? We could even call this new Halloween tradition as “Trick or Thrash”.

Best moments of the album: Wolf, Damien, Ghost of Freedom, Dracula and Transylvania.

Worst moments of the album: The Phantom Opera Ghost.

Released in 2001 Century Media Records

Track listing
1. Wolf 5:20
2. Damien 9:12
3. Jack 4:14
4. Ghost of Freedom 5:12
5. Im-Ho-Tep (Pharaoh’s Curse) 4:45
6. Jekyll & Hyde 4:39
7. Dragon’s Child 4:21
8. Frankenstein 3:50
9. Dracula 5:54
10. The Phantom Opera Ghost 8:41

Limited Edition Disc Two
11. Transylvania (Iron Maiden cover) 4:30
12. Interview with Jon Schaffer (conducted by Sumit Chandra) 69:27

Band members
Matt Barlow – vocals
Jon Schaffer – guitar
Larry Tarnowski – lead guitar
Steve DiGiorgio – bass
Richard Christy – drums

Guest musicians
Yunhui Percifield – lead vocals on “The Phantom Opera Ghost” as “Christine”, backing vocals
Jim Morris – guitar solo on “Ghost of Freedom”, keys, backing vocals
Howard Helm – keys (pipe organ) on “The Phantom Opera Ghost”
Richie Wilkison, Rafaela Farias & Sam King – backing vocals

Metal Chick of the Month – Esthibaliz Rojas

esthibaliz01

Oh mother night put thy arms around me…

Fans of Symphonic Metal with operatic vocals, rejoice! Let me introduce you to one of the most promising and accomplished female singers in the entire Latin America, a woman who, despite being really young at age, has already built a respectful career and a more than solid background in music, which obviously translates into pure delight when she hits the stage and treats us with her potent and delicate vocals. Her real full name is Rebeca Estibaliz Ramos Rojas, but you might already know her by Esthibaliz RojasEstibaliz Ramos or even by her artistic nickname Esthibaliz Bathory, a stylish wordplay with her own name and the name of Countess Elizabeth Bathory. Well, let’s say that this vampirical moniker totally suits our charming and metallic diva, and I’ll show you why.

Born on October 4, 1983 in Mexico City, capital of the always fun country of Mexico, and raised in a small family by her mother, grandmother and older brother, our talented Mexican lyric-coloratura soprano (who’s also an actress, composer and teacher) has nurtured a profound passion for performing arts since she was a little girl, taking part in school choirs and “estudiantinas” (or student music groups), studying classical dance and watching musical plays with great interest, especially the ones from English composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. At the age of 15 she was advised by her friends and family that she should take singing lessons and pursue a professional career in music, and that’s exactly what she did by studying for two years at the Escuela Superior de Composición y Arreglo Musical (ESCAM), and by getting a bachelor’s degree in singing at the Escuela Superior de Música (CNA). In addition, Esthibaliz has also taken private singing classes with Mexican soprano Guadalupe Pérez Arias and with Mexican-Italian mezzo-soprano Eugenia Sutti. During her studies, she already started her career in music by joining the Sociedad Coral Cantus Hominum, a symphonic choir led by Mexican tenor Leonardo Villeda.

However, if there’s one type of music that truly touches her heart, it’s our beloved Heavy Metal, especially its subgenres Symphonic and Progressive Metal as they represent the perfect fusion of opera and metal music, with bands such as Rhapsody (or Rhapsody of Fire), Dream Theater and Nightwish becoming an important part of her life and the biggest inspiration for her career. It was then in 2006 when she replied to an ad requesting a female singer for a Gothic Rock band that she met guitarist Christian García, who invited her to join Mexican Gothic Metal band Erszebeth, leading to the recording of the album La Condesa Inmortal (or “The Immortal Countess”, in English) in 2007, and the album Equilibrio in 2013. By the way, all lyrics and vocal melodies found in Equilibrio were written by Esthibaliz. If you want to take a listen at the music by Erszebeth, simply go to YouTube where you’ll find excellent songs such as Equilibrio.

In 2008, Esthibaliz started a relationship with singer and composer Mario del Rio, founder and leader of the bands Oblivion Requiem and Rip Rapunzel, consequently becoming the female singer for Rip Rapunzel and releasing in 2010 their first album entitled Broken Tales. For instance, you can listen to her beautiful voice with Rip Rapunzel in the song Corazon de Plomo, and with Oblivion Requiem she recorded the song Time to Say Goodbye, for the 2008 album Sampler Carpe Noctem Vol. 1. As a matter of fact, there are so many other bands, projects and live performances where we can admire the gentle vocals by Esthibaliz it’s hard to name all of them without forgetting a few, but I’ll try my best. Our Mexican diva has already lent her voice to the eccentric project Dueto Amaterasu, as you can see in the song Terra (Wanderer of Time), from Final Fantasy VI; doing vocals and choirs in a Mexican project focused on cover songs named Los Abortos De Tu Jefa; singing the song In Dreams live in 2008 with Mexican Heavy Metal band Exsecror Vecordia, and recording the studio song Soledad, from the 2009 album Escapulario by Mexican Gothic Rock band Vía Dolorosa; as well as participating in the personal project by Oswaldo de León, guitarist for Mexican group La Castañeda.

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Perhaps the most promising project/band in heavy music featuring Esthibaliz nowadays is Mexican/Argentine Symphonic Metal band Melphomene, and this one deserves a more detailed explanation so distinct it is. In Greek mythology, Melpomene (without the “h”) is one of the two theater Muses, initially being the Muse of singing and musical harmony but later being recognized as the Muse of Tragedy. A myth says that Melpomene had all the riches that a woman could have, such as beauty, money and men, but even having it all she could not be happy, leading to the true drama of life. This is the perfect depiction of the music played by Melphomene, which can be testified in songs such as Mother Night and Maiden & Death, and many others in their official YouTube channel.

Apart from all those metal and non-metal bands, our Mexican beauty has also taken part in several plays and musicals, only showcasing how limitless her talent and passion for music and arts are. In 2010, she played a role in “Alicia Más Allá Del Espejo” by Adrian Gallardo, and adaptation of the 1865 novel Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll; and in 2012, Philip von Reutter, director and founder of  “Canto en Movimiento”, invites her to be part of their cast for a series of presentations in Florence, Italy, becoming part of their coaching team (one of her favorite duties, by the way) in 2013 and getting ready to perform the plays “Verdi Ritrovato” and “Future Sound” in London, England that same year.

And in case you thought she would simply settle down after all that, you might be surprised with everything else she’s also engaged in. In 2011, Esthibaliz becomes interested in the Speech Level Singing technique, learning its vocal technique, style, scenic expression and contemporary interpretation at the International Vocal Training school founded by Seth Riggs and Michael Jackson. In addition to that, she also joined the Centro Cultural Virginia Fábregas to begin a career in Musical Comedy, taking theatrical dancing, Jazz, tap, ballet, acting, vocal and speech classes. Well, it looks like there isn’t a limit for our tenacious “mamacita” when it comes to expanding her boundaries in music and arts.

Lastly, if you know Spanish or if you’re studying it and already have a relatively good understanding of the language, there is a 20-minute interview Esthibaliz gave to a program called CINECAFÉ & + in 2015 where she talks about her personal life and career in a nice and relaxed way. Although I could have translated everything she’s talking about and made your lives a little easier, I won’t do that because I consider this a great motivation for you all to learn one of the top languages in the world. I guess watching the gorgeous Esthibaliz talking about heavy music and arts in her mother tongue for 20 minutes beats any grammar book hands down, no matter how good the book might be, don’t you agree? And as today, November 2, is the popular Mexican holiday named “Día de los Muertos” (or “Day of the Dead” in English), why not enjoying Esthibaliz providing her own medley for Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist and The Omen themes as part of the celebrations? Or maybe you prefer watching our screaming diva unleashing hell in her cover version for the unparalleled classic Nemesis, by Arch Enemy, or even Chop Suey, by System Of A Down? There’s a lot more to relish at her official YouTube channel, in case you’re interested in seeing more of our Mexican babe in action. I’m sure you’ll have a very good time enjoying Esthibaliz and her unique voice, no doubt about that.

Esthibaliz Rojas’ Official Facebook page
Esthibaliz Rojas’ Official YouTube channel
Esthibaliz Rojas’ Official Twitter
Esthibaliz Rojas’ Official Instagram
Erszebeth’s Official Facebook page
Melphomene’s Official Facebook page