Jon Schaffer and Matt Barlow back together again, just the words are music to the ears of a lifelong Iced Earth nut. The two go together like bacon and more bacon, and barring an impromptu live occasion here and there the last time these two put out music together was back in 2008; Iced Earth’s not so lauded The Crucible of Man, before Barlow left the band for the second time. Titled after an old song found only on the Days of Purgatory compilation, Winter Nights is a short EP featuring no actual newly penned music, but a few takes on (for an American audience) famous Christmas songs, and retellings of two of Iced Earth’s biggest hits.
A Christmas music EP might not have been on anyone’s wish list, but as is often the case when these two get together, things magically just work. Nothing here will really be on the repeat listen playlist, but a tune or two to get into the Christmas spirit will work, though they are of course told through darker eyes this time around. Silent Night goes in the vein of the darkest of Iced Earth narratives, adding a symphonic backdrop to fit the theme in its slow, brooding buildup; thick riffing completing the scene. A dark, ominous intro sets things in motion in opener We Three Kings, a Middle Eastern flair to the melodic set piece. It evolves slowly during its six minute runtime to incorporate some of Schaffer’s trademark riffing, while Barlow’s layered vocals remain the star. Choirs add to the Christmas feeling in the choruses, Barlow’s mighty baritone holding a clear grasp of the music thanks to his melodramatic leanings.
All eyes are on I Died for You and Watching Over Me however. The originals are classics in the band’s long repertoire and especially the latter is one of their absolute greatest moments. These new versions aren’t meant to replace the old ones, but rather tell the stories a different way; a modern way (the originals are both over 20 years old by now!). And it’s the former that really shines, almost an improvement on the original it takes an acoustic approach that just grows and blasts off into Schaffer’s great riffage and Barlow’s emotional burst toward the climax; actually this one is really great. Winter Nights is a fine little detour to kick things off, but it’s not something that will maintain interest; sure the Schaffer/Barlow Project is very much a side gig for everyone involved, but the lack of something super exciting is tangible. I believe I speak for everyone when I say we want new music. Something real. Something wicked.
Standout tracks: Silent Night, I Died for You