After a four-year absence, which, in retrospect, actually spared them from the abuse suffered by most metal bands during the peak years of alternative rock, Iced Earth returned to action with 1995's Burnt Offerings. Known for their uncompromising defense of epic classic metal, the band gets right back to work with the elaborate title track's surprising mix of soft piano tinklings, chorused vocals, double kick drums, and crushing guitars. Remarkably, it all seems to work, and while his ultra-dramatic vocal style occasionally verges on the absurd, resourceful new vocalist Matthew Barlow ultimately carries the day on such standout tracks as "Creator Failure" and "Brainwashed." Then, just when you thought things couldn't get any more grandiose, the band embarks upon the ponderous, 16-minute trilogy (something which would become a tradition for concluding subsequent releases) that is "Dante's Inferno" -- a piece of daunting complexity that will no doubt terrify as many as it delights. Still, classic metal has often been about pomp anyway, and this is what Iced Earth is all about, take it or leave it. ~ Eduardo Rivadavia, Rovi

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