Power metal concept albums reached the height of their popularity in the 1980s, but they are still being recorded in the 21st century -- and there continues to be an enthusiastic, receptive audience for them among the power metal diehards. Those who fit that description will find a lot to like about The Crucible of Man: Something Wicked, Pt. 2, which is Iced Earth's 2008 sequel to their 2007 power metal epic, Framing Armageddon: Something Wicked, Pt. 1. Although this 59-minute disc picks up where its predecessor left off, there is one major difference between the two when it comes to personnel: Tim "Ripper" Owens, who sang on Framing Armageddon, left Iced Earth after that release -- and this album marks the full-fledged return of Matt Barlow. Changing lead singers isn't unusual in the metal world, but it is rare that a band features one singer on a concept album and ends up using a different singer on the sequel. It is also an intriguing occurrence, and Iced Earth fans will no doubt debate the merits of Barlow's singing versus the singing of Owens (who was Judas Priest's lead singer from 1996-2003). But suffice it to say that both of them are skillful headbangers, and both of them are appropriate for Iced Earth's grandiose, larger than life Something Wicked material. As far as power metal concept albums go, The Crucible of Man: Something Wicked, Pt. 2 isn't in a class with Queensrÿche's Operation: Mindcrime (which is widely regarded as the ultimate power metal concept album). But this CD is respectable and well crafted, and will not disappoint Iced Earth's longtime followers. ~ Alex Henderson, Rovi

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