When American metal survivors Iced Earth departed their lifelong record label, Century Media, in 2002, they unconsciously (or perhaps consciously) put the finishing touches on an important chapter, not only in their career, but also in the American heavy metal scene's slow but inexorable climb back from shameful early-'90s disgrace to renewed prominence in the new millennium. This challenging climb -- as the band's first "true" greatest-hits set, 2004's The Blessed and the Damned, is adamant to point out -- is clearly reflected in the 23 tracks chosen to represent Iced Earth's hard-fought, 15-year trajectory thus far; and since they've never been ones to do anything half-arsed, the band spared no expense ensuring this pretty much watertight song selection would come backed by a beautifully lavish packaging job -- including extensive liner notes spiced with commentary from band founder and driving force Jon Schaffer and stunning two-way artwork by Russian artist Leo Hao. What issues there are -- and of course there are issues -- with this release will undoubtedly arise from historical purists who would rather hear original versions of certain old songs ("Angels Holocaust," "Desert Rain," "When the Night Falls") instead of those later subjected to studio "improvements" on 1997's Days of Purgatory collection. But since this is not strictly the rule, chances are enough untampered-with relics are on hand ("To Curse the Sky," "Stormrider," "Iced Earth," etc.) to keep them happy. Also, there's no obvious explanation (except, perhaps to Schaffer himself) as to why certain songs from Iced Earth's almost exclusively dark-themed body of work were consigned to this two-disc set's "blessed" or "damned" programs (maybe singles success?), but it really doesn't matter since they are both uniformly impressive anyway. So impressive, in fact, that, even more than confirming their deserved inclusion here, metal classics like "Wolf," "The Hunter," "Dark Saga," "Watching Over Me," and "I Died for You" (the list goes on and on) make a serious case for Iced Earth's unrivaled importance for their often solitary stand against the 1990s' woefully anti-metal fashion and market forces. That, as much as their inspiring music, will likely constitute their lasting legacy, and to that end, The Blessed and the Damned qualifies as a pretty darn definitive (until further notice, at least) summation of Iced Earth's career.
AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2