Metal bands aren’t usually known for patriotic tunes. For the most part, the genre prefers songs about political corruption and injustice to flag-waving anthems. One of the exceptions, though, is Iced Earth.
Founder and guitarist Jon Schaffer has always been a history buff, and once owned a collectibles shop called Spirit of ’76. Musically, he’d mostly stuck with fantasy themes until the band’s 1998 album Something Wicked This Way Comes, which featured an instrumental titled “1776.” On Iced Earth’s 2001 outing Horror Show, he took it a step further with the song “Ghost of Freedom.” While not an outright flag-waver, it was certainly a heartfelt tribute to fallen soldiers.
The song sticks out from the rest of Horror Show, which was a concept piece about classic horror monsters. On an album packed with tunes about Dracula, Jekyll and Hyde, the Phantom of the Opera and even the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the ghost theme fit — but little else about the song did. On the other hand, Iced Earth’s “Ghost of Freedom” is the only truly haunting number that you’ll find on Horror Show.
The song begins softly with Schaffer on acoustic guitar and vocalist Matt Barlow telling the story of a veteran who gave his life, as his ghost addresses a young son who can’t understand why his father went away. It leads to a memorable chorus where the ghost lays out its beliefs in freedom and liberty and assures his son that he’s still there. In the second verse, the father explains that he’s still on the battlefield watching over fighting men, and his hope that one day his son and everyone else will have peace and freedom.
After a brief guitar solo from Jon Schaffer, the song takes a turn in viewpoint, and we find that the son is now a soldier on the battlefield — writing home to his mother that he feels the ghost of his father with him, protecting him. Barlow’s shadowy vocals give the melody a nice mix of power with a hint of eeriness that fits the horror theme. It’s at times enough to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. The song builds to a slowly chugging outro that fades away with the harmonized lines “Don’t tread on me; live free or die.”
Though seemingly out of place at the time in Iced Earth’s catalog, the song opened a new door. For The Glorious Burden, the band’s next record, Schaffer would dig deeply into his love of history. Iced Earth shared tales from around the world, but with a focus on the U.S. on songs like “Declaration Day,” “When the Eagle Cries,” “The Reckoning,” “Valley Forge,” and of course, the epic three-song, 30-minute retelling of the Battle of Gettysburg that just might be the band’s finest hour (or half-hour).
“Ghost of Freedom” may not have fit the classic horror theme of the album it came from, but it stood head and shoulders above the other tracks on Horror Show, just for the sincerity and emotion. It made a connection, at least with me, that a song about Dracula — no matter how cool — would never be able to make. In keeping, Horror Show is certainly not my favorite Iced Earth album, but “Ghost of Freedom,” I believe, remains one of Jon Schaffer’s most meaningful compositions.
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