My wife and I were fortunate enough to have spent a weekend with Jon during the creation of what was to be The Glorious Burden. At the time (January 2003), there were no vocals, and not all of the songs were written. In fact, Jon recorded all the tracks himself. Even adding synth percussion on some of them.As we sat in The Dungeon, Jon played the selection of songs he had composed to date — for The Glorious Burden as well as a snippet or two from the forthcoming Demons and Wizards collaboration with Hansi Kursch of Blind Guardian. Yet, for all the simplicity of the arrangements, we were spellbound the entire weekend. Especially when we visited the Civil War Museum and saw first-hand the riveting — and often emotional — source material from which Jon drew. Plus, we couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed as we watched the DVD of Gettysburg (in high-watt surround sound no less!) with Jon and Wendi until about 3:00 in the morning one night. It was a magical, emotional, unforgettable weekend.Yet it got even better. Over the ensuing month or so, Jon would excitedly call me up from time to time to play the latest licks he had just written.Even though the songs were still in an embryonic form, and I was hearing them through a phone line, they were still exciting. Even more exciting, however, was hearing Jon’s passion. Man, this guy was on fire for the project! He was driven. Consumed.Which would come in handy when long-time (and some would say quintessential) vocalist Matt Barlow parted ways with Jon mid-way through the project. (I don’t fault Matt, though. He left for honorable reasons.) Admittedly, I didn’t care much for The Reckoning, the 4-track EP that preceeded The Glorious Burden. The songs just didn’t reveal the totality of Jon’s passion. And I couldn’t get past the vocals of Tim “Ripper” Owens, which seemed to walk the fine line between superb and metal parody.The Glorius Burden, on the other hand, is a masterpiece. Gettysburg, alone, is worth the price. There are parts of that trilogy of songs that give me the chills.I have a vast CD collection, some 2,000 strong by now. But I must admit that Gettysburg ranks right up there with some of my all-time favorite prog rock epics. The arrangements are nothing short of electrifying — especially the intro to “The Devil to Pay” and the driving beat at the beginning of “High Water Mark.” The use of orchestration as a counterpoint to the riffs and Civil War themes is wonderful.The music is better than anything Iced Earth has ever done. You can definitely tell it’s Iced Earth (the guitar tone and a few of the chord progressions give it away), but a new-found maturity of writing and arranging is clearly evident. This is stunning stuff, folks! Even the cover art for The Glorious Burden — a weak link on The Reckoning — is stellar. The attention to detail on the cover only foreshadows Jon’s attention to historic detail inside.I still can’t give thumbs up to Ripper’s vocals, however, especially when he talk/sings/groans through some of the quieter (and, presumably, more poignant) parts. It sounds like a contestant on American Idol trying to be Bruce Dickinson.This is a small thing, however, when compared to the big picture that is The Glorious Bruden.Another favorite: The strains of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” combined with a driving riff, the sound of cannons going off and the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra (which begins around 5:35 into track one of Gettysburg) is nothing short of awe-inspiring. It’s a magical. That’s all I can say about it. It’s magical.Disc 1 of this 2-CD set contains some rousing and interesting music (despite Ripper’s vocals) but — to me — it’s Disc 2 — the Gettysburg trilogy — that makes The Glorious Burden the masterpiece that it is. Jon could retire now and do so with the pride of knowing he made a sizable contribution to the annals of music.I can’t wait to see Iced Earth when Jon makes a stop in Grand Rapids on June 7th!