Iced Earth - Plagues Of Babylon

Iced Earth - Plagues Of Babylon

(CD/LP, Century Media, 2014)

It is quite entertaining reading album presentations talking about releases from bands like ICED EARTH and especially those written in a rush, so the critic can be the first to attract more clicks than the others. You see, the majority of these guys (or gals) spend the minimum amount of listening-time and have an expert’s opinion to share. In other words, they have nothing to say apart from the cliché expressions that they think sound pompous or whatever... (please excuse my ranting but sometimes it gets too much to handle). So, ICED EARTH are back in discography with the brand new “Plagues Of Babylon” and I feel confident to say that all the good omens that something good was on the making got flesh and bones. Yes, I am referring to the addition of Stu Block who has re-generated the band and this is evident throughout this album - let me explain how.

First of all, the album starts with the mid-tempo and slightly less than eight minutes long title-track and the last time this happened was in “Burnt Offerings”. Excited? Well, you should be because whether you like it or not, ICED EARTH of the most successful albums (i.e. “Dark Saga”, “Something Wicked” etc) did not play the kind of music that shocked the Metal scene. And I am talking about the first three albums where the complexity of the guitars and the power of the rhythm section were on top of their game. Let’s also not forget the amazingly dark “Burnt Offerings” and its genuinely evil atmosphere that kind of disappeared in the following albums. I am not saying what ICED EARTH delivered was subpar (ok, there are a couple of those) but it felt that Jon Schaffer was not working at full capacity. The mid-tempo album opener feels super heavy (the sound production helps a lot), preparing the ground for Stu who I think had the chance in the studio to implement his entire singing-arsenal because the songs were composed for his singing. This song has a level of complexity that many metalheads might not like because they are fans of the easy-to-follow and easy-to-sing along tracks. Jon handles the spoken part with his trademark full of attitude reading seconds before the song gets into ICED EARTH mode with the well-known fat and galloping rhythm section. It’s beyond any shadow of a doubt that Stu Block was the perfect singer for the US band since he combines the melody of Matt Barlow and the aggression of Tim Owens. Feel free to double-check my last statement with “Democide” and in particular pay close attention to the multiple vocals layers covering a wide pitch-range. As “The End?” starts (no pun intended), I thought it would be another of those classic­ anthemic ICED EARTH power ballads that all of us love to sing along; but no, this one has a distinct character and slowly builds the tension that eventually breaks out via the fast and catchy riff-action. Wait for the awesome scream just before the guitar solo to feel the power I am talking about.

As I said “Plagues Of Babylon” has a couple of strong ones that are good enough to get in future ICED EARTH setlists and “Cthulhu” is one of them (I think this is the first time seeing Jon drawing a lyric theme from Lovecraft). The minimal yet effective keyboards get us in the universe of the Old Ones and Stu uses with success his clean singing and then let’s the distortion to kick in firing all cylinders with high-octane Schaffer fuel. By the way, many kudos to Troy Seele for putting together a nice collection of solos and I am not talking only about this track but for the entire album. I think he was also inspired and put something more as compared to previous ICED EARTH albums. Remember to do a couple of headphone-listenings to get all the guitar flavors and trust me, you’ll be hooked. “Peacemaker” also made it in my most-played tracklist and partially this was due to the killer almost Southern Rock intro and the way it enters the heavy territory without losing the still-going melody (there is a Western taste I believe). The tracklist includes an almost-cover on SONS OF LIBERTY (this is also Jon’s songs hence the ‘almost’) that has more dynamics in terms of melody, simply because Stu is better singer than Jon. There is also a surprise on this album in the form of a cover on Jimmy Webb’s “Highwayman” where Russell Allen and Michael Poulsen guest singing, making this one better than the original version.

Even though I did like “Dystopia”, I wasn’t blown away and honestly, it requires some hard thinking to remember the songs that stood out. But “Plagues Of Babylon” has many things to remember and I will go ahead and state that there are some ICED EARTH classics-to-be, so take your time with this album and you will definitely be rewarded. Now, the upcoming US tour looks even more tempting.

PS: Hansi is doing some guest singing in this album but honestly, I wouldn’t know that if I hadn’t read about it.

9/10


Links:

www.IcedEarth.Com
www.FaceBook.Com/OfficialIcedEarth


Tracklist:

01. Plagues Of Babylon
02. Democide
03. The Culling
04. Among The Living Dead
05. Resistance
06. The End?
07. If I Could See You
08. Cthulhu
09. Peacemaker
10. Parasite
11. Spirit Of The Times
12. Highwayman
12. Outro


Lineup:

Jon Schaffer - Guitar, Vocals
Troy Seele - Guitar
Stu Block - Vocals
Luke Appleton - Bass