With all of those death metal bands lurking around the swamps of Florida (Obituary, Deicide, Morbid Angel, Death, among others) sometimes it can be easy to forget about Iced Earth.
Their newest album is called The Plagues of Babylon.
The band’s “Something Wicked” concept is picked up for the first six songs of the album, concluding with one of the absolute highlights “The End?”. For the second half of the album, we are left with songs that are meant to stand alone. Thematically, it would have made more sense for this to be divided into two EPs, but if you aren’t one to get hung up on lyrics or overarching narratives, it’s really not a noticeable point. Besides, having it as one full-length certainly makes it more marketable.
“If I could See You Now” is a sing-along keeper while “Democide” is a shot of adrenaline. Come to think of it, the first half of the album is extremely varied in terms of tempo and feel while retaining the Iced Earth sound we have become familiar with.
On the other hand, this is a front-loaded affair. Starting with “Peacemaker”, a halfway-decent track that reveals a bit of an outlaw country fascination, the pace slows way down and things never truly right themselves again. A cover of the song “Highwayman” featuring guest vocals from Michael Poulsen (Volbeat), Russell Allen (Symphony X) and Hansi Kurch (Blind Guardian) is capably done and a fine collection of talent, but it still misses a chance to end things on a truly memorable note. The outro is an absolute waste of studio noise that would have been better left off.
The theme of member turnover continues for this album as a new rhythm section is employed (Luke Appleton on bass and Raphael Saini on drums). They hold up their end of the bargain quite nicely. Lead guitarist Troy Seele remains on board and the continuity helps as there are some fantastic solos throughout.
This album isn’t quite the vocal showcase for singer Stu Block that Dystopia was. For most of the songs, he sticks to his lower register which isn’t far off from his predecessor (and who many feel to be the band’s definitive singer) Matt Barlow. Block has shown himself to be capable of approaching the range of one-time contributor Ripper Owens, but he largely relegates this vocal approach to layering it into some of his background work and only occasionally bringing it to the forefront.
It’s also worth noting that this album sounds a little more raw than Dystopia so you’ll either praise the slightly less processed sound or will be hoping for a little more polish.
The Plagues of Babylon is fine album from the long-running Iced Earth. It would have been a stronger collection of songs it if was only made up of the first 8 songs which would have been a respectable, nearly fat-free 45 minutes.
As it stands, the decision to let some different influences come to light will test some longtime fans, leaving them to decide for themselves whether this is a good album or a great one.
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When J.J. Ellis isn’t writing as the Allentown DVD Examiner, his Decent Exposure Radio can be heard on the air every Friday night from 10:30 to midnight (EST) on WXLV 90.3 FM or wxlvradio.com!