Review Summary: The addition of another new vocalist has inspired Jon Schaffer and Co. to make an album that isn't entirely predictable, bland and full of failed conceptual baggage.
Let me be totally honest – I haven’t bothered listening to an entire Iced Earth album since Something Wicked
was released in 1998. After the release of Burnt Offerings
there simply wasn’t a reason to keep purchasing watered-down versions of the same album. The Dark Saga
and Something Wicked
managed to at least be valid additions to the Iced Earth discography due to their subtle variations on the Jon Schaffer formula, but by the time Horror Show
was released the formula was stale even with minor tweaking. Jon seemed to notice this too, but his attempts to fix the problem with grandiose concept albums only made things worse. It seemed that his focus was more on the overarching storylines and musical flourishes than on the core power/thrash delivery – an issue that Matt Barlow’s eventual return couldn’t even fix. So, if Matt Barlow couldn’t save the band’s tepid musical endeavors, what were the chances that the vocalist from Into Eternity
could do much better? If the re-recording of Dante’s Inferno
was any indication, the answer seemed to be that there wasn’t a chance in hell.
If anything, the new vocalist’s style seemed to be the final piece of the puzzle in Jon’s quest to deliver the most overblown, generic power cheese that he could. The dude from Into Eternity’s delivery on that song was overdone and a poor imitation of the original track, and it seemed to be the final nail in the coffin. The opening moments of Dystopia
’s lead track seemed to confirm that the band had lost their way and that we were in for another round of bland, lethargic power/thrash tracks. It begins with the kind of ‘grandiose’ (but not really) dual guitar harmony that the previous albums shat out at will, but then suddenly there’s a shrieking black metal growl and a galloping power metal riff (you know the one, it’s on every Iced Earth release). From there the new vocalist shows off his versatility by doing his best Matt Barlow impression interspersed with some Halford-esqe screeching. This is accompanied by some decent melodies and a relatively catchy chorus, and it turns out to be a pretty good track. As a whole, Dystopia
seems to borrow liberally from the thrashy power metal of Something Wicked
, but with a very sterile/controlled mainstream angle reminiscent of The Dark Saga
, and it works. For every high speed assault such as “Boiling Point” there is a more restrained song like “Anthem” with its huge Def Leppard
-ish chorus. The mixture of tempos and moods do a pretty good job of giving the album a more dynamic feeling, and regardless of feel, they almost all feature powerful melodies and memorable choruses. Of course there are also a few power ballads scattered throughout the album, but whether anyone appreciates them or not will largely rely on how they’ve felt about them in the past because they’re no different.
There are probably a lot of people out there that gave up on the band somewhere during the late nineties, but Iced Earth have finally given fans something to be excited about. While Dystopia
isn’t the unrelenting power thrash of Burnt Offerings
, it is still an album that isn’t scared to bust through with high speed riffs, strong choruses and powerful vocals. The addition of Into Eternity’s vocalist has only benefitted the band as he is easily the most versatile vocalist in Iced Earth’s history. Also, the concept of this particular album benefits from the fact that ‘who gives a shit’? Seriously, it doesn’t hinder the music or guide it down bland, contrived paths, but it can still be used as the scapegoat whenever the lyrics get to be a little too stupid for their own good (as they are apt to do on any Iced Earth album) and that’s about the best we could ever ask from Jon Schaffer and his crew of hired hands.