Review Summary: Old school, high quality Iced Earth; Something wicked this way comes, again.
Since 1999’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, Iced Earth went through several turbulences and a certain drop in form. In order to make them as big a name as he could, Jon Schaffer would recruit heavy metal stars such as Steve Di Giorgio, Death’s Richard Christy and the very same man who replaced Rob Halford in Judas Priest, Tim “Ripper” Owens, he would even bring back Mathew Barlow when the latter had reached legendary status among Iced Earth’s fans; he gradually abandoned his early “Iron Maiden meets Metallica” blend with the trademark galloping riffs and the songs of epic proportions and tried to create music that would be able to look his close friends’ Blind Guardian’s Nightfall in Middle Earth in the eyes; Iced Earth’s records balanced between good and average (with the exception of Glorious Burden-this one was excellent), but The Crucible of Man was the last straw. Even the best players in the world can’t form a winning team, if the spark isn’t there anymore.
With Dystopia he managed to bring back that spark and release the record he was expected to since 1999. In order to achieve that, he made quite a few changes; Stu Block replaced Barlow, and although their styles aren’t too different, Stu has this eagerness to prove that even if he isn’t the best, he is the most suitable for the position of Iced Earth’s vocalist. Schaffer turned his eyes towards the past, rediscovering the fast paced songs, the staccato riffs and the catchy choruses that wouldn’t be buried under layers and layers of vocal lines but would overwhelm you with their natural power instead.
Indeed, from the opening title-track, to the furious Boiling Point, to Days of Rage (the new Violate), Schaffer makes it clear that the recent anthemic, mid tempo Iced Earth is gone for good and it’s been replaced by a tight, energetic band that loves American thrash/power metal as much as it loves Iron Maiden’s melodic patterns. And if quasi-ballads Anguish of Youth and End of Innocence are as close to Watching over Me and I Died for You as possible, there are tracks such as the amazing Dark City, Equilibrium and Tragedy and Triumph, where Iced Earth honor even their Night of the Stormrider days, featuring skillful rhythm guitars and melodic instrumental passages. On the other hand, Anthem is the only song reminiscent of their latter days, with its glorious, multi-layered chorus and the fact that it is great only goes to show you that good measuring is the key to any success. Finally, V, which includes a fist pumping, epic refrain, is one of the best songs here. Dystopia is an incredible comeback, not only because through it Iced Earth re-approach their early style but mostly because they re-approach their early quality.
Iced Earth’s latest album confirms that they are still alive, only now they have to prove that they are not irrelevant to today’s metal scene, which is going to be hard. What they do isn’t actually dated (after all many modern major bands still try to combine Metallica’s thrash with Iron Maiden’s melody-something Iced Earth first did in 1991) but now they are a band that counts more than 20 years in discography, and even though Block’s and Schaffer’s passionate performances tell us otherwise, freshness is not their strongest weapon. First things first though, they have to reconnect with their fan base before anything else, and Dystopia is more than a step in the right direction.
I know what you're saying, I was surprised I liked that too, at least in the beginning I thought it was pure nostalgia. But after having it for days in the CD-player and replaying it every now and then with the same excitement, I' m now sure that this is more than a guilty pleasure to me! I feel that anyone who liked Something Wicked and Dark Saga will find this interesting.
Saw this band at Bloodstock earlier this year, and they played at least three songs from Dystopia (The title track, 'V' and 'Days of Rage') from which I can remember, and they sounded pretty solid. I've listened to the album since and I can remember it sounding pretty tight and energetic as well. Great review too.
Dark Saga was the first one I heard and I was blown off. It was very powerful and direct. Burnt Offerings is still my favorite as well, but I think both albums are awesome, probably the best Iced Earth albums
I understand you man. In fact I'm glad to see IE briging some speed and thrash again, instead of that Something Wicked snoozefest that not even Barlow's return managed to make it intresting. But still, imo there's still something lacking on new Iced Earth, and it's not the vocals.
Night of the Stormrider can turn you into a fanboy, because it has all the elements that made them stand out (IMPOSSIBLE rhythm guitars, epic songs with long instrumental parts and dual guitars-i.e. the now trademark blend of Maiden and Metallica) except for the songwriting; there are one or two songs that are really weary, towards the middle. Other than that Stormrider, Angels' Holocaust, Pure Evil and Travel in Stygian are all incredible