Review Summary: A glass of fresh ice but nothing good to fill it with.
It’s remarkable that almost thirty years after Iced Earth
guitarist John Schaffer founded the band, he’s had just as many musicians fill each of the other instrumental roles. The reason why this is so noteworthy is due to the fact that the band’s newest album, Plagues of Babylon
, sounds more like a group of five tired and uninspired veterans rather than a seasoned veteran inspired by new members and fresh ideas. For what could have been a bold statement from an established metal band is instead a somewhat passable example of genre blueprints.
None of this is meant to insinuate that Schaffer has enlisted bad musicians; the truth is quite the contrary. Iced Earth
is staffed with technically capable members (particularly lead vocalist Stu Block) who all play their respective instruments well. Where the problem lies is with the band’s lack of engaging songwriting. Sure, songs such as “The Culling” and “Cthulhu” have triumphant choruses that will cause audiences to shout along with Block when the band embarks on an album release tour. But quite frankly, very few, if any, of these tracks sounds like a staple song that will make it onto future set lists.
The primary cause of this is a lack of quality composition; not a single riff truly sticks out nor serves a purpose other than giving the verses structure. Songs like “Resistance” demonstrate this perfectly, as a lazily basic riff does little more than burn run time before the chorus kicks in. And while the choruses are certainly melodic and distinct, they lack any extraordinary features and ultimately pale in comparison to past entries into the power metal and heavy metal genres. The nagging feeling of classic epics drags the guitars and vocals down no matter how high they attempt to soar.
However, no genre is more misrepresented than thrash metal. In revisiting the aforementioned lack of valuable riffs, the nigh abandonment of any true bite causes Plagues of Babylon
to feel atonally melodic. While the record doesn’t necessarily require thrash influence, it would behoove of Iced Earth
to avoid any reference of the genre if they don’t wish to properly incorporate it. “Democide” opens with a fairly promising thrash theme, but the song takes too long to commence and ultimately leaves the idea undeveloped. Various other moments see fleeting moments of thrash influence that similarly taper off before they achieve any sort of maturation.
The album reaches its ultimate demise with the final two tracks and their severely poor attempt at closing out the album. Schaffer for some reason takes up lead vocal duties for the penultimate track “Highwayman,” yet the absence of Block is much less bothersome than the aged rock sound that the song offers. Ending the album with an almost hair metal level track is tolerable in comparison to the twenty-five second outro however, which is comprised of drunken giggling and a declaration of “Argh! *** your couch! *** your couch mother***ers! Argh!” For a band that is known for well written and detailed lyrical concepts, this decision is akin to replacing the last page of a Shakespeare play with an ad for PBR.
Yet, in a way, it is refreshing to hear something surprising after an hour of largely unmoving music. While long time Iced Earth
fans might find Plagues of Babylon
enjoyable, it seems that Dystopia
is the stronger entry from the Block era of the band thus far. Hopefully Schaffer will decide not to play it as safe on album twelve and prove that not all veteran bands have such a lop-sided discography.