Album Review: Iced Earth – Plagues Of Babylon

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Despite being active since 1985, Iced Earth are still regarded by many as a bit of a cult band. Granted if that is true it would be a pretty huge cult. The band are now on the eve of releasing their eleventh studio album, Plagues Of Babylon. With a period of increased activity, could this be the album to finally kick them up to the next level?

Compared to their last album, Dystopia, there’s definitely a feeling that this is more “epic,” longer tracks with a variety of moods hark back to some of the classic Iced Earth moments.

The opening track, Plagues of Babylon is a slightly odd choice. Compared to the energetic Democide, Plagues is a much slower, gloomier affair. However, the first half of this album is a story, and you can’t go putting chapter two before chapter one. The pattern repeats itself with The Culling, a slower track before moving on to the quicker Among The Living Dead. This slow/fast/slow/fast is an excellent way of breaking up a long album instead of a constant metal pummel.

Plagues Of Babylon comes in at over 60 minutes, so a variety of speeds and moods is vital to keep the listener interested. This doesn’t appear to be a problem. With Block’s vocal style, they can go from a crushing low metal sound such as Democide, to the gentler and higher If I Could See You seamlessly. The opening story in contrast to the standalone tracks is also a good way to split up the album, even without a break there’s an obvious sense of change.

Though sticking to the more modern Iced Earth formula, the additions of Appleton and Dette on bass and drums have brought a new spark on this recording. There’s something to be said for musicians coming and going, there’s no time to stagnate, fresh ideas are being explored all the time.

Jon Schaffer is as ever the driving force behind everything. From fast to slow, the riffs on this album are more than just powerful. Combined with Stu Block equally powerful vocals, they have created a force to be reckoned with.

This is a lineup I really hope sticks. Although I’ve said that with most Iced Earth line-ups since I discovered the band, I really mean it this time. Block has the best elements of his predecessors, from his lows to his highs, but has his own unique sound. This both means he can deliver the classic songs live and in this new album, he can give the fans something familiar so they know it’s Iced Earth, but also gives them something new.

Cthulhu, for my money, earns the song of the album award. It has got the best parts of the album all wrapped in one, there are ballady elements, riffs heavy as Cthulhu’s nutsack, speed changes and Block gets to take a short trip around his singing styles to create one hell of a song.

Plagues Of Babylon is one of the strongest Iced Earth releases in recent memory and though the usual comment wars will rage on Youtube over vocalists, I’d be fairly confident in saying this will go down well with the fans.

4/5

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(I need to start an out of 10 system, or review terrible albums so I can break out of this 4/5 pattern!)

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