ICED EARTH – “DYSTOPIA”
CENTURY MEDIA (2011)
Iced Earth is an outfit which, simply put, thrives when under pressure and which has truly proven its endurance and resilience throughout its twenty one year history. Having said that, though, any fan of the Power/Thrash Metal quintet would be totally justified in feeling somewhat uncertain over the band’s future following a two year period which found leader and axeman-extraordinaire Jon Schaffer losing three members of his family followed by the departure of the long-standing and much-loved iconic front man Matt Barlow.
What did Jon do once the storm had finally calmed down and the whole situation was sufficiently rationalised? He began working on new ideas while looking for a new front man. Luckily for both himself and us, it was not long before the gods threw one Stu Block, singer of the Canadian progressive outfit Into Eternity, in his path with the help of whom he recorded “Dystopia” – Iced Earth’s tenth studio album and, in my humble opinion, one of the band’s strongest releases in the last decade, if not in the band’s whole career!
What is it that makes “Dystopia” worthy of such an accolade? Well, let’s begin by Stu Block’s overall vocal contribution. The guy has a very wide and truly impressive vocal range which enables him to bring out the same depth and emotion that Matt Barlow did in his legendary mid-range performances while reaching high-pitch notes similar to those John Greely did in the classic opus “Night Of The Stormrider”!
In addition to that, the ten compositions on offer are a balanced combination of Power/Thrash Metal shredders and anthemic power ballads, all of which being fairly straight forward and ‘honest’ in nature, and all featuring truly astounding catchy choruses/refrains which no audience in the world will be able to resist singing along to when performed in a live environment!
I am sure that what you are thinking right now is “wait a minute; that’s an approach that Iced Earth have been following throughout their career – what is it that makes things so special this time round”? Simply put, the band sounds really inspired and motivated, something that, let’s be honest here, has not been the case for quite a long time now. End result? An album that both band and fans will be truly proud of!
I still remember the moment I was first ‘grabbed’ by the ruthless up-tempo riffs and catchy choral melodies of the opening same-titled composition “Dystopia” – a statement of intent on the part of the band which still brings goosebumps every time I listen to it! Ferocious speed, highly accurate timing of the riffs on offer and a galloping rhythm – much different to the epic sounding opening theme and Iron Maiden influenced melodies of the emotional mid-tempo opus “Anthem”, which just so happens to be one of my favourite tracks of the album!
“Boiling Point” is a up-tempo riff orientated theme which provides Stu with Block with enough space to test these impressive vocal chords of his while “Anguish Of Your” is a classic Iced Earth power ballad that fans of the band are made to expect in every new release. If, when in the presence of the rhythmical beast that listens to the name “V”, you don’t find yourself singing along to its impressive refrain then there’s something definitely wrong with you, but, most importantly, you will definitely need to seek for medical advice if the dynamic riffs and Iron Maiden influenced twin guitar melodies of “Dark City” leave you completely unmoved. “Equilibrium” is another straight forward riff-orientated composition which will prepare you for the two minute onslaught that listens to the name “Days Of Rage” a track that, with slightly more brutal vocals and more detuned guitars, could easily have been featured in a Sepultura release.
“End Of Innocence” is the album’s second power ballad, as impressive as its predecessor, while “Tragedy And Triumph” finds Iced Earth closing their tenth studio release with a mighty ‘bang’ as its galloping riffs and sing-along band backing vocal refrain are an absolute joy to listen to.
I am so happy that I have decided to have taken on the task of writing a review for “Dystopia” – and album which totally surprised me with its intimacy, honesty and overall quality! It is the first time after the release of my personal favourite “Night Of The Stormrider” (1991/2) that I am so excited over an Iced Earth release – a release that I simply cannot stop listening to! Is this a new era for Iced Earth? Joh Schaffer certainly seems to think so as, during a recent interview I did with him, he did stress that a) “Dystopia” was the result of a joint effort between him and Stu and, most importantly, b) this is to be the first of hopefully many albums to come as a result of such an impressive partnership. I, for one, hope that this will indeed proven to be the case. Don’t be surprised if this album is one day recognised as a classic!
Rating: ***** (5.0/5.0)
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