Album review: ICED EARTH – Plagues Of Babylon

Century Media – Out Now.

Three years ago a rebirth of sorts took place in the camp of Iced Earth, one helped by the bringing into the fold of a very charismatic front man named Stu Block – a young singer whose personal contribution and impressive vocal range was integral to making “Dystopia” one of the best albums for 2011.

Following an extensive touring schedule which lasted the best part of one and a half years, Jon Schaffer, having meanwhile welcomed Jon Dette (ex-Heathen, ex-Testament, ex-Anthrax) to the role of drummer, decided to repeat  said experiment and in the process brought to life his eleventh studio album under the Iced Earth moniker – a thirteen track release entitled “Plagues Of Babylon”.

“Dystopia” was an exceptional release in so many different ways so creating an album capable of outshining it was always going to be a very difficult task, even for a man of Schaffer’s skill and experience. So, with that in mind, how well did “Plagues Of Babylon” fare in comparison?

Well, Iced Earth’s latest studio album finds the band still very much focused, in rude compositional health and determined to keep their rebirth at a healthy momentum, a goal achieved hands down.

It is true, however, that in his attempt to keep the levels of quality intact and make “Plagues Of Babylon” a worthy successor to “Dystopia”, Schaffer’s material has lost some of the spontaneity and raw passion that characterised his first collaboration with Stu Block. In plain words? “Plagues Of Babylon” is a pretty impressive studio album that lacks that little extra ‘oomph’ needed in order to promote it into the major league.

I do not mean to diminish or undermine the value of any of the compositions on offer, however, it is fair to say that the most impressive of these can be found in the first half of the album. Opener “Plagues Of Babylon” is based on a classic mid-tempo Thrash riff which assists Stu Block to showcase his immense vocal talents, while “Democide” is an Iron Maiden influenced piece which is reminiscent of the style used by the band in the early stages of their career.

Slower in tempo but graced by a massive Metallica style riff, “The Culling” is the first real highlight of the album and fifteen or so minutes later, the same quality standards are again achieved in the atmospheric opus “The End?” – a song filled with clever bass lines and featuring perhaps the catchiest sing-along tune of the whole album.

The second half of the album features good quality but slightly more predictable tunes, starting with “If I Could See You” – a power ballad in the style of the fan-favourite “I Died For Your”.

The six minute “Cthuhlu” stands out as another melody-driven dark opus while the triumvirate “Peacemaker”/ “Parasite” / “Spirit Of The Times” offers entertainment in simplicity.

“Highwayman” is an interesting but not too impressive attempt to infuse Metal into a 70s chart-topping Rock tune, while a seemingly unnecessary twenty four second outro offers proof that Iced Earth, anno 2014, is a group of highly skilled musicians who truly enjoy writing quality music together.

If the question you’re looking to find an answer for is whether “Plagues of Babylon” is a successful album for Iced Earth, then the answer is definitely yes.

Following the massive triumph achieved with the release of “Dystopia”, what any logical band would aim for would be to consolidate its power before making the next massive step in their career and “Plagues Of Babylon” has achieved exactly that for Jon Schaffer and Co.

The first half of the year will find the band perform tunes from their latest album all around the world, so go buy yourselves a ticket and find out how good these tunes sound next to the band’s many classics.

John Stefanis

Rating: **** (4.0/5.0)

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