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Iced Earth - Plagues Of Babylon

Iced Earth
Plagues Of Babylon
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein / Damian J. Cousins / Angela "The Hunter" at 26 December 2013, 11:10 PM

STEINMETAL (8/10)

The plague is on, it has been there for many years, taking lives, eating through the souls of those lost and wondering, succumbing them into fallacy, misconception of life as they are, turning them into demonic beings, beasts of men. So those that are still human remain with enemies on every corner, meat grinding zombies that nothing will stand in their path to squander what is left of humanity by spreading the despicability of the wicked. Continuing the sort of saga of the Wicked, trailing back to their spectacular 1998’s album, “Something Wicked This Way Comes”, the American Heavy / Power Metal giants ICED EARTH aspired to possibly put an end to a story that is rather hard to seal and it probably would never end. Schaffer and Co. dished their new “Plagues Of Babylon”, via Century Media, a startling reflection of society’s image after being deformed and the thriving struggle to keep the disease for incessantly spreading. Still vigorous, grandiloquently fused with profound US Heavy Metal aggressiveness, ICED EARTH didn’t lose their touch with their perspective of Metal and its epic proportions.

For the most part, after squeezing this album dry, it felt somewhat like the previous “Dystopia” when it comes to the music in question. ICED EARTH clung tightly to manifesting anthem like tunes, catchy choruses of a mighty magnitude and will make you sail away in your mind into a vast horizon. Don’t take it to be a dream state, as this ride through the album is fairly heavy and thick skinned with its intensity, as ICED EARTH have always been known to furnish, but these hooking, even dramatic, moments have their effect. ICED EARTH’s British, or better mentioned IRON MAIDENish, melodic Metal direction is also quite feasible and no less than majestic, you have to admire the guitar harmonies alongside the crushing rhythm guitar riffery that is the band’s traditional totem (and probably the first thing that captivated me about them from their debut self-titled album and later on to “Dark Saga”). “The Culling“ and “Cthulhu” are no less than the enchanting previous epic psalm “Anthem” of the previous album, casting the magic of the mixture of melodic riffing with a backup of power chords  playing, stellar choral vocals and tightened measured tempo rhythm section. It sounds so simple and undemanding, yet it is all about ability and the knowledge to lay in those lines to become aligned perfectly. “If I Could See You”, for me at least, is a stouter version of “I Died For You” or “Watching Over Me”. ICED EARTH proved with these emotive based tunes, that there is no need to compose an actual power ballad to impulse one’s sympathy, all it takes are simple elements of old that will bite you hard and grab you where you stand. Furthermore, and it is widely proven throughout the songs, I believe that Stu Block, his second album with the band, made his posture stronger with his performance on this one, still sounding like Barlow, yet showing plenty of emotion and impressive vocalic skills that should be reckoned with.

During the course of the album there is a wonderful guest performance by Hansi Kurch of BLIND GUARDIAN (also once a colleague of Schaffer on DEMONS AND WIZARDS). Frankly, can’t really say that I too much noticed the guy’s performance, give or take “Among the Living Dead” where he has a rather larger role. I honestly think that Block could have taken care of the entire lines in the studio without Kurch’s involvement as he rather dominant with his voice. In addition there is the freewheeling “Highwayman” that came as a nice supplement to the release, thought it to be a bonus of some sort at first. Michael Poulsen (VOLBEAT) and Russell Allen (SYMPHONY X / ADRENALINE MOB) pitched in for their vocal demonstrations, pretty decent track, a bit on the verge of Hard Rock but with a nice feel of dirty rhythm based classic Metal with an inspiring chorus. Not exactly an exaltation but also didn’t lower the album’s ranking even for a bit. In a nutshell, this is an exciting release, theatrical, somewhat mythical, heavy as ICED EARTH can be but also harmonic, with a clear message about the world we live in. Highly recommended release folks, don’t let this one slip your fingers.

DAMIAN J. COUSINS (8/10)

Some of you may think I’m crazy, but I was never really a big ICED EARTH fan. I thought the music was top-notch, but the vocals always killed it for me. And while they’ve had a more than capable who’s who of singers in the band, the vocals always seemed somewhat out of place, at least to me. Why that is I don’t know, but something was just off. Until Stu Block. Him I liked right away, and 2011’s “Dystopia” was a very good record in my opinion. So with that in mind I was more than a bit curious as to what ICED EARTH could accomplish with him behind the mic for round two. And after my third listen, I can safely say that this new album, “Plagues of Babylon”, is every bit as good as its predecessor.

The title track “Plagues of Babylon” is the perfect way to open things up, Jon Schaffer and Troy Steele’s guitars setting the fire that burns white-hot for nearly eight minutes. Then “Democide” takes us on a galloping ride, Block’s voice barking out lyrics with fierce abandon as drummer Raphael Saini and bassist Luke Appleton provided the rumble upon which the dueling guitar leads soar. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the opening salvo on the upcoming tour, because these songs are made for it. I wasn’t sure where “The Culling” was going at first listen, but this one wound up growing on me by the next spin of the disc. First single “Among the Living Dead” featuring guest vocals from Hansi Kürsch (BLIND GUARDIAN) is one of those tunes that clearly means business and the guitar runs late in it help to make it a sure-fire winner.

If it’s possible, Stu Block actually sings with more authority on this album. You can tell he’s grown a lot more comfortable, not that he hasn’t before, but he has definitely come into his own, and the results speak for themselves. “Resistance” is a perfect example of this, and he takes the mic with authority, especially late in the song. Another winner shows up in the form of “The End”, a seven-minute epic that’s almost like IRON MAIDEN on steroids. It’s extremely well-written, with good pacing and a great riff throughout. I can’t even do the solo justice; let’s just say it’s awesome and call it a day. Now, on “If I Could See You Now” and “Spirit of the Times” you can tell Block’s clean, ballad voice is even stronger than on “Dystopia” and these two songs are a great way to shake things up a bit. On “Cthulhu” the soft intro totally belies the ferocity of what’s to come, and was another favorite for me.

Really the only songs I wasn’t wild about were “Peacemaker” and “Parasite”; they were good, just not great. The album ends with a star-studded cover of “The Highwayman” featuring Schaffer, Russell Allen (SYMPHONY X, ADRENALINE MOB), Block, and Michael Poulsen (VOLBEAT) singing in that order, each of them taking a verse, and it’s a fucking great version, I loved it! All told, “Plagues of Babylon” is the perfect follow-up to “Dystopia”, and I think that ICED EARTH fans are going to go absolutely mental for this record. I’m really impressed and I’m not a die-hard, so there you go. I’m also pretty anxious to hear these songs live in Dallas come April, too.

ANGELA “THE HUNTER” (9/10)

ICED EARTH is no stranger to controversy. Jon Schaffer has a well-deserved reputation of pushing the boundaries of politics, religion, and anything else that gets a rise out of the establishment. That indomitable spirit of rebellion courses through the veins of each and every Metalhead and can bring about unity, or division. The message from Iced Earth’s music is clear; together we stand, divided we fall and resonates through their latest offering, “Plagues Of Babylon”.

Opening with the title track, “Plagues Of Babylon” paints a horrific picture of mankind succumbing to various diseases unleased by the ruling class in order to subdue the masses and have complete dominion over the planet and her resources. Yet the message of hope through unity is woven into each song balancing out the fatalistic prophecy. While maintaining the same concepts and themes as “Dystopia”, “Plagues Of Babylon” brings a much darker and voracious tone to the table. Stu’s voice is as wicked and hungry as ever, especially on “Democide” and “The Culling”, yet still retains its soulful, bluesy roots that flourish on “If I Could See You Now”, “The End”, and “Cthulhu”. Jon and Troy’s guitar work is fluid and ever changing, offering a wide variety of high energy riff work punctuated with vivid leads and epic solos. “Resistance” and “Peacemaker” are great examples of the diversity woven into the entire album.

Towards the end of our journey we are treated with “Spirit Of The Times”, a SONS OF LIBERTY song that received a bit of an overhaul and features Stu on vocals, and “Highwayman”, a remake of the Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson song (if you don’t know who Willie, Johnny ,Waylon, or Kris are do yourself a favor and look them up…). Both songs retained the passion that created them but were given the ICED EARTH touch which made them that much more powerful in spirit and message. The unsung heroes on “Plagues Of Babylon”, though, are the drums and bass work. Luke’s bass work has added a new level depth and precision to not only this release, but to ICED EARTH in general, which says a lot. Paired with solid drum work, the rhythm section’s drive and energy helped make this album what it is, another brilliant piece of metal music that will make history. For a rating I give “Plagues Of Babylon” 9 out of 10. As always, stay well and live free my friends!

4 Star Rating

Tracklist:
1. Plagues Of Babylon
2. Democide
3. The Culling
4. Among the Living Dead
5. Resistance
6. The End?
7. If I Could See You
8. Cthulhu
9. Peacemaker
10. Parasite
11. Spirit of the Times
12. Highwayman
13. Outro
Lineup:
Jon Schaffer – Guitars / Vocals
Troy Seele – Lead Guitars
Stu Block – Vocals
Luke Appleton – Bass
Raphael Saini - Drums

Guests:
Michael Poulsen - Vocals (“Highwayman”)
Russell Allen - Vocals (“Highwayman”)
Hansi Kürsch - Vocals (“Plagues Of Babylon”, “Democide”, “Among the Living Dead”, “Resistance”, “If I Could See You”)
Record Label: Century Media
     


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