Iced Earth - Dystopia

Century Media
Produced by Jim Morris & Jon Schaffer

It's fair to say Iced Earth fans are nervous ahead of the band's tenth original studio album. It was just when they thought the band had achieved a second period of stability with favoured vocalist Matthew Barlow that he announced his second departure from the band.

Before their final tour with Barlow had even begun founder and guitarist Jon Schaffer announced his replacement, Into Eternity singer Stu Block. Of course every Iced Earth fan not familiar with Into Eternity immediately hit YouTube to find out what he sounds like, and to say the prevailing reaction was one of caution would be an understatement. On the evidence of his work with that band it's certainly difficult to hear exactly how he'd fit in with the established Iced Earth sound.

The question really came down to would he change, or would they change? The answer is the former. No one, Into Eternity fan or not, has heard Stu Block sing like this before. The band released a free download of Dante's Inferno, the 17-minute epic which closed 1995's Burnt Offerings and will form the centre-piece for the setlist on the 2011/12 world tour, re-recorded with Block on vocals, to demonstrate his capabilities to the patient faithful. The reaction was nearly unanimously positive and now anticipation for new album is higher than ever.

Dystopia is a far more coherent, less convoluted album than either of the previous two. Although not a concept album in the story-telling sense of those two (Framing Armageddon and The Crucible of Man), the unifying theme of the title runs through all of the songs. But what really makes the difference is the band's intention to create an album focused primarily on straight-ahead, full-throttle metal songs without the overblown orchestration of some of their previous, grander work.

The resulting songs bring back the kinds of hooks prevalent on 2004's The Glorious Burden, with the aggression of older work like Something Wicked This Way Comes and Burnt Offerings. Everything here is hard and heavy, benefitting from a crisp of production and a punchier guitar tone, and barely a track goes by without a catchy chorus (the most immediate probably being Anthem, End of Innocence and Anguish of Youth). Indeed any song here could be dropped into the live set and prove a winner, with opening brace Dystopia and Anthem highly likely to form the start of the new shows.

Stylistically of course the Iced Earth trademarks in place, and Block proves he can produce the full range of vocals required, from Ripper-esque wails, to very occasional death metal growls, and the particularly the mid-range aggressive kind of voice Barlow stamped on the band's sound. Tracks like Dystopia, Boiling Point and Equilibrium carry musical motifs which will be very familiar to Iced Earth fans, this time forming the basis of better songs than last time.

There are also a couple of differences. These mostly come in the shape of closer Tragedy And Triumph, which is a much more upbeat sound for IE with positive lyrics conveying a feeling of victory, and sombre (but still heavy) lament End of Innocence, which entirely drops the aggressive vocals for an even, melodic approach.

Dystopia is probably the most important album Iced Earth have had to make for at least 10 years. A failure at this point could have been a real death knoll for the band, but it is far from that. Easily the best album they've made since The Glorious Burden, or for some fans since The Horrow Show, it is a resounding triumph. The band promise a lot of songs, at least half the album, will feature in the new live set alongside deep cuts from the back catalogue, so the extensive world tour set to take place over the coming year will be one not to miss.

“ far more coherent, less convoluted ”

Tracklist: Dystopia / Anthem / Boiling Point / Anguish of Youth / V / Dark City / Equilibrium / Days of Rage / End of Innocence / Tragedy And Triumph

Photo(s): Justin Borucki | www.justinborucki.com

Written by Andy Lye
More: 2011, Albums, Heavy Metal,

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