Posts Tagged ‘ Stu Block ’

Album of the Week 23-2017: Iced Earth – Incorruptible

Lately, it seems like Iced Earth has been trying to make up for the bombast that characterized their sound during the first decade of this century by proving they are still first and foremost a heavy metal band. ‘Incorruptible’ follows this same general idea, as the guitars are front and center on the record. Sometimes it’s band leader Jon Schaffer’s instantly recognizable riff work, sometimes it’s the triumphant guitar harmonies reminiscent of traditional metal acts like Iron Maiden, but the guitars are always the defining factors of the songs. Combined with the ballsy production, this makes ‘Incorruptible’ one of Iced Earth’s more powerful releases.

The album’s direct predecessor ‘Plagues Of Babylon’ was also relatively guitar-oriented, but that album’s somewhat bland production and samey song ideas made it fall short of their excellent 2011 comeback record ‘Dystopia’. Schaffer made sure that the songs stand out more this time around by switching up atmospheres and melodies without losing track of the powerful foundation of the band. It helps that he has the amazing pipes of Stu Block at his disposal, as Block is perfectly capable of carrying out an anthemic chorus or a highly emotional passage without making it sound artificial.

Ironically, one of the highlights on ‘Incorruptible’ doesn’t even feature Block at all; it’s been a while since Iced Earth attempted an instrumental that wasn’t an intro or interlude, but ‘Ghost Dance (Awaken The Ancestors)’ is a well-constructed track which lets its triumphant twin guitar melodies tell the story instead of the lyrics. That does not mean there aren’t any stories here. In fact, Schaffer’s fascination with American history prompted him to write yet another epic – ‘Clear The Way (December 13th, 1862)’ – this time about the Battle of Fredericksburg. Interestingly, even on this track, the guitars don’t yield for bombastic elements. There’s a few subtle keyboard flourishes, but it’s a riff-driven epic by nature.

While most of ‘Incorruptible’ feels pleasantly familiar, the best moments of the record show the band taking the slightest detour from their normal sound. ‘Brothers’ initially sounds like one of the band’s trademark power ballads, but quickly develops into a highly melodic heavy metal track with an amazing guitar solo by newcomer Jake Dreyer, while the following ‘Defiance’ does an amazing job alternating an angry, crushing verse with a refreshing melancholic chorus. ‘The Relic (Part One)’ has a brooding atmosphere, while the riff work is simple, yet brutally effective, which can also be said about Dreyer’s sparse, but amazing lead work. ‘The Veil’ has an amazing build-up and as a result, it is one of the band’s better power ballads yet.

Of course, that doesn’t meant that typical Iced Earth tracks like ‘Great Heathen Army’, ‘Black Flag’ and the dark, aggressive ‘Seven Headed Whore’ aren’t worth your attention. Those who have followed the band for a long time will definitely like those tracks, but the rest of the album might just convince a few people who have given up on the band around the turn of the century. ‘Incorruptible’ sounds like a deliberate attempt to confirm Iced Earth’s status as the kings of American heavy metal. As fas as I’m concerned, that’s the best decision they could have made at this point in their career.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Relic (Part One)’, ‘Defiance’, ‘Ghost Dance (Awaken The Ancestors)’


Album of the Week 09-2013: Iced Earth – Dystopia

When yours truly was 13 years old, he worshipped Jon Schaffer and Iced Earth’s ‘Alive In Athens’ was his gospel. But new Iced Earth albums have been somewhat of a bittersweet experience for me in the past decade. After a few years with Tim Owens, a good singer, but not the right man for the job, the return and subsequent second departure of ultimate Iced Earth singer Matthew Barlow and a couple of albums that seemed to have a stronger focus on bombast than coherent songwriting, ‘Dystopia’ is the first fantastic Iced Earth album since 2001’s ‘Horror Show’. A new masterpiece in American Power Metal.

At the microphone, there is “new kid” Stu Block, formerly of Canadian Prog Metallers Into Eternity. Although I was a bit wary at first, thinking his voice would be too “light” for Iced Earth, Block is actually one of the redeeming factors of ‘Dystopia’, possessing a versatile set of pipes with Barlow’s passion, Owens’ Halfordian screams and gruff territory formerly hardly explored. Also, Jon Schaffer has abandoned most of the pompous bombast of the former albums and has just written a bunch of powerful, American Heavy Metal tunes with all of his trademark high speed palm mute riffs and anthemic choruses.

The album’s opening track was the first song that surfaced and it immediately made me hopeful; Block sounded better than I could ever imagine him, the song was Heavy Metal to the bone and the melodies were strong. Luckily, that line was continued throughout the album. There’s catchy Power Metal anthems (‘V’, funny enough the fifth track on the album, and closer ‘Tragedy And Triumph’, which took some time to sink in, but quickly became one of my favorites), strong power ballads (‘Anguish Of Youth’ and especially ‘End Of Innocence’), obvious Iron Maiden references (‘Equilibrium’ and the epic album highlight ‘Dark City’) and even two scorching Thrashers (‘Boiling Point’, ‘Days Of Rage’). The bombast still isn’t gone (the album’s weakest track ‘Anthem’ lodges quite a bit of it), but the center of attention is Heavy Metal here.

Getting the limited edition of ‘Dystopia’ would be the only way to fully experience the album’s brilliance. Besides a redundant extra version of ‘Anthem’, there are two extra tracks, which are easily among the album’s best. In fact, ‘Iron Will’, is the second best track on the album, second only to ‘Dark City’. It’s a passionate, melodic and distinctly American Heavy Metal track. As such, a required listen.

Starting with ‘Dystopia’, Iced Earth seems a band again. A collective, contrary to the almost megalomanic Schaffer-led Rock operas of the past decade. Stretching out the brilliant ‘Something Wicked’ trilogy over two long albums was a bad idea, whereas ‘Dystopia’ is full of great ideas. This is what Heavy Metal is supposed to sound like and we can only hope that this lineup can be held together – although bassist Freddie Vidales has since left te band – to create many more masterpieces like this one. I for one welcome Schaffer back to the place where he belongs: the Olympus of American Heavy Metal.

Recommended tracks: ‘Dark City’, ‘Iron Will’, ‘Dystopia’, ‘Tragedy And Triumph’