Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Iced Earth - Plagues of Babylon

I really wanted to hate this album.  The first time I heard it I was very disappointed.  I found it to be uninspired and after "Dystopia" was a huge letdown.  I've been a fan of Iced Earth since the mid 90s and have seem them 4 times, including their stint with "Ripper" Owens (which was not THAT bad IMO).  We all know that Jon Schaffer and company have not been the most consistent band in metal.  Iced Earth has created some of metal's best albums....and some of metal's biggest turds. That being said, this album has actually grown on me after subsequent listens.  At times it does seem as though Jon has run out of ideas and at other times it seems like his formula fits perfectly.

The album begins with the title track which clocks in at a rather drawn out 7:47.  It's a bit drawn out in the beginning and could stand to have a few minutes knocked off.  Once it gets going it becomes much more enjoyable and is a typical Iced Earth tune.  The shining star on this and other songs on the album are the solos.  Troy Steele is the best lead guitarist that the band has had since Randall Shawver.  The lyrics are trying to hard to be dark and gloomy but come off as a bit silly.  "Demoncide" picks the pace up a bit and reminds me of classic Iced Earth with Jon's signature riffs used moderately as not to become redundant.  The chorus is catchy and the lyrics are much better than with the previous song.

One thing that I find myself thinking when listening to this album is that it reminds me of bits and pieces of their previous albums....turds included.  "The Culling" is a slower song that seems to just prod along with not much direction.  The solo is very catchy but doesn't really make the song that much better.  "If I Could See You" is a ballad that is just completely forgettable.  "Resistance" is so inconsistent it rocks in places then plods along in other. "Peacemaker" starts off sounding like "Simple Man" then picks it up as the song goes on.  The lyrics are Jon's pro Second Amendment statement.  I'm not sure what to make of it. "Spirit of the Times" (Sons of Liberty cover) and "Highwayman" are just bad.

Then songs like "Among The Living Dead", "The End?", "Cthulhu", and "Parasite" almost take me back to classic Iced Earth.  Not ALL the way back but almost.  Again, the shining star of this album is Mr. Steele. I'm not sure what to make of Stu Block.  Does he really sound like Barlow or is he going out of his way to do so?  Sometimes it feels the latter is more accurate.  I'm just not sure what he's trying to do.  I guess it works in places and not in others.

I think Jon and the boys are at a crossroads right now.  This album is not awful but it's also not as good as I know they can be.  Has Jon completely run out of ideas?  Could be...but he can still pull a few goods ones out of his hat....or du-rag.


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