September 15, 2014 Iced Earth – Plagues of Babylon (Album Review)
Guitarist Jon Schaffer formed Iced Earth in 1990 and is the only constant in the band with what seems to be quite a fluid situation regards to band members arriving and leaving at regular points throughout the bands history. For those who have not sampled Iced Earth before, this is classic NWOBHM, only from Florida; powerful vocals over heavy guitars, lyrics that describe epic tales, and owing more in style and substance to Opera than to Pop music. Plagues of Babylon is the eleventh studio album and second with Stu Block on vocals, cementing him firmly in place as the frontman, this is an album that should finally silence the naysayers who are still calling for a return of Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens or Matt Barlow. Drums were recorded with Raphael Saini who joined very briefly but has since been replaced by Jon Dette for the tours. Troy Steele remains on guitar, and Luke Appleton retains his spot on bass.
Plagues of Babylon is a delicious helping of thunderous drums, haunting rhythms, and swirling guitar riffs. As the opener and title track, it sets the tone for the album. “Democide” follows faster and more urgent in its manner, fierce and defiant. “The Calling” is uplifting, a rallying cry and the vocals are more hopeful in their feel while “Among the Living Dead” reaches into thrash metal to deliver its Zombie story; every good album needs a Zombie track these days. “Resistance” is another uplifting track, rebellious and revolutionary themes cut through the soaring guitars, while the drums give the song a heartbeat. With a huge sound of mass vocals, “The End” is questioning as it deals with the concept of surviving the destruction of the world. Its delicate refrain gives way to “If I Could See you Now”, a more emotionally intimate track with its subject of loss and grief. “Cthulhu” screams at the listener; a magical song with highs and lows throughout and has a natural energy. “Peacemaker” is grittier in the vocal style, and its galloping style of music fits well with the Western theme of its lyrics. In contrast, “Parasite” has a deeper vocal, and is a far shorter track. “Spirit of the Times” further illustrates Stu Blocks vocal dexterity. The guitars are delicate and wistful at times while the tick-tock from the drums has a certain poignancy. The last proper track, “Highway Man”, is radio friendly and finally is a short but enlightening snippet of what happens between recordings if you leave a band alone for five minutes, “Outro” is a reminder that Iced Earth does know how to have fun.
On Plagues of Babylon, there is a rich variation within the songs from power metal, to thrash, to progressive, but certainly all metal. To a degree, it retains a sound very much within the realms of early Maiden, yet it manages to not be stuck within a rut or dated. There is a strong link between the songs, and they hang together well. However, this is not an album to listen to at a low volume, celebrate its epic-ness by turning up the volume and digging out the denim patched waistcoats. CrypticRock give this album 4.5 out of 5 stars.