Sound — 8
Iced Earth formed in 1985, originally under the name Purgatory though it was changed to Iced Earth in 1988. Their first album was released in 1990 and with just a few short hiatuses they have been active since. The band has made numerous and sometimes rapid lineup changes, with the only constant member being Jon Schaffer who plays rhythm guitarist as well as being the primary songwriter. "Plagues of Babylon" is the band's 11th studio album and with 13 tracks has an impressive runtime of over an hour. All the songs on the album are new original tracks with the exception of "The Highwayman," which is a cover of a Jimmy Webb track, and "Spirit of the Times", which is a Sons Of Liberty cover.
The album opens up with the title track, "Plagues of Babylon," with a really awesome dirge-type of riff and a melody played over it on guitar for the intro. Pretty early on in this track I was noticing the way the drums were mixed, which continued on throughout the album. The drums have a lot more presence in the mix than on recent releases, or they at least cut through the mix in a way they haven't been doing in recent releases. "Democide" is the second track from the album, and it has that classic thrash metal type of riffing going on. Troy Seele's solo seemed promising on this track, but then didn't seem to go anywhere and by the end was outright boring. "The Culling" starts out with some heavily palm-muted percussive riffing and the song's saving grace being an interesting vocal delivery by Stu Block and some intriguing lyrics. The solo from "The Culling," which was much more in line with a thrash/shred type of solo, makes me wonder if it was done by the same guitarist who soloed on "Democide," and I have to wonder if Jon Schaffer was possibly playing the solo from "Democide" and Troy Seele recorded the solo for "The Culling." Next up is "Among the Living Dead" with lead vocals completed on this track by Hansi Kürsch. "Resistance" is one of the few tracks without an instrumental intro passage, but instead goes straight into the song with a two guitar attack and some straight forward vocals viva la resistance style. "The End?" has some weird stuff going on musically, with some really awkward stuff going on rhythmically which I either love or hate and I can't quite decide. The chorus is carried by gang vocals for "The End?", which it seems has been really popular in the last few years for metal spanning almost every sub-genre. "If I Could See You" is a laid back song with some fairly clean passages in it, somehow almost coming across as southern rock to my ears. "Cthulhu" is of course about the octopus-faced demon lord invented by H.P. Lovecraft, which is also explored in the lyrics. "Peacemaker" has an intro that would fit into a modern western movie, which seems to fit well with the lyrical themes in the song. "Parasite" has one of my favorite riffs from the album just immediately in the intro, and an overall vibe that won me over to the song. "Spirit of the Times" has a catchy riff through the verses and gets heavy for the chorus. The more melodic guitar work later in the track gave the song an even more chilled out feel. "Highwayman" is a metal cover of the Jimmy Webb track of the same name, and is amusing for what it is. The last track, "Outro" seems like about half a minute of the band being drunk and disorderly and then deciding to leave it on the album. Overall, I can't complain - This album kept me interested and listening for an hour - bravo!
Lyrics — 7
Stu Block joined the lineup just in time to record vocals for the last studio album, "Dystopia," at which time he went to great lengths to prove his chops. With the release of "Plagues of Babylon" he is still proving what he can do. The performance on the album by Stu was solid from beginning to end. Jon Schaffer provided co-lead vocals on the cover, "Highwayman," along with Michael Poulsen and Russell Allen. The lyrical themes for the album are in line with the lyrical themes that Iced Earth has preferred historically, going into fantasy and sci fi mostly. As a sample of the lyrics, here is an excerpt from the title track, "Plagues of Babylon": "We lie in wait/ time is drawing near/ earth crises all too clear/ the human virus starting to awake/ so we must manipulate/ we can't accept this human threat/ the power structure is intact/ as gods on earth we will forsake/ we must release the plague/ so if you're asking yourself why/ your eyes are blind to the raging storm/ will they cleanse the earth of humanity/ unleash the plague of Babylon?". It seems that Jon is on an apocalyptic vent this time around.
Overall Impression — 7
I can't help it, as cheesy as Iced Earth is sometimes, I love this band. Of course, I can get critical and point out that the bass guitar was sometimes almost nonexistent and several songs had lengthy intro passages, but that isn't anything new for Iced Earth and the album is good despite that. Stu Block once again has proven that he's a respectable choice for vocalist and fills the spot rather nicely - hopefully he stays on overlord Jon Schaffer's good side and remains in the band for future releases. While I'm not sure I can ever see Iced Earth as a "serious" metal band, I have to say that several of my favorite metal bands I don't consider to be "serious."