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Iced Earth - "Plagues Of Babylon" (CD)

Iced Earth - "Plagues Of Babylon" CD cover image

"Plagues Of Babylon" track listing:

1. Plagues of Babylon
2. Democide
3. The Culling
4. Among the Living Dead
5. Resistance
6. The End?
7. If I Could See You
8. Cthulhu
9. Peacemaker
10. Parasite
11. Spirit of the Times (Sons of Liberty cover)

Reviewed by on February 17, 2014

"When softer tracks become the biggest highlights of an Iced Earth album…well, it makes for a return to the mundane."

With the addition of Stu Block to the fold back in 2011, I had much hope that Iced Earth would return to the realm of “interesting,” something it hasn’t been since 2001’s “Horror Show.” The release of “Dystopia” represented a turning point for Iced Earth, for the band finally had a singer that can truly do it all. The album showed immense promise for the future and was one of the best in the band’s history, despite a mixed viewpoint. With no disrespect to Matt Barlow, I was never one of those fans that felt it necessary to fall at his altar. He is an incredible individual with incredible power…but even that could not save us from such mundane albums like “The Crucible of Man.” That “plague” was a virulent in the three albums preceding “Dystopia,” two of which featured Tim “Monster Drink Spokesman” Owens, one of incredible range but so overly used that it only added to the banality. So, with the band reset on “Dystopia,” the coming of “Plagues of Babylon” seemed a bit like a sophomore album. The result is a nagging “sophomore jinx” that left me loving some parts, but the majority is less than fetching.

The first thing that jumps out is the sound and mix… a reaction similar to the latest Rhapsody of Fire. For some reason, this retro “natural drum sound” is truly something I have to get re-used to. The steady diet of overly produced drums did force an involuntary cringe as soon as session drummer Raphael Saini hit the snare. The distraction initially drowned out the guitar riffs until multiple listens provided a better level of comfort. The overall production is stripped down a bit and raw, which is not a bad thing at all.

With that minor issue out of the way, I found my attention peaking at times and waning at times, something that did not happen with the last album. With the “dystopian” honeymoon period over, John Schaffer has now written music to “fit Block’s voice” (a misnomer since Block can fit in virtually anything). Songs like “Cthulhu” and the bluesy numbers “Peacemaker” and “If I Could See You” do allow Block to step out of the “Bar-Low” into a more open and softer, emotional style. These slower moments are pretty cool to hear, but the lack of better heavier and ballsy material does little to accentuate them.

While I’m not married to the power gallop of old like many IE fans (choosing to accept progression within a band’s style even if that is a means a drastic one like with Sonata Arctica), this is one album that needs a much heavier dose of it even in small bursts, if only raise the excitement level. Its one glorious appearance is in “Democide,” one of the few real attention grabbers on the release along with “Resistence” (feeding a love of well-placed pauses). “Plagues” seems mired in slow motion, more aptly suited as background music. With that said, the slower material is really well played and not stylistically unappealing. The appearance of Blind Guardian’s Hansi Kursch on four tracks is a nice highlight, but still left me wanting more.

With “Plagues” there is no “Anthem,” no “V,” no “Days of Rage” to be found. The album lacks the amount of catchy choruses and speedy jolts to balance out the more emotional slower tracks. When softer tracks become the biggest highlights of an Iced Earth album…well, it makes for a return to the mundane.

Highs: Stu Block is able to use more of his range on songs like "Peacemaker."

Lows: Lacks attention grabbing material. Compared to "Dystopia" it sounds mundane.

Bottom line: Iced Earth is "plagued" with a relatively flat, but well played, release.

Rated 3 out of 5 skulls
3 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)