Iced Earth - "Dystopia" (CD)
"Dystopia" track listing:
1. Dystopia (05:49)
2. Anthem (4:54)
3. Boiling Point (2:47)
4. Anguish of Youth (4:41)
5. V (3:39)
6. Dark City (5:42)
7. Equilibrium (4:31)
8. Days of Rage (2:17)
9. End of Innocence (4:07)
10. Tragedy & Triumph (7:44)
11. Anthem (String Mix) (4:51)
Reviewed by CROMCarl on November 6, 2011
Iced Earth is back with "Dystopia," an album that represents the most memorable material the band has issued since "Horror Show" in 2001. The band comes filled with vigor at the addition of Stu Block as new vocalist. As it turns out, the decision to add Block was the best one Iced Earth has made. The group loses nothing with the re-departure of Matt Barlow, while at the same time gaining so much more.
No disrespect to Barlow or Ripper Owens, but Block is by far the band's most versatile singer. Having made his mark with Into Eternity, Block has such an incredibly vast range for metal. You want him to sound like Barlow, Owens or even John Greely? He can accommodate with frighteningly epic proportions. Block can also belt out guttural death growls or screeching metalcore. You name it, this man can do it.
"Dystopia" is definitely a turning point for Iced Earth away from the more stagnant material presented on "The Crucible Of Man" and "Framing Armageddon." Don't misunderstand me, it is not that those releases are bad by any stretch. However, if you preach memorability as a major quality as much as I do, you have to admit that the prior two releases were mediocre at best.
Avid fans of Iced Earth have been clamoring for the band to make a full blown return to the trademark galloping riffs of John Schaffer that graced the first two releases. Although the style has appeared sparingly since 1996, I am not one to complain, especially if the music on the whole is quality. On "Dystopia" that trend continues, with little galloping, save for "Days of Rage" (which is a direct throwback to "Night Of The Stormrider"). However, the difference with "Dystopia" is the quality and memorability of the music.
The tone is set appropriately for a monster album with the opening title track. The song is prototypical Iced Earth. The moment Block belts out the opening scream and the blistering riff of Schaffer kicks in, I know this album is going to be amazing. I cannot stress enough how good Block is. His performance is astounding, starting with the "Barlowesque" low style and shifting to "Ripperesque" style piercing the rafters with seemingly little effort.
"Anthem" is just that - a mid-paced slab of metal perfection that should prove to be a staple in the band's live set for years to come. Crowds in Europe will most definitely provide Block a respite when they will inevitably sing this song in its entirety and in perfect unity a la Blind Guardian. "Boiling Point" picks up the tempo and right quick! Clocking in at a mere 2:47, the onslaught may not gallop like old, but smashes your face with just as much force. Block's brilliance makes this sound like a duet of Barlow and Ripper.
"Anguish Of Youth" slows things down a bit with a power ballad feel. The song is well done and well played, but it certainly isn't the high point of the release. It's quiet but steady approach does provide a break before "V," that is, if you don't choose to hit the skip button. "End of Innocence" is even more of a power ballad, with Block sporting a hard rock vocal style that is a little too sweet for my taste.
"V" is one of those Iced Earth songs that sticks with you all day long. It leaves you longing for more, but is just long enough to satisfy with a catchy chorus to boot. The song nicely bridges "Anguish Of Youth" to the heavier "Dark City."
"Dark City" is one of the most "grown up" songs that Iced Earth ever penned. Here Block nearly unloads the entirety of his melodic vocal arsenal. The song's pace has an almost happy upbeat speed (not unlike a lot of German power metal bands) and is unlike any Iced Earth song in recent memory. "Equilibrium" starts the album's transition back a more typical Iced Earth style. At the 3:03 mark, Block belts out lines that sound like Rob Halford on "Painkiller." This crushing power metal classic precedes "Days Of Rage" for a full circle return to the thrashing galloping style of old Iced Earth. For most fans, this track will be a clear favorite.
"Soylent Green" and "Iron Will" are solid, but mediocre filler material by comparison to the rest of the album thus far. The former is a bit stronger than the latter, with the sole exception being the fantastic solo of Troy Seele on "Iron Will." Absent that, the songs are a bit thin. "Tragedy And Triumph" is an epic finisher, with the hidden drunkenfest at the 7:07 mark.
Bonus tracks on the various versions of the release include a string mix of "Anthem," an ultra cool cover of Iron Maiden's "The Trooper" and the re-recording of the seventeen minute opus "Dante's Inferno."
With "Dystopia," Iced Earth has made a turn upwards back towards the heavens where the sky is once again the limit of the band's abilities. With Stu Block at the helm, the band should reach those heavens a lot quicker.
Highs: Stu Block...period. But "Dystopia," "Dark City," "Equilibrium," and "Days Of Rage" make this release.
Lows: "Anguish Of Youth" is okay, but "End Of Innocence" and "Iron Will" seem unnecessary.
Bottom line: What do you get when you mix Rob Halford, Matt Barlow, and Tim "Ripper" Owens? A singer that can break glass and shatter "iced earth!"
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