Rating:
7.4
Iced Earth - Plagues Of Babylon
6 January 2014


01. Plagues Of Babylon
02. Democide
03. The Culling
04. Among The Living Dead
05. Resistance
06. The End?
07. If I Could See You
08. Cthulhu
09. Peacemaker
10. Parasite
11. Spirit Of The Times [Sons Of Liberty cover]
12. Highwayman [Jimmy Webb cover]
13. Outro


So, Jon Shaffer and his bunch of ever-changing musicians are back in town with release number eleven, after 2011's Dystopia that finally set the bar pretty high, after maybe too many years of... well, not mediocrity, but of music that didn't live up to Iced Earth standards.

The album cover artwork and title suggested it, and now the actual music confirms it: Plagues Of Babylon is the heaviest Iced Earth release in years. Every song here is permeated with a dark and somehow cruel ambience, achieved thanks to screaming, intricate riffing and Stu Block's most obscure performance to date.

Block deserves a separate mention: while in Dystopia his work, though being still too bound to Matt Barlow's heavy legacy, showed promising elements of personality, in this release his voice sounds like it's stuck in a mid range that this time really traces the much-loved former vocalist. As, for example, the amazing falsetto heard in songs like "Dystopia" here is only used as a mere metallic background in some choruses, the listener feels like Stu had to limit himself, probably following Shaffer's will. This, however, isn't totally negative, since the vocals here perfectly match with the album's atmosphere, sounding precisely incorporated, just like another instrument instead of an external being.

Plagues Of Babylon ranks among the less immediate Iced Earth efforts to date, in blatant contrast with the more easy-listening Dystopia. Almost no track here displays an easy sing-along chorus a la "Anthem", and this brings to the fact that initially this may seem like an incredibly weak and uninspired album: that's not true - at least not completely. Plagues Of Babylon, in fact, has as strength points not refrains, but mainly the rhythm sections, lead by chasing guitars, tasty little drum variations and Block's rage that, solemnly, overhangs the listener.

The album maintains in its majority his soul, but this can be a double-edged weapon: if by one side Plagues Of Babylon gains coherence and solidity, by the other every song ends up sounding pretty much one like the other. This said, this must be an extremely fun album to play live, due to its obscure epicness and its authoritative harshness.

As I said, this soul is maintained in the majority of the release, since tracks number 12 and 13 unfortunately ruin this. "Highwayman" is the Iced Earth version of an American classic, featuring on vocals Shaffer himself, Volbeat's Michael Poulsen and Symphony X's Russell Allen, and though being an overall good track it simply doesn't fit in the album's mood - and this isn't a fault of that all-American patriotism Iced Earth are not new to (see The Glorious Burden), while "Outro" is a completely useless 25-second piece of random shouting and drunken swearing: something you don't expect by an intelligent and dramatic band as this.

Overall, Plagues Of Babylon isn't that pile of crap some claim that it is: it simply returns to the levels of the not-so-memorable 2000's releases. Iced Earth are much more than this.


Band profile: Iced Earth
Album: Plagues Of Babylon


 



Written on 12.01.2014 by
R Lewis
Hopefully you won't agree with me, diversity of opinions is what makes metal so beautiful and varied.

So... critics and advices absolutely welcome.
More reviews by R Lewis ››



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Michaelis - 12.01.2014 at 11:30  
I agree with this rewiev. I was expect something better from Iced Earth. When I heard Outr I was like "What the hell is thi s***?".
Risto - 12.01.2014 at 11:33  
There was a similar mess-around on Dystopia, with the exception that it was hidden into the last track.
boo-boo - 12.01.2014 at 11:53  
I totally agree with everything in this review, especially when it comes to Stu Block. That guy has some voice, but he seems to be limited ...by Schaeffer's ambitions and will perhaps? I'm not sure, he seemed a bit nervous even on concerts during Dystopia Tour, but I thought that was on account of the fact he was new to the band and had to learn lots of stuff very quickly.
Zaphod - 12.01.2014 at 12:53  
"too many years of... well, not mediocrity..."
Indeed, it was below mediocre.
R'Vannith - 12.01.2014 at 13:30  
Your description of this as less immediate implies there is more substance to uncover than in Dystopia. I'll be having a listen to this, in that case.
Angelic Storm - 12.01.2014 at 18:01  
This album is very weak, though not totally without merit. There are a small amount of standout tracks, but overall, this is a dull album. It's definitely up there with TCOM as the worst output the band has produced, which is sad, considering how much promise was shown on "Dystopia". The rating here is slightly higher than I myself would give it, which would be 6.5 or 7.0 if I was feeling very generous!
Mattybu - 12.01.2014 at 19:51  
Very nice review man, sucks they couldn't follow up after what was a promising album in Dystopia.
Tristus Scriptor - 12.01.2014 at 20:03  
I tend to be the guy that jumps the negative people or opinions themselves, opting for more analysis and opportunity for an acquired taste to manifest...but I sadly agree with this review wholeheartedly. Stu is stifled, and hooks are missing. Having said that, I do believe it can be a go-to album if someone is in "that one mood" for something (nearly painfully) samey throughout it's duration. This was common for a 80s-early 90s album with "a sound". So that's a saving grace. But we know that they (ESPECIALLY Stu) can do OH SO MUCH more...
kalmah999 - 12.01.2014 at 20:58  
I agree about some parts of this review, will give this album 7 since I really liked some song, but overall it is step down from Dystopia. Personaly I just enjoyed Dystopia much more and for me that was strong album, this one is ok, but just ok for me, anyway can not wait to see them live in February! (sry for bad English)
sbuswell - 14.01.2014 at 03:42  
I've only heard the title track so far and I love it. Heavy is what they should do more of. Not songs like Anthem. This song hammers!! I'll be buying this album for sure.
Daniell - 14.01.2014 at 09:33  
Written by sbuswell on 14.01.2014 at 03:42

I've only heard the title track so far and I love it. Heavy is what they should do more of. Not songs like Anthem. This song hammers!! I'll be buying this album for sure.


I'm afraid you've already heard the best. It's all downhill from there.
sbuswell - 16.01.2014 at 01:34  
That sucks then. Maybe I'll listen to some more tracks before I spend. I'll at least buy the title track.
Valentin B - 16.01.2014 at 23:17  
I liked Dystopia, but to be honest I don't find this album so good.. I will listen to it again soon and then probably I will have an opinion
DragonWisdom - 16.01.2014 at 23:39  
Being an Iced Earth fan boy, I'm still super excited for this. Ill drop my opinion when I get the album next week.
ScreamingSteelUS - 23.01.2014 at 08:38  
I wholeheartedly agree that Stu should have been given the reins more often in regards to his singing; after hearing him in action on Live In Ancient Kourion, I thought he sounded restrained on Dystopia, but here that is even more the case. The man has an amazing voice, and I wish he were able to exercise it more. I'd also like to hear a lot more from Hansi Kürsch, though if I had my way he'd probably just trade off lead vocals with Stu constantly.

Other than that, I really enjoy it. With "Among the Living Dead" and "Cthulhu" and such, I get a Horror Show Part II vibe from it.
Surion - 24.01.2014 at 21:00  
After listening the album a couple of times I can say that the second time it was much better than the first...I guess it's because it lacks catchy choruses but the riffs on several songs are great, something you could headbang to. I also agree that Stu has so much more to offer to the band...hopefully he will next album.
parubio - 24.01.2014 at 23:48  
I've been following Iced Earth since they released NOTSR, an album I still consider to be their best, for some reasons I'm not going to mention now. Sound became more 'standard' when Matt got the vocals, they sounded great on next two albums but then repetition started to come out but SWTWC was still awesome. 2000's was mediocre in general terms, only the epic piece on TGB was up to my expectations, though I missed Matt so much. At that point Iced Earth were only there as a band with so much potential that I was disappointed by what they did since then Then POB is now released and as I start the listening I think it's so much more of the same s**t, far from being impressed by the title track I found it poor, boring and repetitive, just another twist on Iced Earth characteristic chord progression (not so Icy, simple spanish-like sounding progression). Next two tracks and I want to stop the player but then the album changes completely, more melodic, more obscure, more complex, more impredictible, no catchy choruses, but as you listen to them they start to grow on you (track 7 is an exception, not bad but an average one). Not to mention versions and outro, absolute fillers. Stu's good but still a Barlow clone, if you don't see credits you could still think Matt returned to Iced Earth again.
matai65 - 21.09.2014 at 07:58  
Actually I really like this,as I do all their releases...some are just a bit better than others.

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