Dystopia (Century Media)
ICED EARTH has returned with their first new album since 2008′s The Crucible of Man: Something Wicked Part 2. Led by Jon Schaffer who has led the band through ever incarnation with his singular golden vision, the band sounds as fierce and thrashing as ever on Dystopia. In spite of the revolving door of vocalists the last few years, new addition Stu Block (INTO ETERNITY) steps right in and does a fantastic job. The band has always been at the pinnacle of American power metal and nothing about this album with have them lose their grip on the crown and scepter any time soon.
Although not as strict a concept album as past efforts, “Dystopia” unites the titular song and themes. The album artwork also sets the tone with the return of mascot Set Abominae lording over an apocalyptic scene. Always one with a flare for the dramatic, Schaffer opens with a patriotic/rebellious motif that falls in line with past concepts. The context of it all is very timely considering the recent events in the world. When the main riff kicks in it is the classic ICED EARTH sound with Schaffer’s dynamite signature right-hand chugging thrash riffs. Block makes his presence felt immediately with a startling vocal turn on the opener. Shifting from a rocking tenor to a splendid high pitched metal scream and back again, he quickly asserts himself proves to be the perfect choice to follow Matthew Barlow and Tim “Ripper” Owens. Second track “Anthem” is a rousing call to arms against hypocrisy and sycophants who seem to be overrunning the world these days. It’s slow grinding pace is a nice change of pace from some of the faster tracks to come. Block again impresses by adding a grid to his mid-range vocals that matches the seething anger of the lyrics. Troy Seele shreds his face off here and throughout the album. “Boiling Point” is sure to be the track that old-school IE heads latch on to. It is a speed metal tour-Du-force with pissed off backing vocals and another paint peeling vocal by Block. Lyrically the song rises above the rest and is the top track here. Drummer Brent Smedley just slays with his terrific time keeping and sick fills. “Anguish of Youth” is a mid-tempo rocker with a lot of heart and emotion. Written for Blocks’ ill mother it is full of weight and makes fine use of dynamics. Schaffer has had a reputation as the absolute director of the band, which he is, but he has shared a lot of the writing on this album with block and the other band mates. “V” (perhaps a reference to the story V For Vendetta by Alan Moore) is another crushing jam with more sick rhythms and slick harmonies. The ending few measures have as much in common with SYMPHONY X as they do TESTAMENT and EXODUS. “Dark City” continues the theme of disaffection and had Schaffer exploring his considerable IRON MAIDEN on crack chops that he sometimes favors. “Equilibrium” reminds me of a better quality old-METALLICA song. It has a lot of swagger and Block again turns up the energy and bravado with his upper echelon performance. If it ended right there this would still be a great release and then I heard “Days of Rage”. The song is just a pummeling thrash assault with both power and grandeur. More gang vocals and some cool bass riffing from Freddie Vidales are the highlights. The entire album sounds crisp and tight and no wonder since it was co-produced by Schaffer and the legendary Jim Morris at Morrisound Recording. “End of Innocence” is the power ballad of the album and it is solid with some tasteful soloing from Seele. “Tragedy and Triumph” is a barn burning, everything and the kitchen sink in the mix type of track. The band is firing on all cylinders here and as the track fades away and the record ends I am left wanting more. This will certainly go down as one of the best offerings the group has had to date in spite of its brevity of only forty-five minutes long.
by Keith (Keefy) Chachkes