Iced Earth, ‘Plagues of Babylon’ – Album Review
Iced Earth are back with their second offering since former Into Eternity frontman Stu Block has taken over vocal duties. While many fans saw the last album, ‘Dystopia,’ injecting a bit of new life into the band, ‘Plagues of Babylon’ continues in the same manner with some fresh songwriting ideas from guitarist Jon Schaffer.The first half of the album continues the storyline that began on ‘When Something Wicked This Way Comes’ as the band’s mascot Set Abominae once again adorns the album cover in vivid detail.
Before diving into the music itself, let’s just get this out of the way first. Matt Barlow’s distinct voice is synonymous with the band’s sound. After two fledgling albums with Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens, Barlow returned to the fold, only to depart a couple years later. Stu Block then came in with his low, gruff vocals that are more in line with Barlow's singing, bringing back the band's classic vibe.
However, it is still difficult to match dynamic range of Barlow, but the band makes up for it with the help of Blind Guardian’s Hansi Kursch, who actually handles backing vocals on half of the album to best capture the sound of old.
Now, onto the music. Jon Schaffer seems re-energized over the last couple years. The title track opens the album and spans nearly eight minutes. The lead melodies are the strongest they’ve been in years, immediately noticeable on the epic feel of this song. ‘The End?’ is another one of the lengthier tracks here, complete with the bombastic chorus with layered vocals that the band is known for.
We get treated to three trademark Iced Earth jams in ‘Democide,’ ‘The Culling,’ and ‘Among the Living Dead,’ all of which make for the best part of the album. The band brings intensity, and, again, that revitalized spirit that hasn’t been felt in Iced Earth since ‘Horror Show.’ Block delivers a fantastic performance with his low voice, displaying both power and conviction.
The acoustic outro of ‘The End?’ plays beautifully into the power ballad ‘If I Could See You.’ This song is reminiscent of some of the band’s best emotional works like ‘Watching Over Me.’ Block sings in his more natural voice, breaking up the one dimensional vocal attack we’ve heard up to this point. This song also marks the first to deviate from the ‘Something Wicked’ storyline and sees the album start to decline afterwards.
From here on out, the album doesn't quite live up to the excitement of the first half, save for a couple moments here and there. ‘Cthulhu’ is a solid track with an interesting subject matter, but lyrically it's a bit tough to match the imagination of the character's creator, writer H.P. Lovecraft.
‘Peacemaker’ sounds more like a tune from Schaffer’s side-project Sons of Liberty and fits in better with the theme of that band, as well. There is also a Sons of Liberty Cover, which seems a bit extraneous.
While the second half of the album has its hits and misses, there is still plenty to be happy about with ‘Plagues of Babylon.’ Though ‘Dystopia’ was a more concentrated effort, it doesn’t match up to the strength of first half of this new album. Die-hard Iced Earth fans will have no issues here and fans who haven’t paid much attention to the band since ‘Horror Show’ may find themselves pleasantly surprised at some of the cuts on this record.
Listen to the Song 'Plagues of Babylon' Below: