Iced Earth: Plagues of Babylon

I think it is important to preface this with a brief recap of the band’s history. It has been almost 30 years since this band originally formed in 1985  under the name Purgatory. Since then they have obviously changed their name, experience many lineup changes and have released ten albums making their newest album, Plagues of Babylon, number 11. The current lineup for the band consists of Jon Schaffer on guitars (who is the only member who has been with the band since the beginning), Troy Seele on guitar, Stu Block on lead vocals, Luke Appleton on a bass, and Raphael Saini on drums.

Believe it or not, but I’ve never really been a huge Iced Earth fan, but I’ve followed their career every now and then and am really intrigued at how divided their fans can be when it comes to certain albums, namely the last three (Framing Armageddon (Something Wicked part 1), The Crucible of Man (Something Wicked part 2), and Dystopia).  I wasn’t too keen on Framing Armageddon or The Crucible of Man, but thought that Dystopia was a real return to form after almost a decade of stagnation. I also realize that the band will most likely never make another Night of the Stormrider or Burnt Offerings and that’s all right so long as they are still making interesting music, which has been hit-or-miss for the past decade.

As it stand right now, I am slightly torn with Plagues of Babylon. On one hand, I think it is too ploddy too often (the first track, which is the title track, was way to long and could have had the same effect if two minutes were shaved off of it). On the other hand, the really good songs on the album, are really good and would certainly translate well in the live arena. Songs like “The Culling,” “Among the Living Dead,” and “Cthulu” are some huge tunes. I thought Schaffer’s riffs have certainly been better, but weren’t that bad on this album. They’re about as divided as my opinion is. I’m also not the biggest fan of Stu Block as their lead singer. I think he is trying too hard to compete with Matt Barlow or Tim Owens. There are a few guest vocalists on this album too. Michael Poulson from Volbeat and Russell Allen of Symphony X fame sing on “Highwayman,” a cover of a Jimmy Webb classic. Hansi Kürsch of Blind Guardian fame sings on “Among the Living Dead.” The production on the album is great, but having never seen Iced Earth live, I feel like seeing them live is a completely different experience. This leads me to believe that this album is another excuse to continue touring (since that’s where all the money is), but they’ve actually included a few really good songs that I would want to see live if I were to see Iced Earth in 2014.

Overall, I thought it was a decent record. I don’t know how often I’ll return to it though. I’m convinced though that before this band call it a day or good, we’ll get something really great like Night of the Stormrider.

Luke Helker

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