Monday, October 24, 2011

Tirades of Truth: Iced Earth - Dystopia

So let me be up front of my fondness of Iced Earth. Before Shadows Fall, Trivium, Killswitch Engage, and all the other bands, there was Iced Earth. They were the first metal band I got into after the classic metal bands like Metallica and Megadeth. In fact, it was because of their tour opening for Megadeth that I heard of Iced Earth.

My first Iced Earth album was Something Wicked This Way Comes, which I picked up mainly because of the album artwork. I was blown away by both the music and vocals. The guitar riffs were totally amazing. I couldn't believe how heavy they were. It was like Iron Maiden on steroids, instead of Harris' galloping bass, we had a guitar doing the same thing...awesome. Then of course were the vocals. Matt Barlow's vocals were incredible. They could go heavy, but not anything as raw as John Bush or James Hetfield, but more of a powerful heavy. Of course, the crowning moment of the album was the Something Wicked Trilogy. I knew I found a great band.

I picked up most of their back catalog and was impressed by everything I heard. Jon Schaffer's guitar playing dominated every song and when you put Barlow's vocals on top of it, it was magical. Well as we all know, Barlow left the band after 9-11 to become a police officer. He was replaced by Tim Owens of Judas Priest fame. They released a couple of albums with Ripper and they just didn't feel like Iced Earth. The Glorious Burden was solid, but mainly because it was a concept album and it was totally different than anything they had done before. However, when they started to do the double album based on Something Wicked, I was worried. And with good reason. Ripper just wasn't Barlow. He was good, in fact Ten Thousand Strong is the best song off of Framing Armageddon and it's so good that I don't even think that Barlow could do it justice.

Long story somewhat shorter, exit Ripper enter Barlow (again). The second album of the Something Wicked story didn't suffer from the vocals, but from the music. Which in hindsight was present on the last 3 albums going back to The Glorious Burden. Schaffer went for this mid paced grandiose sound. And while it worked for The Glorious Burden, it didn't work for the other albums. Sure there were faster songs, but they were far and few.

So exit Barlow (again) and enter Stu Block. Now both vocalists were in my top 10 list years ago and after this album, Stu probably moved up a couple of notches. The first thing I noticed about Dystopia was how much Stu sounds like Barlow in his mid-range. Schaffer was quoted about finding Stu's mid-range vocals and I put it off as hype, but he definitely found something he didn't have with Into Eternity. Stu could do the death screams, clean, and Halford-esque screams, but this new mid-range is impressive...most impressive.

He doesn't sound like a Barlow clone, you can tell subtle differences between the two, yet he fits the music better than Ripper did. Speaking of Ripper, Stu also goes into his Halford/Ripper vocals during the album (Equilibrium, Boiling Point). When Ripper did it on his two albums it bothered me, here it works. The only thing I can tell is that he doesn't stay high forever, just for a moment, then it's back to the mid-range.

So what about the music? Well the album starts off with the title-track and the first thing I noticed was the return of the classic galloping guitar. Now there are some mid-paced songs on here, End of Innocence, Anguish of the Youth, Anthem for example, but they work. Kind of like the way Melancholy worked on Something Wicked, musically it's a great song.

The thrash songs are here as well. Boiling Point, Days of Rage bring back memories of early Iced Earth. Sure the songs are kind of recycled, but they still work. When I listen to Days of Rage, I get Disciples of the Lie in my head which then turns into Violate. Maybe it's the guitar work and pacing of the song, but they sort of all blend together, which is fine for me.

This album definitely threw me for a loop, almost the way Blaze Bayley's & Charred Walls of the Damned's last albums did. Out of no where a classic metal album comes out and it shows me that down inside I am still a classic metal guy. This thing is a definite "return to form" album for the band, easily the best thing since they put out Horror Show. Where would I rank this? It's not their best, but top 5? Probably.

What does this do to my Top 10 list? Throws a huge wrench into it. I still don't think it can top Trivium's album, but heck who would have said Blaze Bayley would have made number one on my Top 10 last year?

No comments: