Released: 2014, Century Media
Reviewer: Ilias Pap (Greece)
Almost three years since the great ‘Dystopia’ Iced Earth return with their latest album, PLAGUES OF BABYLON As with any new Iced Earth release, there has been a change in the line-up. Freddie Vidales has stepped down from the bass spot and sticksman Brent Smedley left the band some months ago. To answer the question I’m sure is on all your minds; is PLAGUES OF BABYLON a good album? There isn’t any doubt that Stu Block does not fit the boots Matt Barlow vacated. And here is my answer: Absolutely yes! Undoubtedly, Stu Block nails both (Matt Barlow and Tim Owens) their styles, and he is actually the perfect voice for the band. Of course, he doesn’t stay grounded in emulation, but adding his own touches throughout which sees Iced Earth at quite possibly their best vocally.
PLAGUES OF BABYLON is ONE of the finest albums Jon Schaffer and co. have unleashed since many years. The album takes mainly the similar successful path of DYSTOPIA, although the sound is much more aggressive and husky and less warm than in DYSTOPIA. Personally speaking, DYSTOPIA flows tenfold better than PLAGUES OF BABYLON, but this doesn't mean that the second is not a good album. It reminds me of some good moments of 2008’s CRUCIBLE OF MAN. Jon Schaffer’s riffs have more power and melody behind them than they have had in years, taking his signature thrashing power riffage back to the level they used to be.
Tracks such as the opener title track, ‘Democide’, ‘The Culling’, ‘Among The Living Dead’ find the band in sublime ground-breaking and kicking form, with all of these fist four songs standing as the most power and of full energy tracks of the album together with ‘Cthulhu’ that stands proudly in the middle of the album combining the power, the speedy guitars, with a great guitar solo and leads and an amazing chorus. In the rest songs the band lowers the strength and the speed by giving more melody and catchy solos and refrains (see ‘If I could see you’, ‘Spirit of the Times’, ‘Resistance’, ‘The End’). While listening to ‘Peacemaker’, you automatically think it’s a ballad but in the middle section begins a quality mid-paced track that will no doubt become a fan favorite. And it’s worth saying something about the back vocals in some tracks; guest vocals on ‘Plagues of Babylon’, ‘Among the Living Dead’, ‘Democide’, ‘Resistance’ and ‘If I could see you’ by Blind Guardian vocalist Hansi Kürsch. Another song that there is a guest appearance is the hard rock-flavored ‘Highwayman’ where guest vocals laid down by Volbeat singer Michael Poulsen and Symphony X/Adrenaline Mob frontman Russell Allen.
PLAGUES OF BABYLON is an impressive album, but I have to say that it didn’t surprise me as DYSTOPIA did. Time will tell if PLAGUES OF BABYLON can stand as proudly as DYSTOPIA does. I don’t know if something glorious this way comes, but PLAGUES OF BABYLON subsequently found Iced Earth playing at their highest level. So yeah, So yeah, there's plenty of brawn, bluster and - you bet! - guitars all over PLAGUES OF BABYLON but lots of texture and flexibility too, offering clever dynamics and evoking broader emotions to elevate Iced Earth above the mediocre heavy-abusing masses out there.