Released: 2011, Century Media
Iced Earth’s 2008 THE CRUCIBLE OF MAN: SOMETHING WICKED PT., 2 featured the return of Matt Barlow much to the delight of stoked fans. Now, on the new album Barlow has left the fold again leaving Schaffer to recruit Iced Earth’s fourth singer. Obviously, this presented something of a dilemma as Ripper Owens recorded two albums with the band and he and Barlow sounded quite different. How to find a singer that can handle the live material from both singers? Naturally you hire a guy who can accurately mimic them both and so enter Stu Block. DYSTOPIA marks the 10th studio album of original material for the now legendary band who once again has proven to be remarkably abd thankfully, and consistent.
DYSTOPIA leaves behind the full-blown concept direction of the previous two albums, although there is still a return to the Something Wicked story line with two of the tracks on the album. Happily, band mascot Set Abominae makes a return on the album cover art. Instead, this one is more akin to HORROSHOW, incorporating loosely unifying themes revolving around movies, like V for Vendetta and Dark City. Iced Earth’s lyrical prowess has always been hit or miss, tending to employ some hokey and admittedly Maiden-ish inspiration for songs. Do not be surprised if the album quickly becomes confusing lyrically. However, something has clearly inspired the band as this album is absolutely blistering. What we have is a return musically, to many of Iced Earth’s finer moments. The title track opens the album with a march or die drum beat and melodic guitars that recall THE GLORIOUS BURDEN’S “Declaration Day.” Stu Block, one of the great strengths on the album, begins with Barlow and transitions to Ripper so effortlessly, that the casual fan tuning in might think Ripper and Barlow are duet-ing the song.
“Anthem” follows and according to Block is one of his favorite tracks on the album. Schaffer, being the metal guru that he is, references Fifth Angel’s “Wings of Destiny” nearly note for note before moving into familiar chug and dark melodies. “Anguish of Youth’s” chorus is hugely reminiscent of the chorus on “Melancholy (Holy Martyr)” not a rip-off but a kindred spirit. I could certainly, and gladly, give a blow by blow of each track, but there is no need. There are no weak links here and thus I hold this to be one of Iced Earth’s finest albums, period. Schaffer employs plenty of his patented precision palm mutes at light speed, but there more than enough mid-paced and chunky tempos with underlying and understated melodic runs whose restraint has always been one of Iced Earth’s greatest strengths. Production is top notch, and the rhythm section builds a solid foundation completing a near perfect tapestry of Iced Earth’s brand of progressive power metal.
Let’s face it, Jon Schaffer is not spring chicken, but man the guy just continues to put out kick ass metal. My only complaint about the band is that they are seemingly incapable of writing in any other key than E minor. A new key would be a welcome change, but no doubt when you produce metal of this caliber, it is a minor quibble. If you are a fan of Iced Earth, then yeah, you need to have this. However, any fan of metal should probably have this.