Iced Earth - Incorruptible

Iced Earth Incorruptible cover
Iced Earth
Century Media Records
One thing that one cannot really blame Jon Schaffer for, is really not trying. He’s kept Iced Earth going through thick and thin, through no less than what almost thirty or so different members throughout their existence. While the band really peaked in popularity and almost became the next big thing in the late 90s, a series of mediocre albums and the lineup changes that had even the singer changing every album or so, after that point, caused their moment to be lost and reduced them.
After the unsuccessful – duo of the extended “Something Wicked albums”, which even featured different vocals and basically were strictly recorded as a trio with guests, the band found a new voice in Stu Block, a semi decent label mate vocalist that has worked well for the band since then, mostly doing a poor imitation of Barlow,that he’s somewhat fine-tuned over time.
Schaffer managed to at least have a couple of “single” quality songs per album and has continued recycling the two ballads he wrote even if that’s not Block’s forte. It worked well for “Dystopia”, which given the amount of disappointing albums that preceded it, saw the band’s popularity re-surging. Combined with relentless touring the band managed to somewhat re-establish themselves and cover the lost ground, but despite a couple of great songs, “Plagues of Babylon” was largely seen as a mediocre effort. While “Incorruptible” tries to keep focus and maintain the momentum of the band, which it sort of does, is hardly the modern day classic, some might have hoped it to be.
Right from the go, with “Great Heathen Army”, Block hits his limits with some wails, sounding really fake, which somewhat mars this otherwise decent “Barlowesque” muscular mid-tempo. I was half expecting the band to rip off a shanty, which to their honor they don’t do, but after a predictable intro the song settles for a rather regular mid-tempo, nothing too great or terrible either.
“Raven Wing” recycles the intro of “Melancholy” and then manages to really screw itself out of being a good song, by being overtly repetitive and sounding too “inspired” by older songs in the guitar department. Dreyer actually offers some pretty soloing that saves the song from being boring…
… which thankfully “The Veil” is not… a slowly engulfing track that feels like a throwback proper to the better era of the band…
“Seven Headed Whore” also works well in its simplicity. Apocalyptic imagery, with lyrics that practically write themselves, a galloping rhythm, the sort of riffs you’d expect in a medium fast IE song; it’s almost the third song in a row that’s “pretty good”. Even Block going for a falsetto only shriek manages to avoid the pitfalls that befell his “GHA” performance.
But “The Relic (Part 1)” (alluding to a future sequel) sort of falls a bit short of my expectations more reminiscent of the not bad, but slightly more “meh” moments of the “Ripper” era material.
“Ghost Dance (Awaken the Ancestors)” is almost instrumental as it has some Indian chants in there, almost good as a composition, but really a bit bizarre coming from a guy who wears a confederate bandana, don’t you think? Or is it all “for sale” in the land of opportunity?
“Brothers” is a ballad, where Jon is sucking up to the fans, but I find all those “metal pride” songs ridiculous 99% of the time and this is no exception…
“Defiance” is another just OK moment that passes without really making too much of a mark… leading the way to the albums conclusion “Clear the Way (December 13th, 1862)” a sprawling epic of almost ten minutes in the tradition of a lot of epic songs or “trilogies” that would finish a lot of albums in the past. It fares OK, I guess, as I would not place it anywhere near “classics”, ie “Dante’s Inferno”, but it fares much better that the other “historical” song I can think of that includes a date, or to be more precise “trilogy”, the one about Gettysburg at the end of “The Glorious Boredom Burden”; one of the most tiresome and devoid of feeling series of musical pieces the band has ever hammered out, which is surprising as you’d expect them to make an album inspired by patriotic themes post 9/11 a really memorable thing…
Anyhow, “Incorruptible” is probably combining the strongest points of the previous two albums, the epic flair of “Plagues” and the somewhat better songwriting and confidence of “Dystopia” in probably what is their best Block fronted effort, which is further aided by a returning Smedley on drums, who does a fairly good job beside the kit. Scaffer’s production is economic and not a “million dollars”, but gets the job done. I suppose, despite sounding a little “fake/artificial” and not as dynamic as it used to in previous (Morris) produced albums. Overall, a decent album, but I consider this to be a cheap replica of what made the mid-90s Iced Earth quite special. At least this one is “a good quality” facsimile… unlike the over-saturated but colorful first, or the superior by monochrome “second” effort, they almost get it right this time, but can do better… I’m sure...