Iced Earth - Pleagues of Babylon

Iced Earth Pleagues of Babylon cover
Iced Earth
Pleagues of Babylon
Century Media
Iced Earth return with another album after the commercially successful, yet somewhat imo rather lacking in the songwriting department “Dystopia” album, with another album, entitled “Plagues of Babylon”. I suppose, we’re in for another comic book story from the mind of super patriotic John Schaffer, who after blaming Europeans for being “dicks” now seems to rather be “after” the Euros... and seems to be changing his tune...
Producing the album himself ‘, hasn’t done a horrible job, he seems to have done a decent one if not a bit “dry”. Also the nature of most of the compositions (being mid-tempo) means that the whole thing is too open and the instruments sound quite separate, which is not bad, but it just robs the album of a more “heavy” sound. I thought it sounded a little “wimpy...” in places and somewhat typical...
At least compared with “ex singer’s Matt Barlow’s ”Ashes of Ares, opus it’s musically superior in the riffs etc. department, even if Schaffer is a mediocre player (he’s a more experienced songsmith apparently) but what good is that when an underdog like Sweden’s Tad Morose can come and blow them both to dust and cinders...?
But let’s consider the album…
Indeed “Pleagues of Babylon” is a quite impressive opener, which recalls the Iced Earth of yesteryear... in many ways. It’s mid-tempo and it has a rather symphonic chorus, but it is quite damn impressive. I’m not sure if it works best as an opener, I suppose, I’d love a song like that as a conclusion to the album, but being the opening salvo, I have no idea what to expect further down…
“Democide” is a typical fast palm muted riff, Schaffer trademark, fast Iced Earth track, in the tradition of many others… I mean, you’'ve heard the band play this song (well not this song exactly – but this riff) before, so this time it’s given a new coat of paint, some new lyrics and it takes a new lease of life… oh well. Re-hash.
“The Culling” is a sort of “slow-epic” song with choirs and all but again the band has done this sort of song better in the past and Block seems to try just TOO DAMN hard to convey that “bad-assery” in the vocals... to go for a grit that is clearly not natural to him, that he sounds “forced”. He manages it, pretty impressively on record but… while I was watching the Live at the Ancient Kourion Theater, I thought that Stu Block was a bit of a joke, as he seemed unable to convincingly sing, half of the catalog of the band he’s fronting, resulting in very lackluster performances. A self-opinion was able to half confirm the reality of that. He’s not THAT horrible, but it seems that he can’t really cope with the strain of the completely inhuman touring schedule that Iced Earth seem to have introduce that sometimes seems to include six day in a row shows without rest days than 1 day off etc... Also I am guessing that whereas, Barlow’s grit was natural, Block seemingly needs to growl to effect it, resulting in additional “strain”… but that’s me theorizing.
“Among the Living Dead” passed and didn’t quite touch, with its rather melodic bridge-chorus melody, but otherwise unimpressive riffs and rather average performances that don’t really manage to create a really haunting atmosphere. The songwriting is really way too simple.
“Resistance” seems to have been quite inspired by J.S.’s new found “anarcho-socialist”/”tele-evangelist”/”wtf-buy-our-records” agenda ? As it begins with some quite authoritarian almost bare vocals that are really way up loud against some militaristic drum pattern, before a “choir” part takes over for a rather predictable continuation. If we’d expect for JS, comic inspired “fight the power” solutions… oh dear.... face it man, you’re an entertainer. If you choose to be political, at least be educated about it and not some bigoted, know it all, you end out sounding like a bad preacher! Half OK, half weird song, but I’ll give it to it that it’s passionate... in its own “flawed way”... A smarter way is to ask questions.... not to preach. Make your listener think!
At 7 minutes “The End” (?) which supposedly as every song seems to conceptually be linked with each other, bored the living shit out of me. I half liked the guitar melody, but found the vocal lines quite contrived and really forced on the whole thing, with Block, struggling to maintain consistency in his singing with the rest of his album. I again theorizing tend to think that he layers a lot of his vocals to do his Barlow-esque, impersonation and here, because of the way the song is written… ie during the third minute he has to be more “himself” which is a thinner, lesser interesting – rather struggling singer… only thing Barlow had to do was to open his mouth and just sing – maybe just do a harmony on top, but not “synthesize” a voice …
“If I Could See You” – aka “I Died For You” part 333 is a bad ballad. But apparently, Stu is becoming a little better at this. On “Dystopia” he was abysmal on the ballads. Here, he seems to have developed a bit of a pseudo-baritone voice with which he introduces the song, before he switches to his usual pretty unimpressive clean vocals and a mix of both. Aw... just barely acceptable.
Aggghhhhh..... the great Old Ones would probably drown the band for the disservice that “Cthulhu” is. The riff and dynamics around it are the only good thing I can think about it. Block’s at this point switched to “clean” vocals with a minimum amount of grit, which sounds rather weak and pretty bad... and when he tries to man up around 3:30 he sounds as he’s singing in a metalcore band... Too bad, because with nice-r start stop dynamics and a real “Metal” singer this song might have been one of the best on the album. Very inconsistently sung.
“Peacemaker” oh yeah... the nazi-cowboy in J.S. can hide but cannot completely vanish... and the Gi.JOE, that lies in secret sleep, jumps out in this horrible, horrible piece of crap of a song. Sure, John, the campaigns that the glorious nation has mounted, has really resulted in world peace, not retaliatory strikes. I mean... I am not really saying that there’s not a place for that country in the geopolitical chessboard – and frankly possible one of the most important ones if not the most important one – but just to make a song about troops, in a light-hearted way… oh what can I say... it was JS who sold war memorabilia after all J The song is such a bad mush up of styles that I could not really like it...
“Parasite” has a really good riff... that sticks but not much of a chorus, but at least it’s the least, shitty of many of songs, I mean I had more issues with a lot of the other ones, so this one, I sort of enjoyed without much thought so yeah… I guess it must be kinda good.
“Spirit of the Times” is a weird, song, as I can almost swear that someone else is singing along with Block, and I am guessing it must be JS, doing clean vocals… and while the vocal lines are really nice, as is the song, the way the two voices complement each other is at the very least disastrous! FYI, JS, also did release the song on its own as part of a 5 track digital EP called “Molon Lave” so I am guessing I must really be a Sons of Liberty song “re-tooled” for release under the IE, brand name.
Finally there’s “Highwayman”, a Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Kris Kristofferson composition that JS, modernizes and sort of rocks up with the aid of obviously Block, but also Russell Allen (Symphony X, Adrenaline Mob) and Michael Poulsen (Volbeat)... who they had to suck up to go on tour with... jees. Talking about “Flavor of the Month”. I once remember an IE tee with the “back” reading... f%$k, trends... f%$k posers... but now it becomes clearly apparent who the poser is and who just allows his band to open for a crappy band in the name of publicity.
I admit to have lost any respect that I had for JS, as a musician, (as soon as he made all those various highly intelligent comments on interviews I kinda was put off any-how) when he once said that the bands worst album had to be “Burnt Offerings”... because it’s their worst selling… Actually... it would probably be their best album, imho, but still, I’d be happy to accept a good album by the band.
If “Dystopia” contained a couple of hints of a possible rebirth… “Pleagues” doesn’t seem to allow the seeds that that albums planted be harvested... instead is seems to wither them out in a plodding, mid-paced desert of rehashed riffs and mediocre ideas that only occasionally seem to escape mediocrity.
Get a producer. I hear that J. Morris is really good! And you could get M. Barlow back as well! Or at least someone with real grit, not just someone whose on your label! Oh and read a book too and no I don’t mean comic books.... it might open your eyes and your mind…