Iced Earth: Plagues of Babylon review

The central figure of power metal titans Iced Earth, was and has always been Jon Schaffer. If you would have asked the humble guitarist back in 1985, when he formed the band under the original name Purgatory, whether he thought he would have a career spanning nearly three decades, his answer would have been a resounding “hell no.” Fast forward to 2014 and Iced Earth have far exceeded those original expectations of longevity and have just released their 11th studio album, Plagues Of Babylon. It is a multi-textured, misanthropic assault of complex sound designs that is innovative and irresistible. The album should cement their position and reputation as one of metal’s all-time greats. As with previous efforts, the band’s mascot, Set Abominae, once again adorns the cover in vivid carnal detail. Like previous endeavors, half the album is focused on the continuing “Something Wicked” concept and the rest are standalone songs. The whole thing benefits from some soaring harmony backup vocals by Blind Guardian’s Hansi Kursch. Title track “Plagues Of Babylon,” opens the proceedings strong. It spans nearly eight minutes and fuses subtle elements of Faith No More with Deliverance to create layers and depth of sound while the driving double kick and bone jarring riffs of “Democide,” sounds like an outtake from the Dark Saga album. The underlying riff and vocal cadence of “The Culling” takes a page from the Trivium playbook and “Among the Living Dead” is a flashback to the early thrash days of “Burnt Offerings.” At the same time, “Resistance” and the seven-plus minute epic “The End” captures the nostalgia of vintage Iron Maiden mixed with the biting guitars of Fistful Of Metal-era Anthrax. “If You Could See” draws inspiration from earlier Iced Earth power ballads like “When Night Falls” or “I Died For You” while “Cthulhu” features the massive song structures and considerable metallic heft of the Horrorshow album. The impassioned rally cry of Stu Blocks powerhouse vocals show why he was chosen to fill the void left when vocalist Matt Barlow exited the band for the final time. Here’s the bottom line- Undoubtedly, the album will receive a mixed reception from diehard fans wanting the next Dark Saga or Horrorshow. The problem with wanting them to recreate the same album over and over is that it stagnates and stifles the artist, essentially cutting off their creative wings. With a running time of over an hour, you certainly get your money’s worth and there is enough here to please even the most discerning ears. Rating: 8 out of 10. -Eric Hunker