Iced Earth gives me a mixed reaction these days. I was a huge fan of them during their glory days (Something Wicked This Way Comes, Dark Saga, etc.). Matt Barlow was an incredible frontman and they were much more of a thrash band than power metal band. Somewhere along the way, they stumbled and stumbled hard. Matt left (for the first time) after Horror Show, which was an average album with a few really good songs on there. Tim “Ripper” Owens filled in for a while, but the music and the energy was just not the same at that point. For me, they have just been stumbling around for years trying to recapture that same magic that they once had. Even with Matt’s return (before his latest departure), the music just did not have that same passion and energy. The Crucible of Man was subpar at best.
On to 2011, with the release of Dystopia and the latest vocalist, Stuart Block. This is an exciting time for the band because Block is about as dynamic a vocalist as there is out there. He can emulate Matt’s vocals almost to the tee. It is actually scary how much he sounds like Matt. He can also hit the high pitches that Ripper did as well. In addition, he also offers the growl that Iced Earth could make use of.
The album begins with the title track, Dystopia, which hearkens back to old Iced Earth with the thrash tones and a level of energy that I have not seen from the band in years. I was very surprised with this track – pleasantly surprised.
On to the next track, Anthem, and here we go with the stumbling. This is the new Iced Earth that I am just not into at all. It is not a bad song by any stretch of the imagination, but you hold certain bands to higher standards and this track is pretty boring. I will admit that it has a very nice lead, albeit it a very short one.
Boiling Point is the next track, and it is a short one clocking in at under three minutes. This is the probably the best use of Stu Block’s abilities hitting practically every note under the sun and showing his vocal prowess.
Anguish of Youth is the next track and you can see that Schaffer is trying to capture that lightning in a bottle once again like they did with classics such as Melancholy (Holy Martyr) and Watching Over Me. It is a solid song, but missing that extra punch that I would have liked to have seen with this one.
The aptly title V is the fifth track and it is more of a power metal foray that seems to kind of just linger there. It is not bad, but not amazing either. Dark City quickly follows and this one has a standout lead in the middle of it. Outside of that, it is just your run of the mill Iced Earth song – not bad – not special.
Equilibrium follows and starts off very promising with some nice riffwork and a very familiar chug into the quicker pace and the verse section. This one might be Stu Block’s most passionate performance on the album. I like the tempo changes throughout the verse sections.
Days of Rage is the next track and another one that I was familiar with based on the sampler that was put out previously. This is all Stu Block in the way that it seems like the song was written to appease the heavier edge that Block now brings to the band. This is another oddly short track at under three minutes, but you can really never judge quality by the length of the song.
The end of the album kind of stumbles along the rest of the way until End of Innocence, which is the opus of the album. It starts off with the grand opening and ends up being a really nice song. It is anthemic at points, but Block’s vocals just make this song stand out. I can really get behind this one.
It is still hard to believe that Dystopia marks Iced Earth’s tenth studio album, but it is true. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with some of it and let down by other parts of it. As a recommendation, I would still say that you need to start with their early stuff and move upwards to their later stuff. I really hope that the coaster ride of musician changes stops and they are able to continue with this lineup for a while to see what they can do as they gel a little more.
Keep in mind that, while this review may seem more on the harsh side, I have a ton of respect for Iced Earth and will always hold them to a higher bar than most bands that get reviewed on this site.
Dystopia Track Listing:
03. Boiling Point
04. Anguish of Youth
06. Dark City
08. Days Of Rage
09. End Of Innocence
10. Soylent Green [Ltd edition bonus]
11. Iron Will [Ltd edition bonus]
12. Tragedy And Triumph
13. Anthem [string mix] [Ltd edition bonus]
14. The Mob Rules [Black Sabbath cover] [iTunes bonus]
Iced Earth Line-up:
Stu Block – vocals
Jon Schaffer – rhythm and lead guitars, backing vocals
Troy Seele – guitar
Brent Smedley – drums
Freddie Vidales – bass