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Buy our T-shirts! - 40%

Empyreal, January 4th, 2016

I used to really hate Iced Earth. Looking back, I think a lot of it was just because I was getting into all these really cool, badass underground bands that had tangential similarities - bands like Tad Morose, Angel Dust and Morgana Lefay, to name three prominent ones. I remember just listening to those bands and then coming back to the better-known Iced Earth and going "how is THIS the one that got popular?" Their music just came off as so enervated and simplistic compared to the other bands that initially captivated me back in those days. I still think Iced Earth is a pretty bad band, but honestly, is redneck right-winger power metal ripping off Metallica and Iron Maiden really much to get mad about?

I don't think so. But Dystopia is still a piece of shit.

This is supremely boring, cliche tough-guy crap in the mode of bands like Avenged Sevenfold or Disturbed so far as the attitude goes - it's all loud for the sake of being loud, angry for no real reason like a teenager, with super processed-sounding guitars and lots of forced anthemic choruses that all sound alike. The music is less like that - there are at least real metal riffs here, and some of them are pretty good. But the songwriting is nothing but rampant cliche running wild like a drunken rhino - all verse-chorus-verse-chorus, and without the charm or style to keep you interested. They can get a good thrashy groove going, and songs like "Anthem" or "Boiling Point" are professionally written and tight but neither one is exactly great or anything. It's agreeable in the way that 55-year-olds who liked Metallica in the 80s could nod their heads to and go yeah, that reminds me of the classics I vaguely remember. But if your best claim to fame is that your music could be pleasant in the background of a shitty cigarette-smelling, Bud Light-swilling dive bar, that isn't really something to brag about.

As the album moves into its second half, the songs just get more and more faceless and forgettable, just blurs of over-processed thrash riffing and choruses digitally layered up so much that any emotion that would be there would be suppressed as if by a thick blanket. But don't worry, there's no emotion here. Just pandering. New singer Stu Block sounds okay when he tries to imitate Matt Barlow, but the forced Halfordesque Painkiller screaming on the title track sounds lame as hell, and the trite tough guy thrash-styled vocals keeping rhythm with the chunking guitars and battering drums are pretty dull, too. He just goes all over the map basically trying to sound like the past Iced Earth singers, which is why this sounds so soulless and pre-processed. He's got no identity of his own.

Oh, except for the whiny college-rock acoustic-guitar-guy-at-a-party vocals on the ballads "Anguish of Youth" and "End of Innocence," replete with sappy melodies and lame clean guitars, because hey, they can do two whole styles, it's diverse now. I didn't really think Iced Earth would find new ways to suck ass, but they did surprise me with those two! They're only recommended for those of you who don't think your wardrobe has enough plaid flannel in it.

Everything sounds blunt and dumb, and the songwriting is extremely shallow on all levels. If all you want is loud, thrashy riffs, you might be satisfied with this, but there's zero substance here, nothing but wading-pool-deep emotions tailored to kids who want something rebellious but not actually of substance, thoughtful or mature, which are all important things when considering rebelliousness. To be fair, I'm not sure Iced Earth really wanted to be deep on here. But the feelings the music evokes are broad, overly simplistic and don't come off as genuine. Between the formulaic songwriting, the bad vocals and the abundance of tired cliche, this sounds like music made as a job, just pushed out like on a conveyor belt. It's a manufactured, plastic kind of metal made to put the cover art on T-shirts.

There's so little energy in this music that doesn't come off as contrived, created because someone else would find it appealing. Where the classic bands - and good bands of today - sounded full of life, bursting with energy and standoffish gusto, Iced Earth is predictable and rote now, a parody of themselves, and they cover that up by getting louder and more overtly comic book-ish. The ideas get smaller and less creative, and the surface aesthetics get more glossy, more cartoonish and louder. All the distorted guitars in the world and all the layered stadium-ready choruses in the world can't cover the deficient songwriting. It's McDonalds metal, safe and easy to consume, but not good for you and not particularly worthwhile. Iced Earth back in the 90s were inconsistent at best, but they at least sounded like they meant it on Burnt Offerings and Night of the Stormrider, the latter of which I never even cared for. By comparison this is basically (in spirit, if not sound) disposable radio rock with heavier riffs than usual.

Oh sure, it's definitely real metal so far as the music goes, it's not at all a diversion from the genre - but being metal is exactly why this is so safe and annoyingly commercial. Metal is mainstream right now. This is the most acceptable, palatable form of metal there is. Being metal and playing metal riffs alone isn't edgy at all anymore, especially not for bands on Nuclear fucking Blast. Being metal is only as good as the songs you write, and Iced Earth phone it in hard here. It's ironic that I'm saying that playing metal means they're basically selling out and playing it super safe, but there you go. Dystopia sucks and is a soulless, vapid, boring experience, but I'm sure there's a cool T-shirt out there with the album art on it.

Yep, it's real. - 10%

Goldblaze, April 22nd, 2013

Well, this is it, lads. The new Iced Earth album. The much lauded return to form after the truly horrible 'The Crucible of Man', Iced Earth were finally to release a kick ass album again, which they haven't since 2001's Horror Show. Sounds like a dream come true, right? Right? Well, to me it was quite the opposite ever since I saw Matt Barlow leave the band. I'm sure we Iced Earth fans all saw THE video on Youtube of Barlow parting with the band after a Wacken gig in 2011. It's a total tearjerker, so go check it out if you care for the band because I for one would go to any dear person's funeral, so if you haven't been at the actual Wacken gig, I'd advise you to at least check the band's funeral via the video. And there you go, I already see it: “THE FUNERAL?? Are you fucking mad??“.

Yes, well it seems that this band died with Barlow leaving and upon hearing this album I was reassured of that. I know a lot of people that think he was either bad or mediocre, and okay, while I can't really see where they are coming from, I am respectful of other people's opinions. It's perfectly fine to replace your departed singer with another one as long as that singer is competent enough. And yes, Stu Block is a pretty competent singer...competent. Not good. As a matter of fact, he is not nearly good because as everybody should know, being a singer does not just constitute having vocal cords capable of handling banshee screams. You need to enhance your performance with spirit and emotion, neither of which are a familiar thing to Mr. Block, who thinks all he can do is just make a performance sonically close enough to Matt and he will instantly be a welcome addition to a band. Which is exactly what happened, making me all the more pissed off.

Now let's save the vocal performance for the end of this review and let's talk about the music itself. This is no longer the Iced Earth I know and love, and neither is this the Iced Earth you guys know and love because, quite frankly, this is musically a fresh album and it does not contain rehashed triplets like the last one and the one before that and the one before that one. The approach to riffing is nothing really novel, it's just Jon opting for an approach different than the previous albums, which is in theory a very good thing. I personally have grown tired of Schaffer's tiresome attempts at riffing ever since past Horror Show. Well, you insert your CD, press play, and for a moment you are greeted with a...build-up intro. I guess it's not bad, huh? So the intro drags on, and on, and on. Of course, the build-up is totally pointless as the intro is already built up the moment the album and the title track started. You hear some more layered solos and leads and then finally...oh my fucking god. Did Stu Block just do a black metal scream? Why, yes he did. I apologize, I know I said that I will deal with singing later, but I just can't hold it in. A scream of this variety has NOTHING to do on an Iced Earth album, nor does a death metal growl have its spot on a new Iron Maiden album, but Maiden were smart enough not to bring over Ola Lindgren from Grave to do death growls on their intro track, so I guess I can call it a wise choice.

Okay, the first verse. The riff is actually quite okay and then Stu starts to sing. I really can't see the reason for praise here. Come on, people. He sounds like a mix of a Barlow tribute and Phil Anselmo. The song itself has some cool lyrics, but it's been done to death by this very band, not to mention countless other bands regardless of genre. Yes, we understand corporations are bad, you are a part of the system ever since you are born, et cetera. Now stop it, please. Despite my rant, it's the best song on the album and yeah, I guess it's a pretty okay song overall.

The album continues with 'Anthem' which is really a bad attempt at creating a slower, more ballad-like track. It opens with some default clean guitar strumming before bursting into a slow beat beneath some of the most uninspired riffing. The lead has exactly 3 notes. Also, the positioning of this track is horrible. Why the fuck would you place a slow ballady song immediately after an energetic opener? You tried it on Something Wicked, Jon, and it didn't work. Sucked then, sucks now. Anyway, I digress. The next track is called 'Boiling Point'. Yes, you guessed it, it's a fast thrasher. Would be great if it wasn't so pointless and bland. Didn't they have a song called 'Violate' on the Dark Saga album? I'm sure they have.

Now, no band's mission should be to create only original songs, but this formulaic approach is starting to annoy the fuck out of me. The build-up intro to the album, because all big concept albums have it, a token slow track and then a fast thrasher to spice it up. Sounds so predictable. Would be funny if it wasn't so sad. Goddamn Iced Earth, at least be original in making a sucky album. I hope that when I finally see them live, I'll be hearing 'Violate' in the concert and not this crap-o-rama.

The last track I am going to mention by name is by far the worst IE song I have ever heard, and that honor goes to 'Anguish of Youth'. And this is going to be an excruciatingly hard task because I just don't know where to start. How about that horrible acoustic guitar at the beginning or the 3 Doors Down-meets-Seether vocal performance. Oh, and the lyrics are SO FUCKING HORRIBLE. Now seriously, whoever listens to metal because of lyrics primarily is clearly listening to the wrong music genre, but if it's thrown to my face like this, I can't not notice it. Boo-hoo, a little girl lost her ice cream. Seriously, Jon? The same person who wrote lyrical masterpieces like 'When the Night Falls' or 'The Phantom Opera Ghost' is now writing this:

The wind's crying softly
Tears stream down her precious cheeks
The last goodbye to those she loves
Before the final sleep
The pain is just too much
She can't even face another day
Oh, the past, it haunts her
The scars won't fade away.



Combine this with a title like 'Anguish of Youth' and add two and two together and you've got yourself a real winner. The rest of the album ain't a lot better than that. From the uninspired power metal crapfest of 'Dark City' to the hideous closing track, it doesn't get any better than the first 4 tracks I covered.

But you know, the fact that most people eat this shit up is nowhere more absurd to me than in the fact that most people not just think that Stu is a decent replacement for Matt, but go far enough to say that he is a better singer and that IE will be better if he stays permanently. Let me see, what made Matt so good in the first place? I direct everyone to look at the Alive in Athens concert. Just go and look at it. You won't need a single argument from this review that I'm writing this moment. Matt not only had a great voice and a huge range, he was perfectly able to convey emotions of sadness and anger into the songs. He had a distinctive feeling for being melodramatic as well, something a lot of people would hold against him, but in my personal opinion he was absolutely fantastic at that. 'A Question Of Heaven' or 'Blessed are You' will never be the same with this fucker behind the mic. If they ever play those live again, that is. Stu Block's voice consists of restrained shouting or clean singing, never allowing himself to rise up a moderate yell, however when the situation asks it he will do a Halford-esque scream, but it's just...empty. Devoid of everything that kind of singing should have. Barlow, Halford, Bruce Dickinson (mostly live) are all over the place. Stu Block just took various vocal techniques he discovered while being in countless other shitty bands and mashed them together here. He constantly tries to imitate Matt even though he discards those accusations, but it's so obvious. Again I refer you to 'Anguish of Youth' and in the beginning of the song when he starts to sing, just listen to him. Those notes were written for Barlow (even though I am trying to assure myself Matt would never sing such a horrible song) and Stu knows it and he tries to obey, but fails.

Conclusion of the day: your vocal cords can be a divine gift to mankind if you are emotionless and, like Stu, you suck. There is no other way around it.

Does this album have any redeeming factors? Well, not really. Aside from the title track standing out of the obvious crapfest that is the rest of the album, there is no reason to hear this album unless you want to hear how bad it is. The Japan edition has 'The Trooper' cover, which is as bad as the rest of the album, if not worse. If members of Iron Maiden were dead, they'd be rolling in their grave so intensely that they would dig another canal from Britain to France with Dickinson going all the way to Italy after hearing how badly Block butchered it.

Iced Earth have failed once again, but this time not because of the self-plagiarism, but for the horrible step in the wrong direction while attempting to move forward with their sound. I just hope the next album will feature someone who can actually sing (in a true sense of the word) and that when I hear them live, it will feature a chock full of good classic songs. This was one of the first metal bands I've ever listened to and it pains me so much for writing this review, but I hope people won't think that I am an Iced Earth hater, because I am in fact a fan...a disappointed one, but still a fan.

The Nightmare Unfolds Before My Eyes - 90%

Twisted_Psychology, October 20th, 2012

Originally published at http://suite101.com

Iced Earth has always been infamous for their revolving door band lineup changes but their turnover rates over the last seven years have made it hard to refer to Jon Schaffer’s brainchild as a true band. Factor in the occasionally bland songwriting on their last two albums along with the second departure of fan favorite singer Matt Barlow and you’ve got a group with a very doubtful future. Fortunately the release of Dystopia sees things going in the right direction as it takes a good back to basics approach. It has the shortest track listing since 1996’s The Dark Saga and with the additions of Into Eternity vocalist Stu Block and bassist Freddie Vidales, Iced Earth is starting to feel like a real band again!

Musically, this album could be described as a cross between Something Wicked This Way Comes and The Glorious Burden. The songwriting is quite tight and with a lot of variety, a move that will surely please those who were annoyed by the last two albums’ tendency to focus on interludes and mid-tempo songs. Having said that, this album also has some outside influences that keep it from sounding too much like previous efforts. There are inevitably some tropes pulled from Schaffer’s Sons of Liberty project with the guitars having a similarly bright sound. This is most noticeable on “Dark City” as the song is vaguely similar to “Jekyll Island” though it is made distinct by its battle cry inducing final segment.

Speaking of brightness, the band feels more unified and shows off an overall more solid sound. The guitars show off a lot of prowess and manage to balance the brightness with a ballsy tone. Unfortunately, there is also a rather minimal amount of soloing so the leads don’t get to stand out as much as they could…

Predictably, the vocals are what everyone is talking about. As others have noticed, Block’s performance mostly focuses on a mid-range voice reminiscent of Barlow though he also lets out plenty of Ripper-styled screams. With another album or two under his belt, he could become the new quintessential Iced Earth singer and the perhaps the one best suited for the live environment. He’s also contributed more lyrics to a single release than any other vocalist in the band’s history, a good demonstration of Schaffer’s faith in the new guy.

Speaking of lyrics, this is another one of the band’s concept albums with this theme revolving around oppressive governments, brainwashing, and all the other fun forms of control. But even though most of the songs on here are based on films and other forms of media, there is a intent here that is clearly not too far from the Sons of Liberty mindset. Some will probably be turned off by the borderline tinfoil-hattery, but at least there aren’t any samples…

Fortunately, the focus is still on the music as the songs do offer a great deal of variety. And with everything that is on display, the excellent choruses that can be heard throughout make every song memorable. “Anthem” is a particularly memorable track as its chorus is a truly infectious one and the lyrics actually do a good job of conveying the uncertainty that is commonplace in this day and age. The album also keeps up the band’s tradition of including a few ballads with the two on here being nicely written. “Anguish of Youth” is the more enjoyable of the two with its more upbeat acoustic strums during the verses though “End of Innocence” is notable for its somber theme that appears to be a direct continuation from the subject of death that Block had previously discussed on Into Eternity’s The Incurable Tragedy.

Oddly enough, the faster tracks are what end up being the real mixed bags on the album though there aren’t any bad songs on here by any means. On one hand, the opening title track and the closing “Tragedy and Triumph” do offer some upbeat speeds and great verse/chorus transitions. On the other hand, “Boiling Point” and “Days of Rage” feel too short with their less than three minute durations and really would’ve benefited from some ripping solo sections…

Overall, this album probably would’ve been even better with a bit more of a focus on guitar leads but it manages to be a pretty good effort that goes against the expectations of those who believed the band had nothing left to offer after the loss of Barlow. This is definitely the best Iced Earth since The Glorious Burden was released in 2004, though the folks who weren’t Ripper fans should be able to find some earlier albums to compare this to. But for the first time since that album came out, the band is in a position where the future actually looks bright. Hopefully this lineup can keep things up together for a few more releases, as there is a lot of potential on display from the new blood. So what is this going to mean for Into Eternity, anyway?

Current Highlights:
“Dystopia”
“Anthem”
“Anguish Of Youth”
“Dark City”
“Tragedy And Triumph”

A Fitting Rebirth - 93%

ArnoldHablewitz, February 18th, 2012

Iced Earth is a band that at this point has a long, storied history and it is to the point where one could say they have a certain, identifiable sound that is only shared by the occasional side project of mainman Jon Shaffer. To call him a metal visionary certainly seems fitting at this stage in his career. Iced Earth's albums have run the gamut of arguably instant-classic collections of uber-riffage, all the way to overambitious power-thrash epics with enough brains, brawn, and heart to carry them over the threshold and stay with the band's diehard followers, if not bringing them new fans along the way.

The elephant in the room with this release is obviously the second departure of Matthew Barlow, a powerhouse of a vocalist with a timbre so easily identifiable as his own that his records he's done with the group are often thought of as Iced Earth's finest. One needs to remember that in Iced Earth lore, the marriage of Shaffer's vicious right-hand attack and cutting-midrange guitar tone alongside Barlow's mixture of dramatic dynamics and bark equals metal bliss...so if you're Jon Shaffer, how do you deal with it when your musical soulmate is gone? How do you replace someone that you couldn't even suitably replace the first time with a former vocalist for Judas freakin' Priest?

Enter Stu Block of Canadian prog-metal wunderkinds Into Eternity. Being in that band requires a singer with an almost unparalleled range, not to mention versatility (often going from growling/screaming to scorching falsettos), but that doesn't exactly equal perfect fit when you're dealing with a tried-and-true sound such as Iced Earth's. Not many folks, least of all the skeptics, saw Block's middle-of-his-range roar coming. Flat out, his voice fits this music like a glove. He gets in the occasional screech and falsetto that he's built his own career on, and whereas when Tim Owens was in the band his style seemed to be the proverbial sore thumb, Block's meshes and mixes into the music as a means of completing it, never going over the top for the sake of going over the top.

Music-wise, as mentioned previously Shaffer has a tried-and-true formula. He gets to showcase his awe-inspiring, Hetfield-destroying right hand on numerous occasions, but even he knows when to hold back. Many of these tracks on "Dystopia" tend to be more mid-paced, but still very much metal through-and-through. He can simplify things until it's almost along the lines of something a teenager's first band might write, but it never sounds dated or uninspired. You can always tell it was meant to be written that way, that he heard it in his head, put pen to paper, and then played it on record with so much confidence, and that is why his simplest stuff even works this well. First single "Anthem" and power ballad "The End of Innocence" are prime examples of this. It acts as a nice little pace breakup in the midst of the Shaffer-staple galloping lines of tunes like "Days of Rage," "Boiling Point," and "Equilibrium." Fans of "The Dark Saga" and "Something Wicked This Way Comes" records will also notice a familiar pace set by the track "Anguish of Youth," which bears more than a little resemblance to past Iced Earth classics like "I Died For You" and "Melancholy." These tracks are heavy, super-catchy, and very listenable while retaining qualities the diehards look for.

Add to this some perfectly well-suited performances by rhythm section Brent Smedley and Freddie Vidales, who one could never claim are virtuosos at their respective instruments. These guys know their roles though; they understand that these tunes need precision and adding in anything just a smidgeon too intricate or left-of-center throws the focus off an amazing Iced Earth track and instead rests it squarely on the performer in question (remember when Richard Christy was playing drums for this band? exactly my point). As for lead guitarist Troy Seele, I have to confess that it's taking a little getting used to hearing the occasional sweep arpeggio and shred moment in Iced Earth, but one can't argue he does it incredibly tastefully and the guy has earned his right to be here.

This disc doesn't make me nostalgic at all, but rather causes me to look forward to the band's future. Isn't that what a new album is supposed to do?

ICED EARTH IS BACK!!! - 97%

stormruller, January 13th, 2012

This is how I can describe this amazing release of "Dystopia". This cd is their best release since their 2001 release, "Horror Show". Their albums released with Tim "Ripper" Owens and their comeback cd with Matt Barlow released 3 years ago were okay releases, but this new cd is back to the glory days Iced Earth. New vocalist Stu Block (ex-Into Eternity) had the courage to replace great vocalists such as Ripper and Barlow and more than handling such amazing vocals, I can say that this guy has the aggressive vocals of Barlow plus the amazing screams from Ripper, so let's just hope for no more line-up changes here Mr. Schaffer, Stu is the perfect vocalist for Iced Earth.

As for Stu, we should talk more about this guy. Once I had read that he was going to be the new Iced Earth vocalist, I looked into some Into Eternity music and I really couldn't see this guy handling the vocals for Iced Earth as he didn't have the same vocal lines as Matt Barlow has and this is why some Iced Earth fans complained about Tim "Ripper" Owens once he arrived in the band. Just after their ep with the song "Dante's Inferno" re-recorded, I realized that he was the one to handle the vocals and couldn't be more wrong after listening to this amazing cd.

There is not only one single song that you could describe as not a good song. My least favorite is the final and longest song, "Tragedy And Triumph", but this doesn't mean this song is not good, it's just the least from a great cd. All the other songs are amazing, but I have to mention stand out songs such as the title track "Dystopia", the short songs "Boiling Point" and "Days Of Rage", the power ballads "Anguish Of Youth" and "End Of Innocence", and mid-tempo songs "Anthem" and "V". Hold on, I've almost mentioned all the songs as stand out songs. I just didn't mentioned "Dark City" and "Equilibrium", which are strong songs, too. Okay, I can say these two are stand out songs as well.

There is one song that I need to say more about on this cd, and that song is "Anguish Of Youth". Can I say that this is the song of the year? It's hard to say that, but I keep listening to this song over and over again. This power ballad is the song I've wanted to listen to again recorded by Iced Earth and reminds me a lot power ballads released by the band in the past such as "Watching Over Me" and "I Died For You".

I could give a 10 out of 10 for this release, but I'll take some points off not for the music, but because the cd only has 10 songs and is 45 minutes long. I wanted to listen to more amazing songs with Mr. Schaffer and Stu Block. I'm already waiting for a new Iced Earth cd and it was very nice to read that the band will be playing near my town in Brazil next March. I won't miss this concert, for sure.

Originally written for: http://hhnews.hdfree.com.br

Iced Earth revert back to ass-kicking form. - 85%

Andromeda_Unchained, December 15th, 2011

Three years since the tepid The Crucible of Man Iced Earth return with their latest album Dystopia. As with any new Iced Earth release, there has been a change in the line-up. Matt Barlow has stepped down from the vocal spot yet again, and now we have ex-Into Eternity vocalist Stu Block fronting the attack (more on him later). Rounding up the new line-up is lead guitarist Troy Steele, who stands as one of the finest lead players the band has seen and bassist Freddie Vidales. To answer the question I'm sure is on all your minds; is Dystopia good? What about Stu Block, does he fit the boots Matt Barlow recently vacated? Well I can answer with yes, and yes.

Dystopia is quite possibly the finest album Jon Schaffer and co. have unleashed since 2001's quality Horror Show. The album takes the similar path of Something Wicked This Way Comes, although the ballads don't leave me half as cold. In fact, I'd actually say that Dystopia flows tenfold better than Something Wicked... Stu Block takes the Matt Barlow approach and the Tim Owens approach. Yes he nails both their styles rather well, and is actually the perfect voice for the band. Fortunately he doesn't stay grounded in emulation, adding his own touches throughout which sees Iced Earth at quite possibly their best vocally.

The rest of the band are in great form too. Jon Schaffer's riffs have more power behind them than they have had in years, taking his signature thrashing power metal riffage back to the level they used to be. Troy's guitar leads are furious and technically rather impressive, and definitely add to the quality of the release. The rhythm section nails it like an Iced Earth rhythm section should, providing all things fast, slow and anything in between.

Tracks such as the title track, "Boiling Point" and "Equilibrium" find the band in sublime ass-kicking form, with the latter standing as the coolest track on the album. Boasting a Maiden-on-steroids feel, "Equilibrium" really fucking smokes, with a particularly awesome middle section. "Anthem" is another great track, luring you into a false sense of security with use of clean channel; you automatically think it's a ballad but the end result is a quality mid-paced track that will no doubt become a fan favorite. Speaking of ballads I'm surprised they don't completely suck, with "The End of Innocence" being the best of the bunch feeling like a superior "Consequences". Closing the show we have the stupendous "Tragedy and Triumph" which is certainly one of the cooler long songs by the band. Great riffs, great vocal lines, and some cool lead guitar work – awesome!

So, all in all Dystopia is a success! I can't believe, I was expecting complete and utter tripe but this is actually pretty fucking great – even the lyrics are quality. Hopefully the band might find a little solidarity now, it's about bloody time. The only real sore point for me would be the string mix of "Anthem" which is completely unnecessary but hardly a chore to turn off after "Tragedy and Triumph". Iced Earth fans need this, as do former fans of the band who wrote them off after Horror Show. Recommended!

Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com

Iced Earth's Best Since Horror Show - 80%

Odovacar, December 12th, 2011

A common theme for science fiction are dystopian stories – generally an authoritarian and brutal government keeps the general populous in control through brutal actions, harsh censorship and a probing eye over society. These themes are perfectly suited for heavy metal and something that Jon Schaffer has explored in the past only to go into full blown concept album mode for Iced Earth's newest release – Dystopia.

Oppression and despair are common throughout with original songs as well as songs inspired by movies with similar themes (“V” for Vendetta, “Equilibrium” and a personal favorite; “Dark City”) padded with themes of triumph over the chains of tyranny (“Anthem”). Songs of this nature call for someone who can deliver a powerful and commanding voice, one that was normally reserved for fan favorite Matt Barlow, it has been filled by Into Eternity singer Stu Block. He commands on tracks “Anthem”, “Boiling Point” and “Days of Rage” and balances the rage for depression and a tinge of hope in “Anguish of Youth” and “End of Innocence”.

While a very competent vocalist, I can't help but wonder if Block chose to sound similar to Barlow either at his own volition or at Schaffer's behest in order to avoid some fan backlash that Tim 'Ripper' Owens unfairly received. Granted Block has a greater range than both singers, effectively hitting the lows of Barlow and the highs of Owens, it certainly breeds familiarity.

Iced Earth isn't known for branching off in any new musical direction, keeping their feet firmly planted in the power and thrash metal territory, “Dystopia” is definitely their strongest since Horror Show. The trademark galloping rhythms have been reigned back only to come out in full force on “Days of Rage”. Power ballads “Anguish of Youth” and “End of Innocence” round out the rest of the album.

The past few albums for Iced Earth have been lackluster with only a few stand out tracks, it seems the current political climate and Schaffer's obsession with various New World Order conspiracy theories are sparking his creativity. Hopefully the relationship between Stu Block and Jon Schaffer will continue to give way to more strong Iced Earth releases as was given with Dystopia.

Enter The Nightmare - 88%

Nosrac1691, November 19th, 2011

Well, here it is. “Dystopia,” Iced Earth’s tenth studio recording, is the first to feature Into Eternity vocalist Stu Block and bassist Freddie Vidales, continuing the band’s long revolving door tradition. However, Block aside, the lineup featured on this album has been touring together since 2008, making this incarnation road tested and not thrown together for the album. Main man Jon Schaffer had promised almost a year before “Dystopia” was released that the album would mark a return of sorts for the group. Schaffer stated that he just wanted a kickass metal album, devoid of the pomposity that can be found on the previous two Something Wicked albums. After listening to “Dystopia” several times, I believe Shaffer delivered on his promise. What we have here is an Iced Earth “theme” album that follows no direct storyline, but dabbles in dystopian themes, much like Horror Show with horror films and stories and The Glorious Burden with history. It should be noted that the opener and closer, “Dystopia” and “Tragedy and Triumph,” respectively, are written in Schaffer’s Something Wicked storyline, though in a more succinct and less direct way. Not all songs follow the theme, particularly the ballads “Anguish of Youth” and “End of Innocence,” which by no means are any less dark as both songs deal with death in two very different ways.

“Dystopia” is an Iced Earth album that, at long last, brims with energy and aggression. I am one of those people who think the two Something Wicked albums sounded, for the most part, tired and worn down. It was almost like Schaffer and company were at last growing weary after firing off incredibly solid albums throughout the ‘90s and into the new millennium. The title track contains more venom and energy than albums eight and nine put together, with the hyper speed picking that was Schaffer’s trademark through the ‘90s. Block introduces himself with an agonized scream and really attacks the song, from his newfound midrange style, to a fascinating bridge comprised of high parts, and a cleaner and melodic chorus. Next up is the extremely melodic “Anthem,” a simply played song with possibly the biggest chorus on the album. These first two songs have cleverly been sequenced to showcase the two separate ages of Iced Earth. “Dystopia” embodies the speedier and angrier first age of the band’s existence, while “Anthem” demonstrates the best of the simpler power metal they have been putting out the last ten years. Played back to back, the two songs are a wonderfully memorable moment from the album.

I would not call any one track filler on this release, though “V” is an oddity in the Iced Earth catalogue. Curious riffing, several vocal parts, and “stand and fight” lyrics propel a song that is over before you know it, though speed is never emphasized. The album does include two other short songs that are of the neck-snapping variety, with “Boiling Point” in particular showcasing Block’s skills of transitioning from mid-range to high vocals to a call-and-response vocal pattern. The other, “Days of Rage,” was completely written by Jon Schaffer and strongly recalls to mind “Violate” from 1996’s The Dark Saga, though the midsection is a departure that puts bassist Freddie Vidales and Stu Block in the spotlight. Even if it is similar to “Violate,” “Days of Rage” stands apart due to Block’s “almost death metal but not quite” vehement vocal performance. This is a song that could really get a mosh pit going in the live setting. My favorite song is probably “Dark City,” about the film of the same name, which features (again) a great performance by Block and is a nod to Schaffer’s love of the music of Iron Maiden, with twin guitar harmonies driving the last half. “Equilibrium” slows things down a bit like only a crunch Iced Earth mid-pace track can and it certainly doesn’t hurt that is contains one of the best choruses on the album.

The album ends with two strange songs, especially considering that this is Iced Earth. “End of Innocence” is a ballad that, at times, feels almost like an alternative rock song, though that feeling quickly vanishes during the chorus and you are left with no doubt what band you are listening too. The song contains heartfelt lyrics by Block about his mother’s fight with cancer. It’s during moments like this that I am pleased that Schaffer, after dominating the writing for the previous three studio albums, has let someone else in his writing circle. Unheard of for any previous Iced Earth release, Stu Block is actually credited with contributing lyrics to eight of the ten songs. While he did contribute to the closer, “Tragedy and Triumph,” the song is mainly Schaffer’s and is a return to the Something Wicked world found on the opening title track. This is a surprisingly positive song for Iced Earth, with lyrics depicting a revolt and emancipation from the harsh environment from “Dystopia.” The song is one of the harder ones to get into, though it does make sense from a closer standpoint. When it is all said and done, Iced Earth’s tenth studio album is easily the best since 2001’s “Horror Show.”

That being said, I do have two major complaints with this album. The first complaint is more of a matter of preference, which is that I am greatly disappointed that “Dystopia” features no epic song. I feel that Jon Schaffer has always done his best writing in the form of epics, be it “Dante’s Inferno,” “Damien,” or the Gettysburg Trilogy. The running time for “Tragedy and Triumph” is misleading, as the actual song lasts just barely over six minutes, which is then followed by a minute of silence and a humorous drunken chant by the band. Most songs on the album are in the four to five minute range, so I feel that an eight minute destroyer really could have lifted the album to a higher plain. My second complain is a lyrical matter, as I think too many songs attempt to depict a character or group overcoming repression and finding freedom. “Dystopia,” “V,” “Dark City,” “Equilibrium,” and certainly “Tragedy and Triumph” all contain at least one character vowing to resist and fight the enemy. This lyrical choice is fine and there is nothing at all wrong with it, but I think it was emphasized a little too much. If I had been around Jon Schaffer’s house when he was writing the album, I would have challenged him to write a completely hopeless song in a dystopian world. Given his well-known political stances, was Schaffer afraid to write a song that would evoke the utmost feelings of desperation and finality? Either way, I believe he should have written one. What could be scarier than been offered a glimpse into a dystopia that includes no uprisings or heroes, but only the ultimate enslavement of good at the hands of evil? Sometimes it is the horror tales that affect people more than the ones with a happy ending.

"The Man from Dystopia" - 75%

doomknocker, November 11th, 2011

‘Twas a sad, sad day when Matt Barlow announced his retirement from Iced Earth. We all knew, deep down, that it was coming, and that the band would survive in one way or another without him (as it had happened before), but the sense of finality was more acute this time around. But for me, what I first felt was a bit of dread; the FIRST time Barlow left the group, we in the listening public had to put up with “Ripper” Owens (the Metal Parrot) and his many attempts at singing, only to be bothered and frustrated in the end…well, at least I felt that way. He was just a bad fit all around. However, those sensations came and went when I sampled a bit of Stu Block’s interpretation of “Dante’s Inferno” (like so many others out there) and was pretty impressed with what he could do. But did that leave me wet in the jowls for the next album to come? Well, not really…but what it DID do was prepare me for the coming landing. If that makes any kind of sense.

Nevertheless, knowing a new album was in the works made me a touch curious, and I stepped towards it rather gingerly, ready for a potential dystopia to come…

Before getting into the part of the album that would no doubt be scrutinized the most (the vocals), I gave the album as a whole a realistic listen. On a songwriting level, “Dystopia” burns and churns with a veritable hellfire the band hasn’t channeled in a while and, the way I’d see it, worked with the best of a bad situation. The problem with most Iced Earth albums these days (not all, mind you) is that Mr. Shaffer usually has about three or four songs’ worth of original material that ends up being stretched to about eleven tracks, if not more, and while this is the case once more with “Dystopia”, it’s made more easily digestible as a result of the group’s actual performance, which is spot on and shows more energy and discretion than they’ve shown in a long time. Taking cues from the chunky, slower trawls of “Framing Armageddon” the choral lushness of “Horror Show”, and even a tiny bit of “Something Wicked…” monstrousness, this shows the band almost at the top of their game. This is at a time where we metal folk need to look past the thickening funeral fog of modern metal and rock and find the good choice bits, be they a new group trying to tunnel out of the woodwork with their own wits and talents, or a group of old timers still getting the job done for the sake of doing so, and thankfully, Iced Earth’s “never say die” attitude and general refusal to grow far past their roots can be reliable in the latter’s department. When they want to be.

Despite his compositional limitations, Jon Shaffer is easily one of the tightest rhythm guitar players from then to now and says more with all those emotional clean chord progressions and now-patented rapid-fire triplet gallops than many other kids out could ever hope to do. This is made all the more potent with one of the best rhythm sections the group has had (the consistently strong drumming and just-as-tight bass work) and the wailing leads of Troy Seele, wherein you can see where I’m coming from when it comes to what glorifications are present. But of course, in the end, it comes down to Stu Block and his mighty pipes. As a singer, Stu has a lot of power and strength in his vocal foundations, and he doesn’t always seem to flounder or try to do something he seemed incapable of tackling. He tends to shine the brightest with his mid-range choirs (despite what I’m sure is unintentional Barlow aping) and brusque, semi-blackened screams, but I’ll admit that the higher falsettos sounded quite off and a little too Ripper-like, which doesn’t help matters. Thankfully, though, he doesn’t reach for the sky that often, and the likes of “Anthem”, “Anguish of Youth” and “Equilibrum” properly showcase him coming into his own with the group rather than being the new odd man out.

So all in all, “Dystopia” is a pretty strong release, and as far as modern Iced Earth goes this is one of the better ones. While not as dazzling as the days of old ala “Night of the Stormrider”, those who’ve been paying attention to them lo these many years may be impressed enough to sink their teeth into this rather deeply.

Originally written for The Offering
www.offeringwebzine.com

Dystopia - 86%

TgTheEngineer, November 3rd, 2011

On March 3rd 2011, Matt Barlow resigned from Iced Earth. This wasn’t the first time the main singer for Iced Earth retired from music, but this time he assured that it would be final. Shortly after this news was released, John Schaffer (rhythm guitarist and founder of Iced Earth) stated that Matt Barlow’s replacement would be Stu Block (lead singer for Into Eternity). This news put a lot of fans on edge since Into Eternity is a melodic death metal band and Iced Earth has been a long time thrash band that dabbled in power metal.

Well, after the long awaited release of Iced Earth’s new album, we get to see how well Stu Block measured up to the legacy left behind by Matt Barlow & Tim Owens (Matt’s initial replacement before returning to Iced Earth).

The album starts off amazingly strong with the title track, Dystopia. In my opinion, this is the best song on the album. It hearkens back to traditional Iced Earth thrash. This song alone gave me hope that they had stopped dabbling in power metal and had returned to what they did best. The main wow factor for this track is Stu Block’s range. Stu is not only a good cover for Barlow’s med-low growls, but also to Tim Owen’s ear-splitting shrieks, all of which are great, but his mid-range is where I define who he is. It stands out as his sound compared to the other singers.

The tracks that follow also are fairly strong, good songs. The structure of the album is very similar to that of Something Wicked Comes This Way, alternating between heavy songs and more ballad-style songs. The best softer song would be “Anguish of Youth”, a song that is very close to fan favorites “I Died for You”, “Melancholy”, and “Watching over Me”.

The only negative thing about this album to me is the production. It isn’t bad by any means, so don’t think Death Magnetic production style, but it’s very overproduced. It sounds super polished, which would be good except there is a loss of crunch and bite that other Iced Earth albums have.

Overall, I would rate this album an 86%. There are some filler songs that slow down the album, but it’s definitely a great album. I expect a great tour to come with this album as promised by Schaffer (with “Dante’s Inferno” being on the set list).

Strongest songs from the album: “Dystopia”, “Anthem”, “Anguish of Youth”, “Days of Rage”, & “Iron Will”*.

*Only on the special edition of the album.

A letter to Jon Schaffer - 87%

Agonymph, November 2nd, 2011

Dear Jon Schaffer,

When I was 13 years old - there's no need to deny this - I worshipped you and 'Alive In Athens' was my gospel. Hearing that live album was a revelation for me. Maybe this is kind of hard to realize for someone who isn't into the band, but Iced Earth was like nothing I had ever heard before. The combination of the blazingly fast and crunchy guitar riffs, powerful vocals beyond belief and adventurous songwriting really blew me away. Iced Earth brought me what the logo suggested I'd find: a more pointy version of Iron Maiden.

As a result, I digested everything Iced Earth put out as if it was cake. And even now, being 25 and able to put things a little more into perspective, the appeal your music had for me hasn't faded. Okay, some things have changed. No longer do I see 'Something Wicked This Way Comes' as the ultimate high point of artistic vision ever unleashed upon man. I do, however, still lose my mind over many an Iced Earth song and I still rank the best of them among my favorite songs of all time.

One of the things that put my faith in your ability to write killer Metal songs to the test was the first decade of this century. 'Horror Show' was a killer album, but the subsequent records were less satisfactory. Although I am a massive fan of his vocals, I find it too easy to blame the departure of Matthew Barlow for that. I must admit that I never found Tim Owens the right singer for Iced Earth, but it isn't his fault that to this day, listening to 'The Glorious Burden' is a torturous experience. Being European, I think part of the message of that album is lost upon me, but I also find the album to be too pompous and overblown.

In addition, I still don't know if spreading the whole 'Something Wicked'-storyline over two albums was such a good idea. Although the 'Framing Armaggeddon' and 'Crucible Of Man' records do have their moments, they're albums I hardly ever put on again, because the excessive length of these albums completely lacks the tension and punch that the original 'Something Wicked' trilogy - which I still regard as one of the highlights of your compositional oeuvre - did have.

However, these last few years, there have been a few developments that made me very hopeful about the forthcoming - and now finally released - studio album 'Dystopia'. First of all, there seems to be a stable lineup, with lead guitarist Troy Seele and returning rightful heir to the drumming throne Brent Smedley have been there for several years and bassist Freddie Vidales, with possibly the best right hand of any Iced Earth bassist, appears to be a very stable addition to the lineup as well. Also, you seemed more focused than ever in recent interviews. It gave me the idea that you were really just interested in writing a bunch of powerful Metal tunes and make a great album again. Now the only uncertainty that was left was the new singer.

To start out with the latter: Stu Block is a revelation. Beforehand, I doubted if he was the right choice, since I really like his work with Into Eternity, but the clean vocals made me think he was a bit too "light" for the power of Iced Earth's music. This Stu Block, however, is a whole different beast than the Stu Block in Into Eternity. This Stu Block has a range I have never heard of him before. A strong, proud and versatile set US Power Metal pipes that have exactly the edge that Iced Earth's music requires. He has Matt Barlow's sense of expression, Tim Owens' Halfordian screams and an impressive range that allows you to experiment a little more with the choirs you seem to have been increasingly equipping since your first collaboration with Hansi Kürsch on the Demons & Wizards debut. Stu Block is definitely a redeeming factor on 'Dystopia'.

Blaming only Stu Block for the euphoria that 'Dystopia' unleashed within me would be too easy though. Fact is that you have written your best album since 'Something Wicked This Way Comes'. There's a decent slab of pure American Heavy Metal on this album instead of excessively dabbling in the theatricality of the last ten years (although the album's weakest track 'Anthem' is borderline). Those people who have listened to the exclusive online airing of the album's title track have heard the return of the Iced Earth I fell in love with over a decade ago. Powerful, punishing riffs, a strong chorus and a cool structure and - I'm sorry, but I do have to stress this again - great vocals.

'Dystopia' even exceeds my expectations. For instance, the fantastic dark epic 'Dark City' even harkens back to the debut album a little with its Iron Maiden-like build-up in tension and that similar "Iron Maiden's heavier brother" vibe prevails in 'Equilibrium'. 'V' is the Metal anthem that 'Stand Alone' was years ago. There's even two scorching Thrash Metal tunes in the shape of 'Boiling Point' and 'Days Of Rage' that are brilliant. Where have you been hiding these riffs for so long? Even the ballads 'Anguish Of Youth' and 'End Of Innocence' are good. Stu's take on the vocals threw me off a little in the beginning, because I am - and always will be - addicted to Matt Barlow's delivery of the power ballad (you have to admit, his vocals on 'The Clouding' were much better than Owens'), but he does an amazing job and save for those who weren't too much into your ballads into the first place, I don't see any reason for any Iced Earth fan not to like these.

Initially, I had my doubts about 'Tragedy And Triumph' as the closing track of the album. Not that it's a bad track, but the remarkably more positive vibe that the music breathes just seemed a bit of an anticlimax to me. After having listened to this album at least another fifteen times, I can only realize this song is like the victorious salvation after being oppressed for so long, with oppression being a theme I feel is central to the album. It still isn't one of my favorite tracks on the album - 'Dark City', 'Iron Will', 'Dystopia' itself and the two Thrashers are - but you were right: it is the only justified closer to this album.

Mr. Schaffer, I welcome you back to where you have been needed for far too long: the highest regions of American Heavy Metal. If you will try and retain this level of songwriting for at least another couple of years, I will go out and urge people to buy the limited edition of this album, as it includes two of the best songs that are actually on the album. 'Soylent Green' is one of those powerful semi-epics that only you can write - okay, strictly speaking Troy Seele has co-written the song, but I think you get my point - and 'Iron Will' is a downright brilliant piece of melodic Heavy Metal with an amazing chorus lifted to an even higher level by Stu's vocals and Troy's part shred, part-raw bluesy emotion guitar solo.

And just for the record: Freddie Vidales and Brent Smedley are the best rhythm section you have ever had. These guys are rock solid and almost sound as if they are one combined entity together.

It's been a long time since a new Iced Earth record caused such sheer euphoria upon hearing it for the first time and honestly, I never thought I ever would again, but I'm glad you have proven me wrong. Let's just forget about the last ten years and move on. You deserve it, your fans deserve it and the music you have written for 'Dystopia' most definitely deserves it.

It's good to have you back.

You could certainly call me surprised - 78%

Metal_Detector, October 26th, 2011

Iced Earth is one of the most frequently detracted bands in all of the metal kingdom, and a brief glance at their recent discography would make it clear as to why. Whether the burden takes the form of reused (and entirely mediocre) riffs, phoned-in vocals, or the lack of quality songwriting, Jon Schaffer always seems content to release any third rate crap he can while maintaining his unchallenged status of ubiquitous derision. As a result, Iced Earth moved to my 'bands to ignore' list for quite some time; however, my interest was renewed with the announcement that former Into Eternity vocalist Stu Block had joined the group's ranks. A frontman with great range and power, Stu was certain to add some needed youth to this moldy outfit. He has, but that isn't all that makes Dystopia a surprise winner.

Those expecting any significant newfound aggression or technicality to be taken from Stu's other band definitely shouldn't. Aside from some occasional growls and background screeches found seldom within, Iced Earth has changed little either musically or vocally. This house is still built upon simplistic, charging rhythms, gritty pipeworks, and hyper-melodic choruses; the simple difference this time is that those elements actually create a good foundation to build up some music of merit -- no stupid, pointless concept in sight and little bewildering patriotism included, I might add. Stu ranges everywhere from Barlow dead ringer to The product gives off a feeling of conciseness this band has long lacked, even if not every moment is a spectacle of originality and greatness. Dystopia does what it does, and it does what it does well. If one accepts this, than the album is quite enjoyable.

Oh, and the majority of the songs totally rock. The title track proves a suitable opener, overcoming its predictably structured form to spellbound with a chorus that should leave any old fan happy. "Anthem" takes Jon's standard track two position: a slow, anthemic (duh) tune with balladic tendencies. Still, the superb execution helps this one stand out. The first of two sub three minute songs, "Boiling Point" speeds things up a little bit without taking longer than it needs to. "Anguish of Youth" is probably my favorite here, an admittedly cheesy ballad with equally florid lyrics, but I can't help but love it due to a chorus I could only describe as "catchy as fuck." I've gone full days with these goddamn lines coursing through my mind and moving soundlessly over my lips:

"The tragedy still haunts her
The pain she cannot bear
She wants to laugh
She wants to live
Free from a life of despair"

Seriously, those lyrics are borderline awful and this song still has me singing them. "V" doesn't fare badly, either, its simple victory cry piercing straight into your psyche. "Dark City" enters with an eye-rollingly Iron Maiden worshipping intro, but creeps its way through a fitting atmosphere to claim the crown. "Equilibrium" progresses in a similar way to its predecessors, but the formula stays fresh thanks to its particularly puissant energy. The same cannot be said for "Days of Rage," a workmanlike, heavy-for-heaviness's-sake trial whose short length can't even save it. "End of Innocence" is a nice reprieve from that brainless debauchery, almost (but not quite) topping Symphony X's track of the same name. As usual, Iced Earth rounds it all out with an epic. "Tragedy and Triumph" isn't up to code, however, offering too little musical payoff to make up for its shopworn lyrical themes this time around. It's an overlong, lame closer to an otherwise great album.

Still, Dystopia is finally something to be proud of. There are melodic hooks to be found almost everywhere across this wartorn battlefield, and in the end, Iced Earth win a noticeably decisive battle. Eliminate some of the dumber lyrics and irrelevant "heavier than thou" moments and we could be talking about an even greater beast right now. There are numerous entries in the genre I would place ahead of Dystopia this year, but if you can tear yourself away from Tales of the Sands, Iconoclast, or Heavenly Ecstasy for a few minutes, I think Iced Earth's latest offering is well worth a few listens; and it's about damn time.

(http://metallicfaithimmortal.blogspot.com/)

Back on Track - 83%

MEGANICK89, October 26th, 2011

Iced Earth has never been a band that could claim of having a stable lineup. After the release of their newest album “Dystopia”; I hope main man Jon Schaffer has found a group that will stick around for awhile. With a revolving door of members, it’s hard to imagine that happening, but anything is possible. However, new vocalist Stu Block brings an energy and fierceness to the band and brings the best of both worlds from previous vocalists Matt Barlow and Tim Owens. Lead guitar player Troy Seele utilizes some impressive lead work missing since the days of Randall Shawver.

While “Dystopia” is not a concept album, it has an underlying theme to it of resisting dominating government and to fight back against the injustices of the world. It is nowhere near the direct harsh criticisms towards the United States government in Schaffer’s side project Sons of Liberty, but this album instead uses movies such as “V for Vendetta” and “Dark City” to elaborate its point. All in all, it makes for a kick-ass heavy metal record.

Gone are the choirs, layered vocals, and the orchestral compositions that were featured on the Something Wicked saga. Iced Earth is back to sounding like Iced Earth and not Blind Guardian. Stu Block’s presence leaves a sneering imprint with his growls and piercing screams. He is also a great impressionist sounding like Barlow at times and with his deafening scream, he sounds like Owens. Its as if both morphed into one person. In fact, on the softer songs like “Anguish of Youth”, he has some Glenn Hughes come out of him in the verses.

Schaffer has been accused at times of ripping himself off and while the galloping riffs are still present; it sounds fresh and does not sound like a direct rip-off to anything he has done. “Dark City” is the best song on here because of the elongated solo section at the end courtesy of Seele and the aggression it has is remarkable. The last song “Tragedy and Triumph” is an awesome epic that has a very inspirational atmosphere to fight against the man and to stand up for what is right. It is a great closer and brings “Dystopia” to a proper end. The guitar solo parts are again really strong. It is refreshing to have good solos on an Iced Earth record again because they have been missing for awhile.

Ironically, it the fastest and thrashier songs that are the weakest. Both “Days of Rage” and “Boiling Point” are both short, to the point songs, but are given little time to develop. They are amongst the least memorable songs on here. It is also the only time where Block sounds too much like a tough guy and it is very off-putting. I can forgive that though because they are not even close to the worst found on the previous couple albums.

This is easily the best since “Horror Show” with its quality and having a running theme with the songs like on HS is awesome. I highly recommend buying the deluxe edition with the three bonus songs because “Soylent Green” and “Iron Will” are good tracks. However the string mix of “Anthem” is unnecessary and barely sounds different. The packaging is also stellar with artwork that fit’s the different songs and the poster of the cover art and the sticker are solid extras that come with the deluxe edition. If you did not enjoy the Something Wicked saga and were yearning for Iced Earth to get back to basics, then you will be happy with this record. Tracks like “Dark City”, “Dystopia”, and “Tragedy and Triumph” show that the band still have what it takes to bring some quality metal.

Originally written for nicksmetal.blogspot.com

Not Quite Back To Form - 60%

metal_bryan, October 25th, 2011

It's time for yet another new Iced Earth album, featuring another mostly new lineup. The only member change that really matters though other than at live shows is Stu Block on vocals. While fans of the old Matt Barlow are sure to enjoy his near perfect impersonation, Stu's real shining moments are when he is more himself and goes into the upper registers. Unlike a lot of people, I'm not a big fan of Ripper Owens. I did not like much of what he did with Iced Earth, but I thought he was a good choice to liven up the tired-sounding riffs that Jon started putting out over time. Much in the same way, Stu's versatility and excellent use of range really liven up a lot of songs on this new album that I would have otherwise disliked with the aging Matt Barlow. The only faults I can find in Stu's vocals lie in certain segments where gang/shout vocals were used and it simply sounded way too "tough guy" and bordering on Metalcore. Otherwise, he's a welcome addition to the band.

With that out of the way, let's move on to the music itself. Jon has crafted some better tunes this time around than on the previous album, though it is not without its moments of downright annoyance. Days Of Rage in particular is like an assault on my intelligence as a music listener and metal fan. Some of the lyrics, like those in Anguish Of Youth or End Of Innocence, are also rather inane and off-putting. It baffles me that this is the same band who only 10 years ago gave us Horror Show, one of the best American metal releases of all time. In general, this is a better album than Iced Earth have done since probably The Glorious Burden, but it's still not a huge improvement. There are only a couple songs which really caught my ear and made me go back and listen again, but other than those two, I will probably not even bother in the future either. There is a glimmer of hope here that the next album may show even more improvement, but at this time the band is still in a funk. Iced Earth fans should check this one out of course, but otherwise I wouldn't recommend it. Go listen to their better older material.

Highlights: Dark City, Equilibrium

Out of the ashes of Iced Earth's past - 82%

hunter7, October 23rd, 2011

Out of the ashes of Iced Earth's past, came Dystopia. An album that lyrically deals with dystopian themes and yet being so optimistic for both life and heavy metal. Musically this album is a mixture of Iced Earth’s debut album and Dark Saga. Not a concept album though, but rather a theme album, paying tribute to dystopian movies and literature. After 3 average albums (Burden, Framing, Crucible) Jon returned with a vengeance capable of blowing away our hifi with the solid riffs of Dystopia. Solid like a concrete city.

The album opens with the self titled track referring once more to Set Abominae, but still can be 100% adapted to real life. The lyrics are bone crushing on this, so is the riffage. The chorus memorable, the solos short, fast and not boring. A heavy speed song that haunts your mind. An ideal album and concert opener. Stu dominates the composition, proving to be capable to erase the Matt/Owens era. Evil, venomous voice, can be easily transformed from deep Barlowish (Burnt Offerings) screams/growls, to super high, unreal pitches, even higher than Tim’s. The Dystopia song can be easily placed in Iced Earth's top 10 songs of all time. In my opinion it is by far the best metal song of 2011 (so far).

Next comes Anthem. Solid, mid tempo, with another memorable chorus and catchy melodies. Lyrics are great. The song can become a super hit, even for radio broadcast. So far so good. As I continue to listen I realize that time passes so joyable. All compositions are so direct, in your face, with riffs and melodies exchanging within seconds. Choruses in all songs are so sticky and even before you realize what happened, the CD stops. It's over, and you want to play it again, and again, and again. I still cannot believe my ears. In 2011 Jon (Block gets a lot of lyrics’ credits) can actually compose hymns like V, Dark City, Equilibrium. WOW!!! I love Dark City's intro. The speed metal songs Days Of Rage and Boiling Point reminds me of Violate and Disciples of The Lies. Unreal and energetic! Not innovative but head bangers like hell, and we need this. Last song is Triumph and Tragedy. A Maidenish super melodic fast song, very different from Iced Earth's standard style. Probably the best track of the album along with Dystopia track. Very interesting music style on this and enjoyable.

The question that raises is "where were you Jon since Horror Show?". Is this the best Iced Earth album? The answer is no, but at least it beats Something Wicked This way Comes. It beats the 3 last albums. It can compete with Horror Show and it can be easily placed next to Dark Saga, Burnt Offerings, Stormrider and Iced Earth. Block is credited more than Jon in lyrics’ writing and this is good news. The tracks have short melodic solos, meaning that guitarist Troy Steele is not just a guest but a full member. The rest of the band members seem to be tight as they have been touring and playing live for more than 3 years. Well, this is big news. Iced Earth has a stable line up for more than 3 years (Stu is the only addition, and a good one).

The album contains 2 ballads (Anguish of Youth and End of Innocence). I do not like ballads, and two in one album is quite a lot for my standards. Anguish of Youth is ok, mid tempo ballad. But End of Innocence seems to be a light pop/rock ballad, at least to my ears. Anyway, the limited digipack version includes 2 bonus tracks, Soylent Green and Iron Will which are very nice and interesting heavy tracks that can fill up the gap and make the album even more memorable. A different mix of Anthem is also included as a bonus with nice keyboards fillings in the background. In my opinion buy the limited digipack. Two cover songs are included in various versions of the album. Mob Rules (Black Sabbath) and The Trooper (Iron Maiden). Solid covers.

Jon is on the right track again. 2011, Iced Earth lives! Metal lives!

Breaking the dystopian bonds. - 80%

hells_unicorn, October 21st, 2011

Jon Schaffer's original brain child Iced Earth has gone through a number of deaths and rebirths, probably the most auspicious of these being the one that occurred between "Night Of The Stormrider" and "Burnt Offerings" where the band first introduced us to Matt Barlow and began severing ties with 80s thrash orthodoxy, and the one that occurred in the 2000s when former Judas Priest replacement Tim "Ripper" Owens replaced Barlow. The latter half of the 2000s has brought the band through even further lineup turbulence, though the successful resurgences were not there to be found. So now with a new band and just coming off a newly born 2nd side project, Schaffer has returned yet again with an all but completely different flock of musicians to give Iced Earth yet another chance at rebirth.

For all the low expectations that many should have after the extremely bland 2nd part of the recent "Something Wicked" series, "Dystopia" proves not only to be a solid return to form, but also a logical successor to a recent trend in Schaffer's sociopolitical interests. While the overt patriotism that was worn on a bloody shirtsleeve in "The Glorious Burden" and "Brush-fires Of The Mind"has been greatly toned down here, the obvious themes of the individual versus an oppressive totalitarian regime implied in the album's title is a dominant theme, featuring some well crafted lyrics with an eye for pithy cohesion. But for all the lyrical evolution that has gone on since the early days of Iced Earth's stereotypical 80s thrash theological critiques, the rest of the format has retained a solider-like consistency, in spite of seeing an uptick in quality.

Perhaps the most telling sign of this album's goal to maintain the general character and sound introduced when Barlow first entered the band is the performance given by Stu Block. Through his various works with Into Eternity, he has established himself as something of a master imitator, capable of straddling the extreme metal meets traditional divide that is often dabbled in by the likes of Ihsahn and Wintersun. On here he proves capable of not only providing some never before heard harshness to the Iced Earth school, but also perfectly imitates the baritone bellows of Barlow and the Halford-like wails of Owens, almost as if the 2 were both present for a duet. There are also occasional interludes into something a bit more unique to Stu's voice in the form of a plain tenor, drawing comparisons to a number of prominent power metal vocalists, but not really sounding completely like anyone else.

For all of the innovation to be heard in the lyrical and vocal department, the musical presentation is much more conventional. If nothing else, the familiar format of fast song to slower half-ballad pacing is almost wholly derived from the original "Something Wicked This Way Comes" formula. The ballad work is a bit less light, but ultimately shades of several well known songs from "The Dark Saga" and "The Glorious Burden" shine through in the likes of "Anthem" and "The End Of Innocence". There's also the usual collection of shorter, gallop heavy thrashers in "Boiling Point" and "Days Of Rage", and occasional mid-paced, vocal oriented songs in "V" and "Dystopia". The only real divergence from tradition that really grips the ears is "Equilibrium" (based on Christian Bale's greatest action movie, mind you), which throws a little bit of everything at the ears, including a very impressive guitar solo. In fact, throughout this entire album, Troy Seele proves to be the most distinctive and technically impressive lead guitarist this band has seen since Randy Shawver disappeared from the scene.

While not quite the most original and mind blowing album to be put out by this band, let alone this genre, this is a definite return to better ways from a band that has been struggling to maintain itself amid an endless sea of lineup changes. This is the sort of album that is sure to keep the core base of Iced Earth's audience very happy, and maybe even rope in some more modern power metal fans who like a less conventional vocal approach mixed in. But for the most part, Jon has established himself as in opposition to the notion of trying to reinvent a genre every time a new album comes out, and from the contents of this album, it's an approach that can continue to work despite any overt familiarity to past accomplishments.

A surprisingly positive tendency - 74%

kluseba, October 19th, 2011

Three years after the strange second part of the Something Wicked saga and an intermezzo of the Matt Barlow about whom I hoped that he would never come back as I largely prefer the singing style, emotional expression and vocal range of Tim "Ripper" Owens, everything changed again in the Iced Earth camp. A new permanent guitar player with Troy Seele, a new man for the bass guitar with Freddie Vidales and once again a brand new singer with Stu Block can be heard on this record. If we take a look on the list of the past members only, there is a stunning total of twenty-three names that have been part of the band in the last twenty-six years. Many people describe Jon Schaffer as an arrogant egoist with strange patriotic attitudes and claim that it is difficult to work with him. In fact, alongside Dave Mustaine, Jon Schaffer might be one of the most controversial personalities in the metal universe. The surprising thing is that all those changes never really influenced the music and style of Iced Earth that always quite stayed the same which underlines the idea that this is not a real band but rather a one man project with different guests.

This time, everything seemed different and promising, though. The concept of the record is something new and fresh and Schaffer decided to not copy ideas from the past or create another sequel to an old Iced Earth record. The new singer Stu Block already has a lot of writing credits, even a little bit more than Jon Schaffer himself. Schaffer seems to be more open minded and has learned from his mistakes in the past as it seems. Is this album the beginning of a new bright era? Is there a new sense in the existence of a band that should have split up about ten years ago as many people claim?

Well, this album doesn't deliver a clear answer but I would have a tendency towards a positive statement. It is and yet it isn't. Let's cite the bad points first, though. Dystopia is filled with weak pseudo epic guitar passages, worn out minimalist thrash riffs and quite traditional structures and ideas we all know from previous efforts of the band. The vocals sound like a weird mixture of Matt Barlow worship, a Rob Halford tribute from the time when he used to wear his tightest leather pants and a copy of the great Michael Seifert from the German power metal band Rebellion. But if those diversified vocals weren't present on the record, this release would have been much more disappointing than it is. From that point of view, Stu Block is a good choice as a fresh and young new vocalist for this old and legendary band.

The music itself sometimes lacks of originality, for example in the closed minded thrasher "Days Of Rage", a track I have already heard many times in similar degrees of style and variation. The more melodic "Anguish Of Youth" is simply too gentle and mediocre to convince musically or vocally. Songs like the repetitive banger "Boiling Point" are though only saved by the diversified vocals and are musically absolutely not relevant. But Stu Block is no Tim "Ripper" Owens and has not found a unique style yet. His skills and his diversity make a good song out of a musically mediocre track but not a great one as Owens was able to do.

There are also some highlights on this record. Stu Block probably performs best on the atmospheric and energizing half-ballad "Anthem" that has also some great music to offer, the diversified and outstanding "Dark City" and the more bass guitar orientated and heavy "Equilibrium" that also features the best guitar solo on the record. Another great effort is the surprisingly amazing cover version of Iron Maiden's "The Trooper" which is included as a bonus track. But the best track on the record is the epic, energizing and memorable "Tragedy & Triumph" that offers anything one could like about Iced Earth such as an epic introduction, sharp but melodic riffs, a short and sweet guitar solo, energizing vocals and a catchy chorus. The Easter egg featured at the end of the record is another funny little detail and reminds me of Alestorm.

In the end, we have a bunch of quite good songs and a bunch of weak tracks on this record but the tendency is quite positive in the end which I didn't expect first. I feel that this album will grow with time that passes but it's still too mediocre to be a masterpiece. Stu Block had a lot of positive influence on this album thanks to a more open minded and wise Jon Schaffer and if he also finds his very own style from a vocal point of view, there may finally be some great things to come from Iced Earth. As a transitional album, this is a good effort and better than the last one and some records in the past featuring Matt Barlow. Try out the limited edition featuring two good but not excellent bonus tracks that slightly rate this record up for me. It's a satisfyingly good but not very good record. I hope that Iced Earth may finally get a stable and permanent line-up and can be considered as a band. Jon Schaffer should take this chance as it may be his last after one decade of negative chaos.