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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!

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