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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.