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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.