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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.