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The Same Old Stuff - 50%

Altair 4, March 1st, 2014

Hot on the heels of 'Dystopia' (2011), Iced Earth's new album 'Plagues of Babylon' (2014) acts as a sufficient followup, but falls back onto time-worn formulas, stock riffs, and uncreative lyrics. There's enough solid song writing to make listening to the album bearable, but the lack of memorable passages and hooks makes this album a bit tedious to listen to from beginning to end. Many of the songs in here hark back to the days of 'The Dark Saga', as a number of the songs have the same eerie sound with their intros ("Democide", "The End?", and "Cthulu" come to mind first).

The album starts out well enough, the title track pounds and throbs away consistently. It doesn't necessarily stand out on its own, but they certainly succeeded in creating a creepy, malevolent aura. Songs such as "The Culling" and "Parasite" feature guitar work which is impressive and memorable, but soon becomes bogged down and forgettable by everything else in the song that is lackluster. "Cthulu" has the most unique chorus on the album (in context of this album, anyways) with a sort of Iron Maiden feel. "Peacemaker" is another highlight, whilst nothing different regarding Jon Schaffer, in Iced Earth a song with such a western flavor is a welcome deviation from the painstaking norm.

This brings me to some of the more negative points about this album. "Among the Living Dead" features Hansi Kursch on "lead vocals" (bullshit) and "backing vocals" on a number of other songs (I've listened multiple times on different headphones and speakers and can't identify him for the life of me). I have no idea why Schaffer and crew decided to bring in a world class vocalist like Mr. Kursch and not give him any lead vocals. The "lead vocals" he does on "Among the Living Dead" is a brief melodic shrieking which repeats twice in the song. An almost offensive waste of talent, Demons & Wizards fans lament!

On "Among the Living Dead", among others, Stu Block's vocals seem tired and a bit sloppy. If this is not the case then I guess his vocals on this album are simply just annoying. I don't like to talk smack on vocalists, especially since I know Stu can belt like a banshee (as demonstrated on 'Dystopia'), so I don't know why his vocals took a step down on this release. My speculation is that Iced Earth recorded this album after a long-ass world tour with little to no breathing room between.

Choruses on this album seem to be fairly similar in chord progressions and contribute greatly to the dejavu felt multiple times throughout. The amateurish and uncreative lyrics definitely don't do any favors for them, either. The prime offender in the lyrics category is easily "If I Could See You Now", how many times have Iced Earth written a ballad like this? Both lyrically and musically this song is a simple retread of the same ballad they've written time and time again.

A band can maintain their trademark sound but still evolve. Iced Earth has touched on this a couple of times with releases like 'Horror Show' and 'The Glorious Burden', but constantly fall back onto these uninspired, formulaic albums. It's like seeing a son with so much potential decide to work at a gas station in stead of becoming a pilot. Somehow I can't shake the feeling that this album was rushed out in an effort to preserve the momentum gained from 'Dystopia' (a superior album, to be sure). It's a shame when the album artwork is more memorable than any of the songs on the album itself.

There's enough on here that's good and rocks, but it's overwhelmed by forgettable material.