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A double-edged sword. - 60%

TheMeh, July 12th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2014, CD, Century Media Records

I've come to build a mental image of Iced Earth as a band that holds many flaws deep within that they keep trying to amend. When Stu Block joined, he brought the best of both worlds by being able to essentially parrot Matt Barlow and Tim Owens, who I have enjoyed equally between the other albums of the Something Wicked Saga. I was very much excited to see what Plagues of Babylon would become, and what it would add not only for the narrative of the Something Wicked Saga, but for the band as a whole. Stu, and to a certain extent, Tim Schaffer, were able to fix a decent number of the issues that I had come to see, and I wanted to believe that Plagues would expand itself even more, and make itself something... awesome. For a time, I guess you could say it was.

This album, in terms of the narrative of Something Wicked, adds a story I have desired to see come to light since I first experienced Framing Armageddon and The Crucible of Man - two highly contested albums that I actually do enjoy to an extent - and I was excited to both see and hear how it would play out. In the context of the story, the first half of Plagues had told us how the Setians/Set Abominae, having watched over and manipulated the course of humanity over the millennia, have decided it would be time to begin their long-awaited crusade against them, using a "plague" to effectively zombify and control the masses, and cull humanity from the earth. For what it's worth, the album goes into better detail on the matter, and I am more thankful of that fact by the end of it. I really like the concept that this album chooses to present, and how expansive it lets itself be.

With the concept in mind, how does that affect the music? Well... that might just be one of the issues. It doesn't necessarily set the course like prior albums that followed the concept were able to do. While an opener like "Plagues of Babylon" bombastically can set the stage and ends up maybe being one of the most epic songs on the album overall, the album chooses to devolve ever so slightly into simplicity. None of the songs on the first half of the album are innately bad, but they don't act like they're supposed to be important. "Democide" and "Resistance", while being able to establish the further built plot towards the saga, are very much songs that follow a formula that Iced Earth has perpetuated for a while. Hell, "Democide" in particular just sounds like a song they cut from Dystopia, since it pretty much sounds like something that would come from that album. In a way, you could say... it's hard to distinguish from the works before it. There are a lot of good songs on this half of the album, and I absolutely love it. But they play it way too safe for me to respect it.

The album further crescendos into forgettable territories with the end of the concept-side of the album. The songs that come from this part of the album are one of the reasons I don't like returning to this album for future listens. Not only do they bore me, but they don't sound like anything new. "If I Could See You" practically reeks of typicality to the baseline Iced Earth formula when it comes to their softer, melodic songs. Further on, the two covers that close the album aren't very much of an improvement towards the overall sound of the album. Not to mention... "Highwayman" is a mess. It would be a good song on its own if Stu wasn't forced to be on a small portion of it... and two vocalists weren't shoved in to be hammy and represent the song's characters. I don't hate Russell Allen (Symphony X) or Michael Poulson (Volbeat), but they kill the song. Neither of them play to a range that I can respect, vocally. On paper, a cover like this is a good idea, but the performances end up making the song become cringeworthy, and inevitably forgettable.

At the end of the day, do I necessarily hate Plagues of Babylon? No, not really. To me, this album presents itself as a double-edged sword, whereas, one side simple seems to be stronger than the other. On one hand, you've got the expertly crafted Something Wicked side of the album, somehow managing to balance out its slight sense of mediocrity with interest, and staying overall creative throughout. On the other hand, you've got the second half of the album, which feels as though there was a basket of jumbled ideas sprawled on different pieces of paper that the band had to draw from randomly to finish the album off so they didn't have to write more songs under the Something Wicked concept. I find it hard to see where Iced Earth wanted to balance the mediocrity with the creativity, but I am content with the level they ended up giving for at least one singular portion of the record. It's not impressive, but it certainly isn't disappointing. It's something of an effort, and I can commend the band for it. All and all... it's a solid record.

NOTABLE SONGS: "Plagues of Babylon", "The Culling", "Among The Living Dead", "The End?".