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A Few New Turns Down the Same Ol' Road - 65%

doomknocker, October 27th, 2014
Written based on this version: 2014, CD, Century Media Records

Jon Shaffer is anything if not needlessly resourceful in his quest for heavy metal meaning. Consider the main bulk of Iced Earth's history for a prime example; new members every year or so, sometimes every MONTH or so, all of whom appear to show up, do their thing, and are dismissed. Not really what I'd call a steady, solid work environment, but whatever. It's the music that matters, after all, and to be frank, the group's output has been rather hit or miss since "The Dark Saga" due to either lack of focus or an inability to craft new, original riffs. And yet, in spite of the hardest pill to swallow with regard to the almost monthly musician house-cleaning (losing Matt Barlow), "Dystopia" turned out to be a rather well-done affair that proves that Iced Earth can still matter these days. Who'd'a thunk it?

When it comes down to "Plagues of Babylon" one thing is for certain...this is an IE album through and through, so take that for what you will. That's both a good and bad thing, for on one hand it's a solid work chock full of riffs up the wazoo, gentle acoustic interludes and raging vocal/chorus harmonies. The kind of shit we've come to expect and appreciate in their own ways. Much of the songwriting appears to have more breadth to them than before, employing an above average understanding of a fusion of classic and power metal tandems that's always been experimented with over the years but only properly employed every other album or so (it worked wonders with "Horror Show" and specific parts of "Framing Armageddon", for instance). That garners a good amount of gloss to the end result; partake in the thick-as-pancake-batter harmonic layered effect of "The Culling" (all that singing!) and the blistering riff-fest of "Resistance" for prime examples of just how well the album can get under your skin. It's definitely not a slapped-together wankfest, that's for sure.

However, more often than not, the insistence of the classic ends of the inspirational pool still takes more far more precedent than it should. We get it, have a thing for the old days...but I'd honestly go so far as to say that the group can offer plenty more. Maybe something as simple as a return to thrashing form ala "Night of the Stormrider", where all that anger and rage was part of the norm. Could that still be possible? That's not up to me/us, so I guess we'll have to see in the years to come. And with regard to Stu Block, I find it a little unfortunate that he seems more willing to emulate Mr. Barlow rather than front the album his own way. That certainly seemed like it would be an option given his approach to the remade "Dante's Inferno" and certain parts of "Dystopia", giving this listener all the more reason to appreciate what he brings to the table. But maybe that wasn't up to him? However, the amount of energy he puts into his performance really makes up for the aping appeal; I'd go so far as to say he's the more energetic performer on the whole album save for lead player Troy Seele, who showcases just how possible it is for classy guitar solos to exist in an IE album. Not that the rest of the line up sound tired or whatever, just a little more milquetoast than they should be. Rhythm guitar, bass and drums are still pretty damned tight all there own. They just needed a little more oomph! to them, being able to match up the solos and lead singing so as to show the listener that everyone's on the same wavelength. But maybe that's just me.

All in all, "Plagues of Babylon" is a pretty good listen, not offering a whole lot of new ideas but still showing that Iced Earth's own blend of metal can still be worth a sip every now and then. If you didn't like what they did up to this point or want something a little more bristling and jagged, you'll not like what this has to offer, but those who've been keen on their post-"Something Wicked..." path will no doubt appreciate this.