Sixteen years and five albums have passed since Iced Earth blew me away with Something Wicked This Way Comes, a tour de force that still serves as their defining moment. Since then, while it would be harsh to say Iced Earth have been undeserving of the loyalty their fan base has shown, it would be fair to say they’ve not reached the heights of their early days. Horror Show was aptly named, Ripper Owens came in and found lightning does indeed strike twice, once again finding himself a great vocalist joining a band not at their creative peak (while not being “the guy”), “the guy” Matt Barlow re-joined to release an album that made everyone wish he hadn’t bothered, before 2011’s Dystopia saw the more-Barlow-than-Barlow Stu Block, take over the mic stand for a very credible return-to- form.
And the goodwill of the faithful continues to be rewarded as Plagues of Babylon (Century Media) picks up where Dystopia left off very nicely indeed; producing a slew of distinctive classic Iced Earth heavy metal tracks. Opening pairing of the title track and ‘Democide’ deliver chunky riffs, before ‘The Culling’ raises the bar – all ‘Disposable Heroes’ juddering staccato verse riff into trademark IE rousing chorus. Elsewhere, ‘If I Could See You’ is the natural successor to ‘Watching Over Me’, and a great example that metal ballads still exist, ‘Cthulu’ picks up the pace nicely, ‘Among The Living Dead’ could be lifted off the Anthrax album it’s title references with its lean riffage paying homage to `N.F.L.’, while ‘Peacemaker’ lifts the serious mask for a second, bringing a Wild West HM rompastomp to the table. ‘Resistance’ and ‘The End?’ could have been lifted straight from SWTWC, powerful and epic choruses sit in between crunchy, thrashy and powerful metal riffs, played out over classy melodic leads.
Full of excellent understated yet rousing choruses that stretch out over thrash-tinged heavy metal riffs and enmeshed with their traditional formula of Metallica, Priest and Maiden, on Plagues of Babylon Iced Earth relentlessly deliver powerful, convincing and epic songs throughout an album that more than picks up the baton from its predecessor.
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