Iced Earth has been one of the leading bands in the metal community since Jon Schaffer formed the band with its original lineup in 1984. Now three decades since the Florida based band formed, it has continued to prove why it is still one of metal’s elite acts thanks to the release of Plagues of Babylon, its eleventh full length studio release. This latest release proves that Iced Earth still has plenty in the proverbial tank. Those that are more familiar with the band’s body of work will appreciate this album first and foremost in that it is largely a follow-up to its 1998 album Something Wicked This Way Comes. Whether or not audiences are seasoned fans of Iced Earth, audiences will also appreciate the work put in by new members Luke Appleton (bass) and Raphael Saini (drums) on the record. Of course, the work of front man Stu Block and the dual guitar attack of Jon Shaffer and Troy Steele is not to be ignored anywhere throughout the record, either. That collective talent, and the record’s aforementioned factor make this record well worth a listen by any purist metal head and Iced Earth loyalist.
When Iced Earth released its epic 1998 album Something Wicked This Way Comes, the album was met with much praise from both fans and audiences. Seven years removed from that album’s release, founding member Jon Schaffer and his current band mates have revisited that album on Plagues of Babylon. The result is six tracks of pure metal that will instantly transport longtime fans back to that standout album and a time when metal was truly metal. That’s only the first tracks, too. Fans will appreciate just as much the album’s second half. The remaining seven tracks that make up this album are all stand-alone pieces that each have their own charm. One example of that charm lies in the form of ‘Peacemaker.’ It’s a hard rock song with a slight southern rock twinge about it. (Stu) Block sings in the song, what seems almost like an old west story. He sings, “Rode in town with a loaded gun/My face is burnt and I’m on the run/The whole damn town won’t look me in the eye/Took a seat at the local saloon/Piano man playin’ outta tune/A shot of whiskey to wash away the pain.” That one verse alone paints such a vivid picture. And it’s not the only one that does, either. Block sings about a showdown with another man with a price to pay. One wouldn’t expect a Wild West type story from the likes of Iced Earth. But this song proves that this veteran hard rock outfit can handle anything. And it can handle anything with as much gusto today as it ever has.
The songs that comprise Plagues of Babylon are a major part of the album’s success, despite what some might want to believe of the album. The musicianship of the current lineup is just as noteworthy. The work of the band’s two newest members—drummer Raphael Saini and bassist Luke Appleton—expertly compliment the talent of vocalist Stu Block and guitarists Jon Schaffer and Troy Steele. Saini demonstrates his talents right from the album’s opener/title track. His single, pounding hits aligned with the foreboding guitars in the song’s opening moments expertly help to foreshadow the oncoming plagues. He becomes the solid, beating heart of the band in its more up-tempo moments, too. And bassist Luke Appleton works right in time with Saini to give the song just the right amount of force. Of course, one would be remiss to ignore the talent of the other members of Iced Earth on this record. Stu Block’s vocals have never sounded better than they do on this record. One need only take a pick of the tracks on this album to know that. ‘If I Could See You Now’ is just one of so many examples of Block’s talent on this record. He shows on this mournful tune that he is just as adept at handling more emotional songs as he is with the band’s harder edged pieces. He sings in this song, “Where can I turn/You’ve gone away/I need your words of wisdom/Sometimes I’m lost/And in a rage/Taking things for granted/You were the one that did believe/When no one else could see/If I could share what’s on my mind/If I could see you one last time.” One might not expect such emotion from a band (or singer) that has made a career of making metal for the masses. But Block does such an impressive job of expressing the pain the song’s lyrics. It’s nice to hear this other side of Block on this tune. And guitarists Jon Schaffer and Troy Steele are just as worthy of commendation on this (and other songs, too). They show through the control of their instruments their ability to interpret this (and each) song. The songs noted here are but a portion of what Iced Earth offers its audiences on its new album. There is so much more for audiences to hear for themselves. Plagues of Babylon is available now in stores and online. It can be ordered direct online from the Century Media online store at http://www.cmdistro.com/Item/Iced_Earth_-_Plagues_Of_Babylon_-CD+DVD-_-Digipak-/47214. The band’s North American fans will get the chance to see the band live this Spring when the band makes its way back to the states for a handful of dates across America. Fans can get a full listing of the band’s upcoming North American tour as well as all of the latest news from the band online at http://www.facebook.com/OfficialIcedEarth and http://www.icedearth.com. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.