Doctor Necrotic checks out the latest nightmarish concept album from Iced Earth! And this time, the music dives into the depths of a desolate Hellscape, with the help of Set Abominae.
As many know, Iced Earth is one of those bands that really excel around making hard-hitting concept albums. These tend to be about gritty anti-heroes like Spawn and the band’s official mascot, Set; not to mention albums that span entire genres like Gothic horror, dystopian fiction, and post-apocalyptic fiction. Iced Earth’s latest, Plagues of Babylon, hones in on the last subject.
From the moment you look at the album cover, you know what to expect; Set Abominae, relentless destruction, and hordes of the living dead themselves. What better way to get you in the mood for some head thrashing doomsday tracks?
Song lyrics are evenly balanced between general apocalypse themes and the continuing mythos of Set. This balances the album to fit an approach similar to Fringe or The X-Files with “Monster of the Week” and “Mythos arcs.” While some might not be pleased with the compromise of Something Wicked storytelling and genre motifs, I say ROCK ON! There’s enough of both aspects to satisfy your tour through Set’s Armageddon. And arguably, we get a taste of Set’s story continued from the Something Wicked saga.
The songs themselves are a heavy hell ride through a doomed wasteland, corroded by our own madness or possibly even Set itself! From the beginning of the album, we know what we’re in for. The title track kicks off almost like a funeral march, leading into progressively crunchier sound that carries throughout the album. Personal favorites tracks of mine include; “Among the Living Dead”, “Cthulhu”, and “Demoside”. “Among the Living Dead” stands out the most to me because it really harkens to that pure thrash-inspired style early Earth was known for. The instrumental sounds of screaming wails throughout the track really fit in the nightmarish image of a zombie invasion, not to mention the harsh stark sound matching the equally bleak lyrics. “Cthulhu” is a second up, as Horror Show will always be my other favorite album by them, for obvious reasons. From the progressions, the approach to lyrics, this felt like it would have been the perfect closer for an IE classic!
Since Dystopia, one could say Stu Block has helped to bring back the “Burnt Offerings” style akin to earlier albums, or at the very least, brought Iced Earth back to relevance. Block’s mix of deep, almost guttural vocals matches Barlow’s soul tearing style; while his piercing high shrieking vocals took a bit of time to get accustomed to, but none the less forged some awesome sound and atmosphere. And just like in the last album, Block helps to pave the dark atmosphere Iced Earth is famed for.
While Block certainly held this album up, this album did not contain the energy or creativity of Dystopia, which is certainly a shame. Most of the songs do not have the same variety or intensity as seen in their previous return to form. This is truly disappointing, as Dystopia is considerably one of their best albums created. Many of the songs suffer from a very similar introduction and some have the same plodding structure. The rest feel like leftovers from previous albums. As a result, none of the hooks nor lyrics are particularly memorable. They’re enjoyable, but forgettable. That is by no means a bad thing, but every other album has always brought something different to the table.
The album makes it clear that the band wanted to capture the atmosphere of a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but it only works in some tracks. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to do well with others. For that reason, tracks like “If I Could See You” and “Spirit of the Times” don’t really do it for me, same with the “Highwayman” cover. It doesn’t help that I was never a Sons of Liberty fan anyway (and Jon Schaffer needs to turn off Fox News). Needless to say, if the pointless covers were removed, as well as some of the other tracks that come in later, this album would have actually been better.
But, when you set the standard so high, it’s hard to achieve the same level of success. All of that said, this is by no means a bad album! It’s still a return to form from the albums that came after Horror Show and before Dystopia! And each part of the album is a solid performance that Iced Earth puts forth. The talent on the album is fantastic, as is the production behind it.
Plagues of Babylon gets a 7 out of 10 on the Doomsday Chart!
MAY SET’S REIGN OF DARKNESS BE PRAISED!