Here’s a look back at the Iced Earth album before “Plagues of Babylon”. Personally, I liked Dystopia a lot more! Find out why!
As promised, the sequel to my Horrorshow review is here! Does Dystopia hold up to previous great records? Can Stu Block bring back that essence Iced Earth was lacking?
2011’s Dystopia is the tenth release by American Heavy Metal band, Iced Earth. Similar to 2001’s Horrorshow, this album takes the conceptual route around a genre or specific theme. In this case, it revolves around the stories and themes of dystopian media. This album also marks the departure of Matt Barlow and the arrival of Stu Block. Despite the change in line up, this album is a considerable return to form that Iced Earth so dearly needed following the less than memorable 2-Part expansion of the Set series, as well as “Ripper” Owens contribution that just didn’t feel very “Iced Earth”.
While it can be debated that he doesn’t replace Matt Barlow, Stu Block provides an incredible range that rivals Barlow’s and delivers a continuous punching assault of intense high range shrieks. In fact, he can easily jump from a powerful shriek to a driving mid range vocal as shown in a couple of songs.
By all means, the album is much better than a mixed bag. Every track delivers a continuously interesting sound and flavor, with a different homage to various dystopian works. While the album could have used a bit more guitar emphasis, it still carries the feel of an Iced Earth classic. In fact, the tracks that really stand out the most to me are “Dystopia”, “Anguish of Youth”, and “Equilibrium”. Dystopia is where Stu Block’s shrieking vocals shine most in my opinion, showcasing an intense vocalization not often employed in Iced Earth’s music. Or at least, not in the way that Block performed it. “Anguish of Youth” is a slightly different song with a more enjoyable and positive sounding acoustic accompaniment. In fact, it resembles some of the ballad-like songs IE has performed in the past. Equilibrium is a throwback to the intense pounding sounds of earlier albums that calls to the brutal sounds of thrash. This song is certainly a highlight!
Now, some might feel this is an attempt to crossover Iced Earth with Schaeffer’s other project, “Sons of Liberty”, a solo project about themes of American freedom… and FOX news. As such, there was much fan speculation and fear that this album would be a paranoid tinfoil conspiracy experience. On the contrary, it’s a fascinating trip through various famous and not so famous stories we’ve come to know and love as well as sometimes hate. However, the way some of the themes are covered may lend some to love it or hate it.
One real criticism with the album isn’t over the songs, but the album itself. Iced Earth albums are known to be quite long, crammed with at least an hour of headbanging metal, but Dystopia only contains 10 tracks and is about 50 minutes long. This is shorter than many of the other full length releases. Considering the album is that good, this only hurts it in the end, making you yearn for more. In fact, some of the songs themselves (like “Boiling Point” and “Days of Rage”) feel too short as well.
All in all, this is a solid purchase and an enjoyable metal album. It showcases Iced Earth in full form, even with a new line-up. The tracks deliver a variety of interesting themes and sounds, varying from the ballad melodies to head pounding thrash epics. If you enjoy great heavy metal albums, dark science fiction, or concept albums, Dystopia is an excellent choice.