The lack of anticipation, as well as the sheer indifference, leading up to a new Iced Earth album has been the same since The Glorious Burden. Yes, I actually liked more of that album than anything that came after it. I guess what finally did it for me was the whole hype leading up to the return of the great Matt Barlow only to feel like someone let the air out of my tires. Enter the Stu Block era of the band. Dystopia was not that horrible, even though it seemed like Stu Block was trying too hard to be Barlow. Plagues of Babylon was okay as well but mostly forgettable. So, obviously, the report of a new Iced Earth album garnered a “meh” reaction from me. Even the teaser single, “Seven Headed Whore,” was not convincing enough to get me excited about this album.
So Iced Earth releases their thirteenth full length album, Incorruptible, and I just can’t stand it….I had to get it even if it was just to shit all over it. Well maybe thirteen is not lucky for some but it’s sure goddamn lucky for Jon Schaffer and the boys. To say I was pleasantly surprised is being quite mild. For the first time in a really long time I am really digging an Iced Earth album and it feels good! This is a diversified album that does not rely on Iced Earth’s old formula of running triplets all over the place. Instead the riffs are plentiful, the melodies are infectious and the songs are just that damn catchy. The songs vary from in your face blasters like the opener “Great Heathen Army” to epic numbers like the closer “Clear the Way (December 13th, 1862).” In fact, it seems that long epic numbers have been Mr. Schaffer’s achilles heel in recent years but it seems to really work here.
The lyrical approach here actually works better than their usual fare. The over the top patriotism that seemed to put a lot of people off is not here. There’s plenty of historical themes on this album but it seems that the overlying theme here is as exactly as the title alludes to. “Great Heathen Army” is based on the story of the sons of Ragnar Loðbrok and their revenge against the Saxon’s for the killing of their father by Northumbrian King Ælla. Here we have an age old story but from the perspective of the so called “bad guys.” Same with “Black Flag.” Here is the story of pirates from the side of the pirates and how the system they fought for used them and then discarded them making them into who they are. Then you have “Clear the Way (December 13th, 1862)” which is a song about the Irish Brigade and their staggering losses during the Battle of Fredericksburg. As far as the lyrical delivery is concerned, there are some “more Barlow” moments here but not as many. I’m actually enjoying Mr. Block’s vocals on this album.
The song structure on this album definitely needs mention here. The riffs are much stronger than anything they’ve done in a long time. The inclusion of guitarist Jake Dreyer may have a lot to do with this. I remember saying that Troy Steele was the best guitarist since their original guitarist Randy Shawver was in the band. Well Mr. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Mr. Dreyer is the best guitarist this band has had since it’s inception. The riffing on this album is really good, especially on songs like “Defiance” and the best song Iced Earth has written in a really long time, “Black Flag.” The solos are over the top incredible and add that extra layer to the songs. As I mentioned before, long epic numbers have sometimes come back to haunt this band. “Dante’s Inferno” is possibly the last really good long epic song from Iced Earth. However, songs like the six and a half minute “Raven Wing” and the aforementioned nine and a half minute closer are well done, not overlong, and have enough structure to not lose you.
This is actually the review I never thought I’d get to write….a gleaming review of an Iced Earth album. Hopefully this is a sign of better things to come for a band that I have been a fan of for over 20 years. I always knew the talent was there, this time the stars were in perfect alignment. Can they keep this going? I’ll remain cautiously optimistic…for now.