Iced Earth – Dystopia
Album review by Vince Naccarato
When it comes to musicians who demonstrate intensity and vision for their band, Iced Earth’s Jon Schaffer has few peers. Schaffer has guided the band’s every step throughout its 20 plus years of existence. However, the decision to retire by the band’s much beloved vocalist, Matt Barlow, was something he could not control. With this retirement, Schaffer was faced with the difficult task of replacing the charismatic Barlow. Enter Stu Block, the former lead singer of Into Eternity. Armed with Block’s vocals and an excellent group of musicians, a reenergized Schaffer has set out to make Dystopia the best Iced Earth album in years.
Like most fans, I was curious about the selection of Block as the band’s front man. Any questions I had were answered with the title track from Dystopia, which happens to be the lead song. Block displays an incredible range and leaves no doubt about his capabilities. He is able to hit the emotional lows Barlow was known for, yet, nail the ear piercing high notes that made Tim “Ripper” Owens so popular when he was singing for the band. There is no doubt that Stucifer is the right man for the job.
Schaffer has a strong history of writing albums that were either concepts, or united by a single theme, and Dystopia is no different. The album examines life in a dystopian society from various points of view. Schaffer draws much of his inspiration from various movies and books such as The Matrix, V, and Soylent Green. One of the things I have always loved about Schaffer’s songs is that his lyrics have always encouraged me to think, and Dystopia is no different.
From beginning to end, this album does not disappoint as it provides an excellent overview of what Iced Earth is about. Anthem is a mid-paced rocker that has an incredibly catchy chorus to go with its positive message. For those who lean towards the faster, more brutal side of Iced Earth, songs such as Boiling Point and Days of Rage are guaranteed to get your head banging. Of course, Schaffer is not a one trick pony, as he is able to write ballads that evoke great emotion. He delivers two great ones on the album with Anguish of Youth and End of Innocence, which is about Stu’s mother’s battle with cancer. Other songs such as V, Dark City, and Equilibrium have that classic Iced Earth sound that has inspired the loyalty of the band’s fans. What does all this add up to for me? Musically, the most varied Iced Earth album since the classic Something Wicked This Way Comes.
The musicianship on this album is of the high quality that fans have come to expect from the band. Brent Smedley’s drumming and Freddie Vidales’ bass playing lay an excellent foundation for Schaffer’s songs to be built upon. However, the biggest surprise was the standout lead guitar work of Troy Seele. It sounds like Seele was given the opportunity to construct his own solos, something that may not have happened with previous Iced Earth guitarists. It is obvious that Schaffer has great respect for Seele’s work, as it is really emphasized in the mixing of the album.
Schaffer’s decisions and vision have again guided the band to another classic Iced Earth album. All of his decisions, from the choice of Block, to the songs he wrote, could not have been better. This is a very exciting time for the band, as it will be touring extensively in support of Dystopia. This is one show I cannot wait to see. In Jon we trust.
Dystopia will be released on October 17th in Europe and October 18th in the United States. Go to http://www.icedearth.com for more information on Dystopia and the upcoming tour.