I find Iced Earth’s discography to be consistently inconsistent, with a few glorious highs and several dreadful lows, and yet, somehow, they remain one of my favorite metal bands. Blame it to their unique version of the power/thrash hybrid, anchored by the signature sound of the galloping rhythmic riffs of leader Jon Schaffer, and by their preference towards versatile and powerful frontmen that can easily and proficiently produce both an operatic wail or a thrash metal shout (and in the case of current singer, Canadian vocal monster Stu Block, even a black metal rasp), but I’m always curious about what they are up to, no matter the changes in line-up. Not being able to see them live for the first time in my life, last year at Mexico City’s Knotfest, was a painful punch in a year already filled with iniquitous stuff (Agalloch’s break-up might top the list), but I hope they do return one day. In the meantime, I can happily affirm the band’s twelfth LP, the unconventionally simple-titled Incorruptible, is a good one.
2011’s Dystopia saw the band return to more than decent form. Perhaps it has something to do with using that also simple title, as Megadeth’s last year’s effort with the same name was similarly solid enough. But Iced Earth followed their release with the 2014 meandering Plagues of Babylon, confirming their inconsistency once again. Now it seems, it was the turn of a good album, and Incorruptible delivers. For starters, the album is structured in the way of their classics of old; a barrage of nine songs, ranging from three to six minutes of duration, and the tenth and finishing blast, a 9-minute closer. The songs are more direct that the compositions from their previous record, a welcomed change. They’re however, not as fast or outstanding as their most beloved classics. “Heathen Army” opens the album with an Age of Empires/Game of Thrones-styled brief intro and then it explodes in a fast/mid-paced rollercoaster about famed Viking hero Ragnarr Loðbrók’s exploits, death (sorry for the spoliers, but you can skip the lyrics) and the subsecuent wars on that Viking period, with Stu’s magnificent vocals and a healthy dose of muscular riffs as the soundtrack.
The songs are mostly mid-paced but diverse, and none could be considered filler, thank Dio. “Raven Wing” is one of my favorites, a song about shamanism, GoT’s ‘wargs’ or as we used to call them in ancient Prehispanic lore; nahuales. That is, a person with the ability to possess animal spirits or bodies. Musically, like most tracks here, it recalls “Anthem” from Dystopia, a mid-paced uplifting number with a mighty performance by Mr. Block, which actually is the standard for the whole record. “Seven Headed Whore” is the most aggressive and fastest number, trying to recapture the violence of classics like “Stormbringer” or “Violate” and more or less accomplishing it. And of course, we have closer “Clear the Way”, a tale about and tribute to the Irish fighters in the American Civil War. Speaking of them, those guys have fought everybody else’s wars, and even fought against the Americans on the Mexican side two decades before, when Americans invaded Mexico. As an Irish friend of mine says (in thick Irish accent, of course), “any place where there’s plenty of alcohol and a good fight, we’ll be there”. The composition is not as good as the two 9-minute closers of their first two releases, “When the Night Falls” or the amazing “Travel in Stygian”, and it’s in fact one of the weakest tunes of the disc, but is not too bad either. Kinda feel they were involuntarily trying to conjure up Running Wild’s style, but in a flawed an unnecessary way.
The production is muscular and clear, even though the bass guitar is marginally subdued. The lyrics are not that good, but to be honest, they have never been this band’s forte. Not that is matters a lot, as 25 years old Jake Dreyer is the new and exciting addition to Iced Earth’s line-up, taking lead guitar duties on this album, and boy, does he shreds! I wish they let him get loose a bit more, as his performance is excellent but somewhat too controlled. He does shine brightest on the instrumental “Ghost Dance”, one of the best surprises of the record, and also on “Brothers”. Stu remains on fire, Schaffer’s riffs are good enough, and the rhythmic section does its part, nothing too fancy, but no weak spots either. Set Abominae makes it to another decent cover artwork, defiantly proclaiming “here it is, mortals; Iced Earth’s twelfth LP”. While this won’t make it to most people’s outstanding albums of 2017, it is a welcomed addition to Iced Earth’s discography. I do hope they won’t replicate their ‘lets-copy-Anthem-for-all-tunes’ formula on their next release, but for the time being, Incorruptible satisfies.
01. “Great Heathen Army”
02. “Black Flag”
03. “Raven Wing”
04. “The Veil”
05. “Seven Headed Whore”
06. “The Relic (Part 1)”
07. “Ghost Dance (Awaken The Ancestors)”
10. “Clear The Way (December 13th, 1862)”
Iced Earth are:
Jon Schaffer – Rhythm & Lead Guitar, Vocals
Stu Block – Lead Vocals
Jake Dreyer – Lead Guitar
Luke Appleton – Bass Guitar
Brent Smedley – Drums