Label: Century Media
Before Iced Earth’s last album Dystopia (2011) everyone was asking the question: ‘What will Stu Block bring to Iced Earth? Can he replace Matt Barlow? Will this be a short term engagement singer again?’ I think in the meantime a lot of fans have more than accepted Stu and would even agree that he brought some new life in Iced Earth after several mediocre albums. For me personally, the song “Anthem” has become one of my all-time favorite Iced Earth songs. But now everyone is asking himself the logical next question: ‘Can Iced Earth and Stu confirm with another good album?’ Let’s take a look at Plagues of Babylon! Plagues of Babylon builds up with a teasing guitar intro before we kick off with six songs taking place in the Seth Abominae universe. Schaffer never seems to finish his epic saga that of course started on Something Wicked This Way Comes. Though, it provides for epic and dark songs filled with despair and the occasional sparkles of hope, Iced Earth’s signature topics I would say. So where Dystopia featured many individual songs, the first part of this album focuses definitely on a storyline. ‘Among The Living Dead’ features no one less than Blind Guardian’s Hansi Kürsch with some of his signature vocal hauls, giving the song a little taste of Schaffer’s other great band Demons and Wizards. The Something Wicked Saga is left behind and the second part of the album begins with the almost obligatory metal ballad ‘If I Could See You’. ‘Cthulhu’ is for me personally one of the highlights of the album and really brings me back to albums like the Dark Saga or Burnt Offerings. ‘Peacemaker’ has some good solos but is not that memorable otherwise. At this moment I have the feeling the album is bleeding out a little bit. ‘Spirit of the Times’ is a song recycled/ covered/ reworked (pick your choice) from another Schaffer side project, namely Sons of Liberty. I don’t know what you think about re-using songs from other projects but if feels kind of odd to me, especially if the differences are minimal. The album finishes with another cover of ‘The Highwayman’, a song originally sung by Johnny Cash among others. This new version features verses by Jon Schaffer, Stu Block, Russel Allen (Symphony X) and Michael Poulson (Volbeat). Overall, the second part cannot quite keep up with the epic first half of the record. Stu Blocks confirms his place as singer, demonstrating his ability of singing both aggressively and emotionally. A quality of Iced Earth’s general sound that I love deeply. The band uses the familiar recipe of providing us with thrashing riffs alternated with bombastic epic sing along choruses. My critique on the album would be that several of Schaffer’s riffs feel recycled from earlier work, but on the other hand a lot of people were all voting for a return to the older Iced Earth atmosphere. Well I believe they delivered!