“Iced Earth” CD REVIEW by Iced Earth
“Incorruptible” Century Media 2017
Clear the Way!
It has been somewhat of a rollercoaster for Iced Earth during the past few years. Since the release of the rather average ‘Plagues of Babylon’ in 2014, guitarist and all round General of Iced Earth, Jon Schaffer had to place the band on hold whilst undergoing surgery to ease fused vertebrae on his spinal cord. As well as this, it hasn’t always been plain sailing in the Iced Earth camp, drummer Brent Smedley had left the band and after 3 years, returned to the fold. The line-up shuffle continued with lead guitarist Troy Seele stepping down and being replaced by Jake Dreyer, known for his work with Jag Panzer, DeathRiders and White Wizzard.
For a career bordering nigh on 30 years, it can’t be denied that Jon Schaffer knows how to write a song and after a 3 years absence, there is a welcome return for Iced Earth with their 12th studio album, ‘Incorruptible’ released this year on the 16th June. Admittedly, ‘Incorruptible’ begins with a rather slow burning intro to ‘Great Heathen Army’ before the pummelling drums of Smedley and crashing guitars of Schaffer and Dreyer bring the song into fruition as vocalist Stu Block gives his best war cry of: ‘Valhalla!’
Stu Block is a hugely versatile vocalist and it may have taken the best part of 6 years for Block to begin finding his feet in Iced Earth. Block has all the range and power of Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens and the dynamism of Matt Barlow, with imitation being the finest form of flattery. However, with ‘Incorruptible’, Block has stepped into his own and plays out ‘Incorruptible’ with an accelerated vigour beyond that of his first offering with ‘Dystopia’. Block nails the berserker scream during ‘Great Heathen Army’ and not only is this a great way to start off an album, but it certainly sets the bar high for the remainder of ‘Incorruptible’ with ‘Great Heathen Army’ easily being one of the best songs on the album, leaving the question, why don’t Iced Earth write more songs like this?
This sentiment can be reiterated with the following song ‘Black Flag’, a mid-tempo pirate themed romp that can single handedly possibly be the best song that Running Wild never wrote. Iced Earth manage to add the certain degree of integrity and panache that is needed to seriously write a pirate themed song and with ‘Black Flag’, they pull this off so easily that once more, it begs the same question as above leading us to believe that it may have taken awhile, but it looks like Iced Earth have found their feet once more. It’s no secret that over the course of their career, Iced Earth have drawn heavily on religious themes, most notably from the ‘Book of Revelations’, particularly to inspire Schaffer’s ‘Something Wicked’ concept and ‘Incorruptible’ is no different with ‘Seven Headed Whore’. Released prior to ‘Incorruptible’, ‘Seven Headed Whore’ is an aggressive slice of Armageddon which harks back to how Iced Earth sounded in the late 90’s.
Circumstances aside, Schaffer may have subconsciously needed this break because ‘Incorruptible’ features the best song that Iced Earth have released since ‘The Glorious Burden’ back in 2004 in the shape of the American Civil War themed ‘Clear the Way (December 13th, 1862)’. ‘Clear the Way’ is not a 30 minute dirge like Schaffer’s Gettysburg concept, but rather a 10 minute epic which marches forward with a chorus so memorable that it will not just be stuck in your head for days, but actually one of the best songs on ‘Incorruptible’.
A lot of the songs on ‘Incorruptible’ are immediately fun to listen to and do take slightly longer than normal to click; ‘Raven Wing’, ‘Brothers’ and ‘Defiance’ are easy to sing along to, but difficult to recall without the music behind them. However, this certainly does not affect the pace and enjoyability of the album with the only song bordering on pointless is the instrumental, ‘Ghost Dance (Awaken the Anscestors)’. As an instrumental, it is actually much better than a lot of similar songs by their peers, particularly with the ‘Supernaut’ style beat halfway through with the panpipes adding an extra dynamic, however, ‘Incorruptible’ would still be as good without ‘Ghost Dance’.
It is fantastic to have Jon Schaffer back to full health and Iced Earth firing on all cylinders. ‘Incorruptible’ is a special slice of progressive metal and the easily the best thing that Iced Earth have released in more than a few years and don’t be surprised if ‘Incorruptible’ is riding high at the end of the year for a place in the best releases of 2017. 8/10
Adam McCann / MHF Magazine