Iced Earth - Incorruptible - (9/10)
Published on December 30, 2017
Iced Earth have fallen on a bit of rough times after their big singer turmoil with Barlow leaving, Owens joining the fold, Barlow coming back and leaving again to finally settle on Canadian Stu Block as front man. Dystopia, their first album with Block, was a return to form after the rather ho-hum Something Wicked duology, yet their last effort Plagues of Babylon was plagued with too drawn out songs, the lack of spark and some lacklustre performances as well, all resulting in an initially good offering that would lose momentum fast, though. With Incorruptible a few things have changed, most prominently the inclusion of lead guitarist Jake Dreyer (Witherfall) and the return of Brent Smedley behind the drum kit and while it is all pure speculation, if these two moves have had any real impact on it, Incorruptible without a doubt is the best material Iced Earth have released in at least 13 or more likely 16 years!
Arguably having the most versatile singer in their history, Block can croon like Barlow, wail like Owens and growl like, well, probably Seth Abominae himself, the song on Incorruptible are far more focused and concentrated than on the previous album, cutting unnecessary fat and showing a band with renewed vigor without breaking their musical evolution. While technically not changing anything in their stylistic approach compared to Plagues of Babylon, pretty much every single aspect of their delivery seems sharper and just plain better.
The dark, ominous yet bombastic opening to “Great Heathen Army” almost invokes a certain Burnt Offerings feeling before exploding into a double-bass driven battering ram complete with Stu Block’s trademark bellow, accentuated by ear-splitting screams, perfectly complementing the powerful music underneath, showing Iced Earth firing on all cylinders right from the get to, complete with catchy chorus and some blistering lead work by Dreyer. The Floridians have not sounded this fresh and powerful in quite a while and continue on into pirate-inspired “Black Flag” (no, don’t even think about bringing in Alestorm’s brand of the same), more measured in tempo, but with more emphasis on the filigree guitars dueling with the expressive vocals of Block (and yes, he unleashes his feared scream again), and again an outstanding chorus that highlights Iced Earth’s strengths once more. The trimming down of the songs is working wonders here, everything is more to the point and even if a song starts out with a longer calm passages (see “Raven Wing” or “Clear the Way (December 13th, 1862)”, they are never far from heavy guitars, pounding drums and this underlying sense of menace that makes sure nobody mistakes this for a happy album.
“Seven Headed Whore” is one of the heaviest Iced Earth songs to date, with enough force to blow over an elephant, which gains even more in power following the calm, emotional “The Veil”, while “Ghost Dance (Awaken the Ancestors)” is a melodic instrumental that seems to be drawing on a Native American background, also rhythmically. But all this is just a mere setting the table for 9 minute-plus “Clear the Way (December 13th, 1862)” to sweep said table with a tour de force through the band’s complete repertoire. Lyrically drawing on one of Schaffer’s favourite subjects, the American Civil War (the date marks one of the most decisive losses of the Union in the Battle of Fredericksburg), it sets out calm and ominous before the trademark riffing and double-bass come in, setting the ground for Block telling the story of the Irish that had come to America looking for freedom, but in the end getting caught up in a war not their own. Despite its length, the song has urgency, dynamics and strikes a wonderful balance between heaviness and catchiness.
Without resorting to simplicity Incorruptible greatly benefits from the more direct approach and freshness and while technically continuing they’ve been doing, this step back is like a giant leap forward and while Dystopia had been the best album in quite a while, Incorruptible will go down as Iced Earth’s best since probably Horror Show way back in 2001. Utilizing Block better than in the past, compacting songs and showing some distinct spark are the major upgrades of the new album and this shows that there is still plenty of life in Iced Earth and they have not yet become an anachronism. Good to see the band back in strength!