Iced Earth “Plagues of Babylon” review

Celeste Welshhons

Heavy metal band Iced Earth released their 11th studio album last week entitled “Plagues of Babylon.” The album has a classic 80s metal sound and I am excited to see that there are still some bands sticking close to their roots. “Plagues of Babylon” is a great listen and a fantastic introduction to an older form of metal for the modern metalhead.

“Plagues of Babylon” is only the second Iced Earth album to be fronted by Stu Block, former lead vocalist for Canadian metal band Into Eternity. Iced Earth has had more than 20 line-up changes since they formed in Florida in 1985. Rhythm guitarist Jon Schaffer is the only remaining original member.

The album begins with the title track which is also the longest track on the album. The first two minutes serve as a nice build-up which leads to the classic heavy metal sound dealt out by vocalist Block, and backed by some idealistic screeching. Eight of the 13 songs either hit or go longer than the five-minute mark, but this doesn’t work against the band in any way. It is hard to lose interest at all during these lengthy numbers.

The second track is about as stereotypical as it gets, but I really enjoyed it. “Democide” begins with a lengthy intro like the preceding track, then moves into something mosh-pit friendly. The vocals on “Plagues of Babylon” in general are just phenomenal. Stu Block does great, but it is the backing vocals that make this track, and many others, great. These backing vocals highlight the lead, but also steal enough attention for themselves.

My favorite track is “If I Could See You,” written entirely by Jon Schaffer. The lyrics are surprisingly not dark in a gruesome or twisted kind of way, and the vocals sound much cleaner. It seems like the whole song was just turned down to a seven as opposed to the 10 we were getting from the opening ones. This track does not follow the heavier tone set by the previous tracks, but it does set up for the softer sound we get from the next ones.

The second best track is “Cthulhu.” The intro sounds like it was stolen directly from a HIM album. This tone does not last long however; there is a brief interlude, followed by a manly, high-pitched scream. The rest of the track is a mellower version of the beginning of the album.

Iced Earth decided to not only cover Jimmy Webb’s “Highwayman,” but also to bring in a couple of guest vocalists. Michael Poulsen, lead vocalist for Danish metal/rock band Volbeat, and Russell Allen, lead vocalist for American metal band Symphony X, were chosen to switch off on the leadership role along with Jon Schaffer on this cover song.

Listening to Webb’s original version, it is difficult to believe that “Highwayman” could be transformed into “metal.” Iced Earth pulled through however. The style Block sings this tune does not differ much from the original, and it is not hard to recognize it as being the same song, unlike many other covers.