With 2012 boasting a huge list of great releases already, it’s hard to imagine how much better this year can get musically, especially with Gojira and While She Sleeps still to come. That being said, I figured it would be a good change of pace to talk about something from last year that struck a chord with me and many others. This might seem a bit ‘retro’ for some, but it was an important record from last year and we should all care about it.
I can understand Iced Earth fans being pensive about Dystopia – bringing a new singer into a band is always going to cause a stir amongst your fans. Having Matt Barlow leave twice didn’t sit too well either, but every band member has the right to step down when they feel it is time and we all wish Matt the best and welcome Stu Block with big, manly open arms.
Firstly, Stu Block is an amazingly versatile vocalist. His range plays right into Iced Earth’s preferred style, and you can hear influences from Matt Barlow and Tim Owens in his voice – so it’s certainly not a drastic change from what people are used to. His high pitches and guttural growls sound thunderous and certainly mark his territory from the outset – particularly on the opening title track, which will throw any reservations you have about the album out of the window. There are hints of Chuck Billy (Testament) as well – the roar behind his singing hits you hard immediately in the opening tracks. The production of Dystopia also seems reminiscent of The Dark Saga and Something Wicked This Way Comes records, so it feels like a return to that crushing heavy metal sound that they sort of lost on more recent albums. Jon Schaffer has not lost a single step and his rhythm guitar sections are astounding, making anyone who has ever picked up a guitar in their lives weep and feel like packing it all in. It also feels like a return to form in terms of songs, with less emphasis on the ‘Something Wicked’ storyline which, on previous records, saw the songs suffering in terms of quality as a result of being swamped by the concept. By contrast, the songs on this record are far more concise and aggressive.
Iced Earth have always managed to use a perfect style of old school heavy metal songwriting, yet still managing to sound contemporary and heavier than more recent bands. Nowhere is that truer than on Dystopia. Tracks such as ‘Days Of Rage’ leap from the speakers to give one of the heaviest performances the band have ever given, and it showcases Stu Block’s capabilities and proves he deserves his position in the band.
I found many Iced Earth fans not knowing whether or not the new album will be successful or not, but I think we should always trust Jon Schaffer and Iced Earth because they are one of the most consistent heavy metal bands on the planet. Dystopia carries on this tradition proudly. If you’re a fan, you probably already own it but if not it serves a great entry point for anyone wanting to see what all the fuss was about.