I kept having to rewrite this review, having received the promo copy of ICED EARTH’s new album Incorruptible months ago. It comes out June 16 on Century Media Records, but it still has a few surprises left for me to talk about. So to get that out of the way – the songs that the band released on YouTube and elsewhere are all AWESOME, and if you haven’t heard them, go do so now. “Great Heathen Army” is a killer opener that they’ve been playing live, and hopefully remains a staple. Of note is the really incredible solos on the song from new guitarist Jake Dreyer. “Seven Headed Whore” might just be my song of the year…everything I want from ICED EARTH in a 3-minute face-melting package that I’ve replayed an embarrassing number of times. I could hit the word limit praising it. Just go listen.
With that said, though, the album leans towards the more melodic side of “Raven Wing” than the thrashier sound of the aforementioned. In fact the record does a pretty excellent job of drawing from the Ripper era of riffy, speedy songs, and the “Something Wicked…” style of the Barlow era, which “Raven Wing” especially evokes. At the same time, it definitely establishes the Block era as its own force to be reckoned with, with a recognizable style that evokes the prior two albums more than anything else. Where Plagues of Babylon was a bit of a misstep with some good moments spread over too much filler, Incorruptible even at its weakest moments is quite solid, and at its best is some of ICED EARTH’s best.
Speaking of at its worst, I thought “Ghost Dance” was a nice little interlude track until I checked and saw that it’s almost SEVEN minutes long?? I love a good instrumental, but despite the various places it goes sonically and a bit of cool lead and drum work (welcome back, Brent Smedley!), it never elevates itself far past background music for me, certainly not enough to justify being the album’s second-longest song. Given that the first and last tune on the disc both have extended intros going past the one-minute mark, it’s just too much downtime and drags the album down.
Another low point unfortunately is “The Relic (Part 1)”, which is pretty decent for the most part with a nice soft/heavy dynamic and some slow moments that evoke the quiet intensity of “Burnt Offerings”. However, it never gets as far to the other extreme, as the songs on that album did. More importantly, though, there’s a weird vocal effect that keeps getting used which sounds like a vinyl record being slowed to a stop. It’s hard to explain but it’s incredibly annoying and contributes nothing to the song. I eventually started skipping it entirely.
Overall, Stu Block definitely steals the show on this album, with massive hooks and choruses on the catchy-as-hell “The Veil” and…well, on almost every song. “Black Flag” is a special highlight, a rollicking tune about pirates with a great sense of urgency and passion behind it. I’m reminded of ANTHRAX’s For All Kings in how many of these songs sound like they would be instant live anthems (no pun intended). “Brothers” and “Defiance” are in this category. I can imagine a crowd sing-along to the former the way IRON MAIDEN fans do with “Blood Brothers” live.
Speaking of IRON MAIDEN, ten-minute closer “Clear The Way (December 13, 1862)” definitely wears its influence from Harris and co. on its sleeve. Much like the great MAIDEN classics, it doesn’t feel like a long song at all – hell, it feels shorter than “Ghost Dance” to be honest – but has a charging momentum and fist-pumping momentum that befits a gallant war song. It doesn’t quite reach the levels of magnificence of “Dante’s Inferno” or “Gettysburg”, but most bands have trouble pulling off a single song of that scale, let alone several, so kudos to the band for keeping it shorter and more focused.
After what felt like an eternity between albums, ICED EARTH has come swinging out of the gate with a great collection of songs whose high points more than make up for the low ones. I’ll be keeping an eye out for a tour announcement, until then catch me on the train with my headphones on screeching FAAAAAALLEN ANGELS, AAAAANCIENT DEEEMONS!
STANDOUT TRACKS: “Great Heathen Army”, “Black Flag”, “Seven Headed Whore” “Raven Wing”, “The Veil”, “Clear The Way (Dec 13, 1862)”