REVIEW: ICED EARTH – “Incorruptible”
It’s safe to say now that Iced Earth have successfully managed to compel the majority of complaints about their alleged “comeback” in ‘Dystopia’ and the consolidation of that with ‘Plagues of Babylon’, two outputs received by the masses as decent efforts, while continuing to raise a few select eyebrows from the more critical uh…critic, but in a smaller degree. I was once one of those young boys who were mad about crunchy guitars and fantasy themes, so naturally I was lured into Iced Earth in the 1990 like a moth to a flame, and enjoyed the crap out of that classic era from the beginning until ‘Horror Show’ in 2001.
Well, we all know what happened to the band after that, when it all went south and Jon Schaffer couldn’t write a good verse to save his own life during the 2000’s, and that’s why we (fans) were all excited about that “comeback” mentioned above. But there was still something missing about those two albums, and we all had that feeling. And so, ‘Incorruptible’ tries to recover once again that organic and vivid sensation present in Iced Earth’s golden days by being their most heterogeneous and diversified album in 16 years.
Schaffer’s loyal servants, Stu Block,
Speaking of the songwriting process, the majority of the songs are inspired by different stories. Closer “Clear the Way (December 13th, 1862)”, for instance, tells the story of the Battle of Fredericksburg, part of the American Civil War – which naturally reminisces ‘The Glorious Burden’ album –, while “Great Heathen Army” shows the tale of Ragnar Lothbrook’s (legendary Viking leader and object of several Norse poetry) sons, “Black Flag” ventures in the ever-so-fun pirate world and the instrumental “Ghost Dance (Awaken the Ancestors)” illustrates the native American religious movement of same name, for example.
Instrumental and performance-wise, the first half of the album kicks the hell out of the second part’s ass with far better leads and verses, especially thanks to Stu Block, who seems more comfortable and loose here than in the later-half, especially in the slow and mid-tempo passages of “The Raven Wing” – this one very similar to beloved tracks such as “Ghost of Freedom” and “Melancholy (Holy Martyr)” – and “The Veil”. The second part, however, also has a winner in “Defiance”, a strong and corpulent track worthy of Iced Earth’s name, but songs like “The Relic (Part 1)”and “Brothers”, for instance, fall short of exciting the listener and don’t offer quite as much punch and energy as others.
Another great aspect of the album is the attention that Schaffer gave to the minimum details while mixing the final work. There is very little dynamic compression – which is a relief for audiophiles like me, who think this practice is getting out of hand –, making the different effects and instruments sound layered and spaced between each other, while the overall production is likewise satisfactory. This all adds up to the experience and definitely made the album better.
I don’t usually reserve a whole paragraph to talk about a band member, but Jake Dreyer is worth it, so here we go. This is the first work he’s recorded with Iced Earth, so you may not have heard of him until now, but he’s a really virtuous and technical guitarist and also a very insightful lyricist, as seen in his previous band White Wizzard and his current project Witherfall with the awesome ‘Nocturnes and Requiems’ (one of the best albums of the year so far, trust me). I’ve noticed that he puts some of his unique way of playing on selected parts of the album, mainly in the solos, and this was exactly what Schaffer needed: a young guitarist who is full of energy and can easily emulate his guitar particularities.
Like I said above, ‘Incorruptible’ is one of the most heterogeneous and democratic albums of Iced Earth’s extensive career. Schaffer seems to have recovered his creativity to write killer songs such as “Seven Headed Whore” and “Black Flag”, and the guys surrounding him – especially Jake Dreyer – are competent enough to put his ideas to life. This doesn’t stand a chance if you compare it to ‘Night of the Stormrider’, ‘Burnt Offerings’ or ‘Dark Saga’, though, but my guess is that nothing by these guys from now on will, so if you approach it without comparing to the band’s previous catalogue you should enjoy it. Good effort.