Iced Earth - Plagues of Babylon

Happy 2014 minions of metal, and what an excellent start we are off to so far. I'd be selling myself short if I claimed to be anything less than an avid fan of Iced Earth, and Plagues of Babylon has been like Christmas and New Year's all over again for me, at once! Now, before I start salivating and probably bore you with things you don't care to hear, let's start with a few facts.

This is Iced Earth's first album since Dystopia three years ago, which was also the first album to feature Regina-native Stu Block (most prominently known from Into Eternity) as a new band member. I confess, when they first announced that Matt Barlow was leaving the band for good to be replaced by Block, I was worried. I made it a point to follow Into Eternity (Another IE band, yes?) religiously, and I wasn't impressed, but I told myself I'd wait it out a bit longer. Finally, they released the single "Dante's Inferno 2011", and it completely blew me away. It sounded exactly the way I had hoped—Stu was able to sing like Barlow and maintain enough of his own ability to stand out as a unique vocalist. By the time Dystopia was released, I was convinced, and watching him perform live during the Dystopia tour was when I believed that he belonged.

However, that doesn't mean that I cease to maintain constant critical analysis of my favourite band. When they released the single "Plagues of Babylon", admittedly I was just as sceptical. They released a very artistic video with artwork worthy of any Iced Earth fan with their mascot Set Abominae being very prominent. While reading the lyrics, I was worried that they may have taken a turn towards their (in my opinion) weakest album Glorious Burden, shying away from their epic tales and focusing on subject matter that seemed almost political. Having listened to more of the album, I became more aware of their story and, well, it's quite an adventure and you would have to listen to the chapters of "Something Wicked" to fully grasp the direction that the album is heading.

The length of the album is almost an exact hour, averaging about five minutes each song. It may seem a bit long for the radio-friendly types, but as I listen to this album I don't notice the time at all. It's easy to get lost in the music, and I spent more time rewinding the tracks and just listening than actually writing this review! At the same time, some of my favourite songs in past Iced Earth albums—such as "Burnt Offerings", "Dante's Inferno", "A Question of Heaven", and "The Domino Decree"—have been longer songs, so I assume that anybody who listens to Iced Earth would know what to expect.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended tracks: "Plagues of Babylon", "Democide", "If I Could See You" (for fans of songs like "Watching Over Me" or "Consequences"), and "Parasite"

--Cecil D. hosts Burnt Offerings, every Sunday from 6-8PM! Part of Metal Sundays, only on CJLO