10/23/2011 - Review by: Greg Watson
I have to preface this review by saying that I am a huge Iced Earth fan. This has been the album I have been waiting for all year. As many fellow IE fans can sympathize, the second departure of Matt Barlow left me reeling a little bit. When "Dystopia" was announced for release and that Stu Block of Into Eternity would be handling vocal duties on the album, I was pretty psyched. I counted down the days until the release and went and bought the album as soon as it was released.
I had heard the title track "Dystopia" already and was pretty stoked based on that. I have listened to the album about 10 times through now and feel that I can finally review this album fairly. "Dystopia" is another themed release from IE with the debut of vocalist Stu Block. Filling Barlow's shoes, in my eyes, was no easy task to tackle but Block has proven that he fits in with this band. His vocals on "Boiling Point", "Days of Rage" and "Dystopia" show off the nasty set of pipes he brings to the table. On the tracks "Anthem" and "Angst of Youth" he lets his clean vocals come through and really allows you to hear the emotion that he sings with.
The background vocals again feature a choral ensemble similar to the last two releases. While a bit overdone for my taste with the usage of the choir, it does add an epic feel to the songs they are featured on. Founder John Schaeffer and second guitarist Troy Seele take care of the riffage and soloing duties. Schaeffer's trademark galloping riffs and somber acoustic tones appear throughout the album bringing a sense of familiarity to the album. The only problem I have with that is it feels as though some of the riffs have been rehashed from previous songs. Seele throws in a couple of great solos--listen to "Anthem" and "Equilibrium" for some face melting fun.
Drummer Brent Smedley and bassist Freddy Vidales bring up the back end of the band and provide the remaining rhythm and filler for the songs. Smedley has proven his skills in his few stints with the band and tracks like "Days of Rage" and "V" show you just how much he has progressed in his skills since the "Something Wicked" days. Vidales is a solid bassist but it is very hard to pick out his riffs during the songs. Whether that's due to production or the fact that "Stucifer" is screaming like a banshee on most songs I'm not certain.
Production wise, the album is pretty tight. I would like to hear the bass become a little more prevalent on future releases but other than that it is crisp and clean. Jim Morris has once again captured that trademark sound that belongs only to IE.
The problem that I have with the album is that it feels a little too familiar. With the exception of Block, the music sounds the same and while the concept of a Dystopian society and sci-fi movies is a new realm for the band, lyrically and structurally the songs are typical of the past few albums. That being said, Block's vocals lend a new element to the band and I feel that it is a step in the right direction to start a new era for Iced Earth. "Days of Rage" is a track that brings back memories of "Violate", one of their heaviest songs to date. I hope to hear more of that sound in the future.
All in all, "Dystopia" is a solid release. Any IE fan should pick it up and hopefully give it a good chance. The standard metal fan can pick it up without worrying about buying a piece of crap in plastic packaging. While the wait was worthwhile for me, it still leaves me feeling a bit empty and wanting just a little more. Maybe the next release will provide that but until then I will continue spinning this album heavily in my rotation. Go out and pick up your copy today and see if you are struck by "Dystopia".
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