Iced Earth
Incorruptible

I’ve been an Iced Earth fan for awhile now. Twenty years exactly, at the time of this review, as it was the band’s compilation/re-worked/best of album, Days of Purgatory, that introduced me to their take on thrash, power, and traditional metal. At the time I thought of myself as a latecomer, as the band had already released four full-length albums and the critic world was still throwing praise at their then recent album, The Dark Saga (I never understood why, that album is pretty dull in my opinion). In hindsight I realize that I couldn’t have picked a better time to check the band out. Not only was Days of Purgatory an excellent and updated introduction to what Iced Earth was, but the subsequent years, i.e. ’98-’04, would see some of the band’s best material ever. Hell, even Framing Armageddon and The Crucible of Man had some pretty great moments amongst all the clatter.

However the last six years have been a bit of a mixed bag for me personally, as a fan. Bringing in Stu Block seemed to satisfy band brainiac, Jon Schaffer’s, quest for the perfect vocalist, and I will admit, the man is a ferociously great singer. He easily conjures up the spirit of the band’s two best vocalists, Matt Barlow and Tim “Ripper” Owens and sometimes  a tad bit of John Greely(Night of the Stormrider). Therein lies my only real problem with the last six years, and now with new album Incorruptible. Block, for the most part, has never gotten to be anything more than a mimic of Barlow and Owens. It’s easily overlooked and ultimately enjoyable, yet it is also bothersome that Block has to be a copy of others. Musically, Incorruptible is well…incorruptible. It’s Iced Earth plain and simple. If you have always been a fan, you still will be. If you’ve never been a fan, this probably won’t win you over. If you are just now looking to get into Iced Earth, this isn’t a bad start, but I would highly recommend going back a decade or two first.

“Great Heathen Army” opens Incorruptible in typical I.E. fashion, an intro complete with choral vocals and building drums and horns/synths until fat riffage and pounding double bass takes over as Block lets loose a quality Ripper-esque scream. As expected, everything is tight, punchy, and clear. Schaffer’s triplets and chords of power are a driving force, emotional and full of pulsing underlying melody. The song is a great opener, capturing that classic I.E. vibe, reminiscent of much of their work over the past four or five albums. Sadly, Incorruptible doesn’t really do much with the next four tracks. They are all good songs. All offering some quality moment(s); I especially liked the Grave Digger feel to the beginning of “Black Sail”. Though overall they all a bit long winded, teetering precariously on that treacherous line of boredom.

“Seven Headed Whore” picks things up and piques my interests more with its straight up power thrash the band can wield so mightily when it chooses. The song’s opening  instantly recalling Slayer, and quickly falling into fierce I.E. awesomeness. Block’s vocals are superb. An equal mix of  Barlow and Owens influence, capturing a blistering performance; mainly due to the Ripper-esque soaring throat acrobatics. The track is pretty simple in its structure, but it rages with an intensity that nowadays, the band doesn’t delve into very often. I really like “The Relic(Part 1)”, the song is nothing Iced Earth fans haven’t heard before, or even many times over, but its mid paced, Barlow infused power is rousing and even engaging. The track strongly recalls their ’98-’01 period and manages to achieve a feel good aura in and of itself until the direction and instrumentation changes to a sultry, almost lullaby-ish affect on the listener’s senses.

A Burnt Offerings meets Something Wicked This Way Comes feeling can be found in the musical flow of “Defiance”, it’s catchy and primarily mid paced with a bit of darker forbiddance. Stu’s screams from 2:14 to 2:35 are wonderfully intense. Personally, I wish his air raid vocalizations saw the light of day more, not only on “Defiance”, but  on the majority of Incorruptible‘s tracks.  For me they are extremely more engaging and visceral than his crooning Barlow mimicry. Instrumental, “Ghost Dance(Awaken the Ancestors)”, must be mentioned for not only being damn good, but for taking a few small baby steps outside the typical Iced Earth box. Classic Schaffer/I.E. riffing gets things going , driving the track along with some wonderful melody and lead work. The musicality and depth of the song invoking feelings of The Glorious Burden in its overall scope. The tribal/Native American beats and vocalizations are a bit odd for I.E., but they work well. It’s all quite interesting, while staying clearly within the refines and parameters of the band’s sound.

Album closer, “Clear the Way(December 13, 1862)”, is arguably some the band’s best material since The Glorious Burden‘s Gettysburg trilogy, and hands down the albums best track. Slow, eerie picking, strummed chords and soft bass kicks  mix with bagpipe induced stirrings of emotion, before melding into a brief Iron Maiden melody and happy lick, giving way to a simply ripping, galloping, upbeat and high powered epic attack of prime Iced Earth quality and brilliance. The track is a rousing call to arms in music and lyrics alike, with a simple yet inspiring chorus. The melody and subsequent riffing at the 3:33 mark to the 4:04  is a neck snapper for sure; the song moving into a couple of different change ups before locking again into Maiden inspired interplay. Six minutes in sees the song taking an emotional change as driving snare rolls, bagpipes, and battlefield soundscapes merge, creating a bit of a break in the track before returning to the driving thrash and the powerful chorus, eventually closing out the song and fading out to the eerie bagpipe melody featured in the beginning.

Being a history lover and having always found interest in the Civil War, I really found “Clear the Way…” to be highly entertaining. The song tells of the doomed assault on Marye’s Heights, during the deadliest day of the Battle of Fredericksburg, by the 28th Massachusetts, or the “Sons of Erin”, an Irish brigade. The 28th Mass. were pushed back and defeated by the Confederates (ironically, it was a confederate Irish brigade, the 24th Georgia, that had a major hand in the defeat of the 28th Mass.). The 28th Massachusetts fought so fearlessly and with such bravery and courage, that the Confederate soldiers actually cheered them on in their advance, not out of spite, but because they revered the Sons of Erin and their commitment. Confederate General Robert E. Lee was recorded saying of the 28th Mass. and their failed assault, “Never were men so brave”. Truly some powerful stuff.

Getting back to Incorruptible, it must be noted that the player’s individual performances are really top notch. Aside from the obvious Schaffer and Block contributions, it is drummer Brent Smedley and lead guitarist Jake Dreyer that really add the icing to this incorruptible cake. Dreyer’s leads are fantastic and really help drive the material and even boost it when it would fall into stale or borish moments. Smedley on the other hand is tight, controlled, and concise. His footwork is damn near impeccable in following and accenting Schaffer’s riffs. His biggest achievement being that you tend to take his performance for granted. He simply knows how to add to the material instead of showboating within it.

In case you couldn’t tell by my long winded review, I easily recommend Incorruptible. It’s a pretty damn good album, sometimes even a brilliant one. Is it going to be remembered and heralded along with some of the band’s best material? Maybe, but probably not. There are definitely some “best of” worthy moments to be found on Incorruptible but unfortunately, the majority falls into the heard it before category from Iced Earth. Still though, that “heard it before” category is still a shit ton better than most other bands are able to muster after being in the game for as long as Schaffer/Iced Earth have.

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Written by Kristofor Allred
June 19th, 2017

Comments

  1. Commented by: Jay

    Kick ass review Krist! You really nailed the feel of this album and it’s a great one. They still have “it” as far as I’m concerned. I too have been an Iced Earth fan for a really long time…over half my life. Got to see ’em with Ripper at the helm and that show was a total blast that I’ll always remember.


  2. Commented by: Red

    Thanks Jay…I got to say, I was initially a bit bored and let down with the new album, but after spending more time with it, I’d say I dig it more than their last two.


  3. Commented by: Jay

    One or two of their releases have struck me a bit cold at first but then grew on me quite a bit. “Dystopia” was one of them. I had a promo of it but I just wasn’t catching the feel of it till I put it away for a few months then dug it back out. I like it now and there’s a few killer tracks on it. I’m into this one more though. I’m always up for a grower album that reveals more as time goes by, or one that you almost write off then it hits you.

    Initially, I wasn’t too, too wild over “Glorious Burden” even though I like Ripper’s style. I felt it had moments but it just wasn’t grabbing me like “Burnt Offerings” through “Horror Show.” In about 2 weeks I was really catching it. I’m a Civil War buff (and history nut in general) and eventually that in and of itself won me over along with the rest of the album. Thought the “Gettysburg” trilogy was awesome. Dug that they closed with that on the tour and took a quick break to come out dressed out as Civil War soldiers…he he he.

    Great band all around man. Always good talkin’ them.


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