Hailing from Florida and having formed in the mid 1980’s these metal crazy maniacs, Iced Earth, have been at this game a long time. Despite achieving wider success across the pond than in their homeland, they still have a loyal fan base here in the states. Aside from their combination of power/groove/melodic style of metal was their long-time singer Matt Barlow and after their last European trip he hung up his chords for the band and enter Stu Block. Block is best known for his work in the band Into Eternity, but following the powerful and distinctive voice of Barlow will be daunting at best and “Dystopia” is that first hurdle.
As one would expect the new era opens with ‘Anthem’ on a more melodic build, adding each instrument in true layered fashion, not holding off to long before ramping up the power and volume. The first Block notes are deep and growl filled but a few bars into the arrangement he moves up and down the scale with sheer ease. Two minutes and he seems home, as do the listeners. This is still Iced Earth, complete with screaming guitars, perfect beats, all wonderfully executed. Block really shows his styling in ‘Anguish of Youth’, near acapella at the start yet perfectly blended as the other instruments creep in. Stu Block may not be Matt Barlow but then again Barlow is no Block and three tracks in Block is in your mind like he was there all along.
There are four other lads in Iced Earth and without these other members what ever singer is on stage would have nothing. The work of Steele and Schaffer provide riffs and solos through the entire release, that are all in step with the soul and emotion of the songs. The solos are never too long or too short but just the right length and tone as each track marches on and on. The beat with Smedley and Vidales keep perfect time and pace, providing the perfect amount of creative accentuation that all fans come to expect from Iced Earth. Take ‘Dark City’, nice easy into on the drums and riffs, each riff and strike adding a thread to the tapestry. The change and variety of instrument intensity gives the composition a rich full metal sound that is nothing but trademark Iced Earth. The degree and longevity of these musicians is testament to their dedicate to craft, this work ethic is palpable in each and every track on the release. They have not lost a step and may have even gained a step or two, especially with their work on ‘Dark City’.
Barlow was great for Iced Earth for many years, Block will be great for Iced Earth for many years to come. These gentlemen have not disappointed, and assembled a virtual hailstorm of sounds, providing that hypnotic affect you to expected from Iced Earth. Give it a listen a few bars in the head will bang, the fist will pump, the beer will flow and you my friend, are in the tentacles of the great Iced Earth!