March 3rd, 2011 was a said day for Iced Earth fans, as lead singer Matt Barlow announced his retirement from the band. Band mainman John Schaffer later announced that the lead singer of Into Eternity, Stu Block, would be taking over vocal duties for Iced Earth's new album “Dystpoia”. After listening to the album, there is definitely some ups and downs throughout the tracks. Musically it’s amazing but vocally… well, I’ll let you be the judge of that.
You’re immediately hit with marching snares in “Dystopia.” Electrifying guitar riffs run through octaves with catchy melodies as they carry you to the verse. Chugging guitars take over with fast drum patterns behind them. This all sounds like good old Iced Earth. However, the vocals are a whole different story. Block has some aggressive clean singing vocals in the beginning of the verse but then switches to this really high screaming voice that gets kind of annoying. The delivery in the high pitch vocals just doesn’t sound right. He goes back to the aggressive singing during the rest of the verse, and that sounds pretty good. But that high screaming just puts a damper on the song. You’ll really enjoy the refrain though. The lyrics are great and the melody in the vocals is very catchy. This part is the part we all know and love from Iced Earth.
The mood slows down with “Anthem,” which starts with slow none distorted guitars gently hitting gorgeous chords. The drums sneak in quietly with soft hi hats and other cymbals. Keeping the same melody, distortion kicks on with blaring riffs and snapping snares and kicks. The verse comes in with clear vocals that soar over the instruments, leading right into the chorus. You’ll definitely be singing along after hearing this one a few times. Guitars are slammed in the background leaving you bobbing your head to the melody. Block gets a lot better in this song, as he shows off some of his power metal vocals in the refrain at the end. As the music fades you run into a wall of guitar riffs in “Boiling Point.” The vocals jump right in with more rough clean singing in the verse while complex double bass pedaling runs wild in the background. The drum fills are mind blowing and full of speed. There are a few parts where that annoying high pitch scream comes in, but it’s not as bad as the first track. Surprisingly, this track is less than three minutes long.
Next thing you know, you’re moving right along into “Anguish Of Youth.” It’s starts out calm with soothing guitars and light drumming. The vocals in the verse are kind of weird. This is where you’re really gonna wish you had Barlow back. The clean singing just doesn’t have that delivery that an Iced Earth singer should have. It actually makes me think of the “bro” singing that Avenged Sevenfold does in their newer material. It just doesn’t have that heavy metal feel to it. The song is saved, however, with the catchy chorus. This is where the vocals get a lot better. The lyrics are performed in an aggressive manor while blaring distorted guitars play along with them. If you can get passed the weak verses then you’ll really enjoy the rest.
The album gets heavier with monstrous guitar riffs in “V.” The booming drums will have you pumping your fists in no time. The verses contain nothing but pure solid clean vocals. The chorus is the best part as both Block and Schaffer sing together while chugging guitars blast through the background. There’s even a part where they’re chanting loudly towards the end which really reminds you of some of their older albums. Also, there is a beast of a solo towards the end where the guitar is just murdering the musical scales one note at a time. Definitely make sure you check this track out.
I was a little iffy with “Dark City” at first because of some of the vocals. Soothing clean vocals echo in the beginning over soft guitar notes. Then out of no where comes more high pitch screaming. I was very tempted to just skip the track. Good thing I didn’t though, because the rest of the track is amazing. The drums kick in with detailed rolls that’ll have you bashing you head left and right. The vocals become harsh as they prepare you for the chorus. Catchy lyrics come flying in with chugging guitar riffs and blasting drum fills. This is followed by another pulverizing guitar solo. Later enters the bridge where the guitars are just relentless with catchy melodic riffs. Meanwhile the snare pounds away at you beating you into the ground. This will definitely leave you wanting to play this track again.
Jumping to “End Of Innocence,” things start out slow again with acoustic guitars and light drumming. Block does some clean singing that boarders the “bro” vocals that I mentioned earlier. However, it gets better as the distortion comes in. The vocals in the refrain are awesome as you're hit with catchy lyrics that you’ll find yourself singing along to immediately. Also the guitar work between verses is absolutely stunning. There are lots of wild solo parts that really take over the mood of the song. This leads to the last song “Tragedy And Triumph” which runs for a lengthy seven and a half minutes long. Snapping snares march in with distorted guitar notes along side of them. This builds up for about a minute and a half until the verse finally drops. Here you’re hit with thunderous double bass pedaling and uplifting guitar riffs. The vocals are delivered with harsh aggressive tones. Overall the song isn’t anything that really stands out from the album but if you pick up the deluxe version of the album you’ll find that there are three bonus tracks. Now these song definitely stand out and are a great way to close out the album. The songs are “Soylent Green,” “Iron Will,” and “Anthem (String Mix).” Make sure you get the deluxe edition because you do not want to miss out on these great tracks.
Overall, “Dystopia” is another successful album. Iced Earth manages to keep their sound and style of music even though Barlow is no longer with them. As far as the new singer goes, Stu Block does a great job for the most part. I can imagine that filling in as Barlows position isn’t an easy task and although there are some parts that don’t quite fit, most of the vocals stay aggressive and strong throughout the album. It’ll be interesting to hear them live. But definitely make sure you pick up the album. It’s definitely worth it.
Official Site - http://www.icedearth.com/
Myspace - http://www.myspace.com/icedearth