Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Album Review: Iced Earth - Incorruptible

The story of Iced Earth, at this point, is half tragedy. Through their own failings, the success they had built up through the years has eroded, as the band has turned down a path of endless change that has resulted in continued stagnation. I never got the appeal of Matt Barlow, but the band made some very good records with him. Ripper Owens might be bland, and there was a god-awful amount of filler involved, but "Framing Armageddon" had some of the band's best songs on it. Then, the game of musical chairs has gotten to the point where keeping track of who is and isn't in the band isn't worth the effort. Stu Block has been behind the mike for three albums now, counting this one, but all he has done is clone the previous singers while Jon Shaeffer writes songs that copy his own works of the past. It's a recipe for boredom, which is unfortunately where Iced Earth has been residing lately.

Fans have been joking for at least fifteen years that the band only has two songs, and simply rewrites the gallops and ballads slightly for each new album. That simplifies things a bit too much, but there is a lot of truth in saying the band's sound has become stale after this many albums. While Jon Shaeffer's lightning speed chugging was once revolutionary, we've been hearing him do it for twenty-plus years now. There isn't a single riff he can play in that style that offers anything new.

The thing about "Incorruptible" that will most please the long time fans is the same thing that makes me so luke-warm about it; this album could have been put out between "The Dark Saga" and "Something Wicked This Way Comes". I don't mean that in terms of quality, but in the actual sound. Shaeffer's guitar tone has never changed, and Block continues to move closer and closer into a perfect clone of Matt Barlow. It wouldn't be hard to believe in the latter's return, if the band said he was really the one singing.

What's disappointing about that is it feels too safe. Fans want that sound, and Shaeffer is doing everything he can to give it to them. Couple that with the talk in recent years of the investments he's made to turn Iced Earth into his full-time job, and the necessity of the sound soon triumphs over the desire for it. For whatever complaints you could have raised about the Ripper albums, they at least tried a few new things then. Barlow's return (halfway through a double concept album, which made no sense), then subsequent departure again, sucked the last bits of creativity out of the band.

"Incorruptible" doesn't offer a single thing you haven't heard Iced Earth do before, but it plays the old tricks fairly well. If you're a fan of the band's glory days, you'll find plenty here to satisfy you. There are the baritone vocals and history lessons you now expect from the band, and the songs are solid, if unspectacular. There's nothing as good as "I'd Die For You", but there's also nothing as bad as "Red Baron/Blue Max". It's middle of the road for the band, which given how they now approach making music, is about the best we can expect.

Iced Earth is always going to sound like Iced Earth, so how much you want to hear more of that determines how much you will enjoy "Incorruptible". Myself, I'll stick with "Horror Show" if I want to hear this particular sound.

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