Iced Earth’s latest offering, Incorruptible, is a thoroughly enjoyable album with barely a dull moment. The signature tortured lyrics of Jon Schaffer, articulated through the lamentations of vocalist Stu Block, are as strong as they’ve ever been. Incorruptible takes the listener through a journey that begins in darkness, and through profound affirmation leads to a satisfying resolution.
The album begins on a dramatic note in Great Heathen Army, with foreboding chanting reminiscent of Blind Guardian. Once the Metal kicks in, the vibe is strong, dark and evil – like the very best coffee, and just as guaranteed to wake you up. Block’s unmistakable wails power up the lyrics and are his perfect introduction on this album. He follows up with a declamatory vocal delivery that sets the stage for a powerful musical experience. His diverse vocal stylings are showcased to excellent effect here, with a clear 80s influence portrayed in a contemporary manner.
Brent Smedley’s drums are innovative on this album, and at times even take a little mental adjustment to listen to, particularly in Great Heathen Army and The Relic (Part 1).
The pace changes dramatically with the second track, Black Flag. It begins as a slow, lumbering beast of a track, but the pace soon picks up again. Although about pirates, the track resists the temptation to be expressed as Pirate Metal – though there is definitely a swashbuckling edge to Block’s snarled, “Black powderrrrr.”
Raven Wing reacquaints the listener with the beautiful Iced Earth ballad, very reminiscent of Queensryche. As the track moves into heavier riffs, there is a strong sense of woe, but the lyrics develop into a profoundly affirming experience: “It’s time to face your higher self, open up your spirit, begin to trust yourself.”
The Veil is another stirring and emotional track that continues to channel Queensryche, and surprising even moves into a Tiamat-like vocal edge. By contrast, Seven Headed Whore is clearly influenced by Slayer, and is certainly the Thrashiest song on the album. However, the chorus injects a recognisable dose of Iced Earth, and the band makes the style their own.
By my reckoning, however, and with all respect to Block’s vocals, the best track on the album is the instrumental Ghost Dance (Awaken the Ancestors). Ghost Dance takes its time to show off the skills of the band and does so with a groove that would suit a Metal incarnation of Neil Young. Dramatic, dynamic, stirring and beautiful.
Brothers starts out treading the bounds of 80s cliché with lyrics like “Brothers standing side by side, our bond will never falter,” but as the song develops manages to keep the 80s Power Metal vibe without becoming twee. Again, Iced Earth dextrously present classic influences in a fresh, contemporary way.
Aside from Seven Headed Whore, Defiance is arguably the heaviest track on the album, and delivers Jon Schaffer’s trademark fury in a satisfying headbanger of a track.
The album is rounded out with the nine and a half minute epic, Clear the Way (December 13th, 1862). There’s more than a touch of Iron Maiden to this uplifting track, and it’s much more lively than you might at first expect from the intro. As a closer it is fulfilling, and draws the listener back to the unique style of Iced Earth in the end. Its rousing atmosphere should go over a treat live. I can practically hear the audience chanting, “Fight, stand tall, prevail, your brothers surround you.”
Overall, while I hesitate to say this will be album of the year – I have a fair idea of what that will be, but all in good time – this is quite possibly the most well-rounded and satisfying album I’ve heard this year. It attends to all the bases, and will stand as a solid offering for years to come. I definitely look forward to seeing Iced Earth tour this one.