In the beginning the titans of metal crushed men's souls into submission with their mighty power; Sabbath made us question the dogmas of our forefathers, Priest made us scream for vengeance, Maiden drove our spirits to run free...after which came the radiant and aggressive splendor of thrash which was spawned in dank Northern California clubs and spread across the planet with the sacred passion of the faithful from New York to Germany... then, in the 90's, there was the darkness; a gaping, festering hole where the once truly magnificent music of old almost disappeared from the face of the earth.
It was a time which left only the mightiest and purest of heart to wade through and smite down the vile hordes of nu metal and grunge without succumbing to their virulent influences. These bands produced some of the best music in a generation and, as has always been the case with the greats; they were cherished and supported by legions of hardcore headbangers who heard the return of the great kings of yesteryear in the potent notes of their music.
One such band who had the audacity and talent to use the fire from the furnace of the titans so as to forge steal which was as sharp and strong as the axes of the mighty god's themselves, was Iced Earth.
Persevering through the dark ages of metal, Iced Earth has always produced songs which were born from the very essence of heavy metal itself; power chords, thrashy blast beats, galloping bass lines, sharp and melodious leads, powerful choruses were all combined to produce a sound which was, and still is, uniquely Iced Earth.
With social upheavals raging across the planet, where nations and societies have dehumanized and manipulated their populaces with fear, there comes a powerful addition to the soundtrack for our times, an offering which is uncannily and appropriately titled "Dystopia"!
The album opens with the title track "Dystopia"; driving, martial style beats gives way to a scream of rage which is followed by a thrash influenced attack! These are the words which introduces you into the concept of what is to be "Dystopia"
"Enter the nightmare, this future does implore,
Hijack your city state, a prison nothing more.
Rounded up like cattle, you're forced in to the trains,
Nothing that you've ever known will bring you so much pain."
Right the fug on! Let the doubters be enlightened...this is Iced Earth! And as always there is a thread throughout which tells a tale of worth, of oppression, struggle, hope and, more poignantly, of life, love and loss.
I continue onto "Anthem"; a powerful song which will have you singing with the chorus, a message of resistance and your own importance. It is a song which says that in the end, even when it seems the world has cast the die against us, each of us has the power to break the bonds of the role which society has assigned to us...to become what we will ourselves to be! Righteous!
Next, rages "Boiling Point"; again, heavy beats and devastating guitars with aggressive vocals combine to get your heart pumping with pure metal rage. Check out the first line and tell me you don't feel the song already:
"I sit alone and watch hypocrisy
I will fight"
Not only am I digging this whole album, I am feeling it! The next track has a morose touch to it; "Anguish of Youth" the lyrics are extremely heavy...emotionally. Matter of fact, this track and "End Of Innocence" which is the second to the last song, begin with beautiful acoustic work and make me think that perhaps both have been influenced by the band's newest member Stu Block, formerly of Into Eternity, due to the lamentable fact that his mother is suffering from terminal cancer. I know that the later, "End Of Innocence" was written by Stu, so obviously those tender words are very much meant for her.
As someone whose family has been deeply affected by cancer, I do have a concept how difficult an illness such as this can be. I suppose the only words of condolence I can express is that there is no doubt in my mind that Stu's performance on the album will make her smile and know that she did well.
A line from "Anguish of Youth":
"The wind's crying softly
Tears stream down her precious cheeks
The last goodbye to those she loves
Before the final sleep"
And from "End Of Innocence":
" Through the essence of your smile
makes this fight all worthwhile
oh, the perseverance of your life
There you were, by my side
giving me strength through your love and pride
she says carry on, carry on"
It is hard to not be moved by either of those songs.
Next is "V", yes, that's right; with the ever present Guy Fawkes masks we see as the symbol of the Occupy movement around the world, we listen to a song (which was obviously penned and recorded well before the first protesters pitched their tents) reveal itself to be forceful anthem of defiance!
"Dark City" another homage, has old school NWOBHM all over it with Iced Earth awesomeness! Cymbal tapping preps the launch into a tale of the struggle for a man to keep his identity in a world which is a pure illusion through sheer force of will. Killer!
We flow from "Dark City" into the kick ass Iced Earth rhythms of "Equilibrium"; all good, each song is the finest expression of metal wickedness which demands the respect of pushing the dial to ten!
Then heaviness hits again with "Days of Rage". This one is the track that makes this album so perfect for this day and age, a song about being beat down by a rotting society, a song which stresses the point that you can only take so much before you need to lash back! Hard and tasty aggression:
" Fight or die, kill or be killed
You watch your world die and decay"
Damn! You just want to get up and shout against the world...this is metal, no sub-genre bullshit here...just metal!
The album wraps up with the aforementioned and sentimentally powerful " End of Innocence" and "Tragedy and Triumph". Beginning with a similar drumbeat as the opening track, you hear in "Tragedy and Triumph" the conclusion to this Ice Earth epic unfold in a thunderous cry of hope.
"Here we stand,
I know it's always been our home
We're awakened from our prison
A new day, it's finally here,
We walk the streets without fear
Our humanity has risen
Digging out those microchips
That kept us dormant to resist
Singing sings of current state
We must try to elevate
Our minds and our future"
As with all bands, Iced Earth has had their moments when some would criticize, for whatever reasons those critics may justify their observations, it matters little when you look back at Iced Earth's career. This is not a band who is condemned to be put into the class of those who are referred to with curl of the lip as a band whose "first records were good"; no, Iced Earth I contend, will be always remembered as one of the finest Metal bands to have emerged from the last two decades of the 20th century.
This record only proves that they incontrovertibly have the ability to continue on their path of creating music which can be revered by both the metalheads who have been listening since the dawn when the Titans first raised their axes and beat the drums to herald in a new age of rock n roll and those new legions who have just come into the fold!