Let's start with the most obvious question and it is regarding new singer Stu Block, who has some pretty big boots to fill as new Iced Earth frontman.
Well let's just say that he more than fills them and his stamp on 'Dystopia' heralds in a new era for Iced Earth, an era that on this evidence looks like being their most glorious yet.
Although there are similarities in delivery, Stu is a magnificent Metal vocalist in his own right and not merely a Matt soundalike. These songs have an extra gloss on them and although the Iced Earth back catalogue should always be kept alive, this collection of Metal slabs are more than equal to the songs that sent this great band to the top of the Metal world.
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'Dystopia' is not a concept album but many of the songs are inspired by dystopian themes and the title track and 'Tragedy And Triumph' also feature the return of the 'Something Wicked' storyline.
As 'Dystopia' kicks in and thunders along, the marching, triumphant guitar intro suddenly being replaced by the chopping, chugging main riff, you know straight away that you are listening to a very special album.
Stu demonstrates a fabulous range throuhgout, especially on the title track as he switches between a deep throaterial style and then raises it all by several octaves. 'Dystopia' is a chilling, serious track and should be listened to often.
'Anthem' is the track that will probably become the most memorable track from the album. "This is the anthem to celebrate your life", proclaims Stu and yes, it certainly is. It starts with a haunting intro, heavy on chorus pedal, and then kicks into twin harmony lead before the rousing thunderous chorus. This is an absolute dead cert for inclusion in the Iced Earth live set for many years to come.
Stu once again excels himself on 'Boiling Point', reaching notes so ridiculously high that dogs passing in the street outside started yelping and electrical appliances mysteriously turned themselves on. Stu out Halfords Halford on this one.
'Anguish Of Youth' is a special track, an emotive and painful journey of a tortured soul, one damaged by tragedy and who cannot bear the pain any longer. There is a shade of 'I Died For You' in the riff and general song structure but that is no bad thing. This is a truly heart wrenching track and leads us straight into 'V', the second anthemic track on the album with it's typically memorable Iced Earth chorus. This is one you will be singing as you walk down the street.
There's a stark atmosphere contained in 'Dark City' that transports you to a harsh world from which there appears to be no escape. Yet the spirit cries, "They'll never take my soul away..."
Special mention for the guitar solos on the later part of 'Dark City'. It's not clear whether it's mainman Jon Schaffer or Troy Seele who is making that axe scream and sing but this is one of the many high points of 'Dystopia'.
'Equilibrium' is a brutal track that thumps and kicks throughout its duration and then we are given a glimpse of anger as 'Days Of Rage' spits and snarls at you and pumps you up into a frenzy. It's the shortest track on the album at just over two minutes but it's one of the most memorable.
'End Of Innocence' is a pained emotive number that reduces the tempo of the album (in a very good way) and leaves you thinking as well. It got me thinking about Stu Block's voice as well. Is there more than one of him because his range is truly staggering. Jon can be as diverse with his writing as he wants to be now because I doubt that there is anything at all that is off limits to Stu.
And we get a real classic to close with; opening with a continuation of the guitar fanfare that opened the album, 'Tragedy And Triumph' takes you to a victorious place, battle won, all hope restored. "Hearts and minds are joined in victory". And the victory belongs to Iced Earth who have produced a masterpiece.
'Dystopia' is a very serious contender, possibly even the favourite, for Album Of The Year. Quality, quality stuff and a massive statement that this new episode in the history of Iced Earth promises to take the band to higher planes than they have already experienced.
And here's the first four of five webisodes on the making of 'Dystopia'. The fifth part will be published on MetalTalk.net later this week.