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So ends a decade of decay, testing and controversy for one of the bands that helped metal music in the ’90s so much, that only a few more can claim the same (Pantera, Dream Theater, Paradise Lost, to mention some others). After the release of the cornerstone of their peak called ”Something Wicked This Way Comes” back in 1998, nothing seemed to work in its entirety as before. At first most of us wouldn’t like to admit this because of our love for the band (remember what was happening in the end of the ’90s and the beginning of the ’00s with them). Soon it proved to be that the ship of Iced Earth would flow in tidal waves that didn’t make it sink, but they caused serious damages on the inside. Members left, compositions got less inspired and the future seemed very uncertain, especially the last three years after the completing of the ”Framing Armageddon” suite.

To make matters worse, Matthew Barlow decided to leave the band and all fans started putting a large X on the band they used to love, get obsessed with and hope for better things in the future. This departure of Matthew Barlow proved to be the kick in the teeth that the band needed, making me state it’s the best thing that happened the last decade for the band. The reason can’t be none else but the arrival of the amazing singer Stu Block. Knowing him from his duties in the great group Into Eternity, I was more than certain that this would be the time for Iced Earth to get back what they had left behind all these years. I mean it was a ”now or never” situation. If this album wouldn’t put them back on the status they once had, then they would simply have to call it a day. My certainty is proved with the best way in this album, as Block doesn’t leave room for any doubt about his performance, making some people say he should be in the band much earlier (me included of course).

The marching intro of the title track ”Dystopia” brings memories of a time that no band could beat Iced Earth, in all genres and in or out of stage. Once Stu screams, the initial riff made me smile like I had never done the past seven years, after the release of ”The Glorious Burden” (a great album which didn’t get the recognition it deserved). Once again these riffs that sound like horses storming their way towards anything, the trademark Iced Earth sound, denying it or not. This formula finds its best interpretations on tracks like ”Boiling Point”, ”Days Of Rage” and ”Tragedy And Triumph”. The first two tracks could belong on ”The Dark Saga” or ”Something Wicked This Way Comes”, reminding the days when Iced Earth would put some thrash bits on their music. The other track, the longest one in the album, put in the end as always, closes the album in a very hopeful way, sounding a bit strange for an Iced Earth song, but pleasantly different, as it could be the direction they should follow in the future.

Of course, after 1996 Iced Earth wouldn’t only focus on speed, but also on melody and mid tempo tunes with vast heaviness, being very catchy (sometimes rather commercial too) but always with quality. Tracks like ”Anthem” (maybe the song they forgot to write all these years), ”Anguish Of Youth (one of the fans’ new favourite ones), and also ”V”, ”Dark City” and ”Equilibrium”, put one after the other in the middle of the album. Songs that don’t rediscover fire, maybe also unable to belong on a pre-1996 era album, but surely sounding fresh and as simple as they must. After all what Iced Earth had lost all these years was the ability to make the fan dig the songs again and again, as the ”Horror Show” or ”Framing Armageddon” (both albums) attempts had some great songs, but wouldn’t stand out as albums assumpting the essence the band had got us used to. This is an album working as a tight unit and it brings out the feeling that they must have had a lot of fun during the recordings.

Jon Schaffer did the right thing this time. He wrote songs he should have wrote years ago, he got a frontman he should have a decade ago and finally, he seems open-minded to see that his band was reaching a fathomless gap with no way to return to the top. ”Dystopia” is not the best album of the band, nor the best album of 2011. It is not an album that you will listen to and may crush your neck, banging along with it. But it is the album that shows the band is alive again, ready to gain what it lost all these years. And what is better is that they show potential for even better things in the future. Hoping that it will not be a momentary strike of inspiration, and that in the future Stu Block will be left free to express himself like his Into Eternity days, then we’ll have to deal with the second birth of the band. The operation succeeded and the patient is still alive (and in terms, kicking also). I got what I wanted from one of my all time favourite bands at this point of time. Next time I’ll have more demands. Until then, my smile (and I hope yours too) is back for good.

P.S.: The two bonus tracks of the limited edition (”Soylent Green” and ”Iron Will”) would drop the quality of the album a bit. Thanks to Jon Schaffer for not including them as not standard ones.

Track List Line Up
01. Dystopia
02. Anthem
03. Boiling Point
04. Anguish Of Youth
05. V
06. Dark City
07. Equilibrium
08. Days Of Rage
09. End Of Innocence
10. Soylent Green (bonus track)
11. Iron Will (bonus track)
12. Tragedy And Triumph
13. Anthem (String Mix)
Stu Block – Vocals
Jon Schaffer – Guitars, Backing Vocals
Brent Smedley – Drums
Troy Seele – Lead Guitars
Freddie Vidales – Bass