There are two distinctive styles of Power Metal. On one hand, you have the ‘European’ take on it, which focuses a lot on melodies in the tracks, the atmosphere of the song and it also heavily favours neo-classical elements, symphonic arrangements/accompaniments and folk like traits. On the other hand, you have the ‘American’ take which is more in line with traditional heavy metal and it also flirts with thrash in its approach. Iced Earth naturally fall into the second category just on geography alone, but even if they do have some European Power Metal traits, they undoubtedly have a more traditional heavy metal leaning approach.
With a distinct style, sound and approach to song writing, Iced Eartth have been one of the mainstays in the metal genre, churning out some classic releases like “The Dark Saga”, “Something Wicked This Way Comes”, “The Glorious Burden” and arguably one of the finest live releases ever; “Alive In Athens!”. Still going strong, the titans of Power Metal rise once more, this time with “Incorruptible”, their 12th studio album. Given the band’s longevity, the title of the release certainly says it all, so let’s see if Iced Earth might need corrupting or not.
With musical themes featuring aspects of war dotted across the release, you get a feeling that this album is trying to convey some kind of meaning… Well to me anyway, maybe I am just reading into it too much, but with songs about people rising up in combat, living outside the law, standing tall and the like, you could come to the conclusion that it’s about the human spirit and other things like that.
The whole ‘metaphysical’ moment aside, musically, it is exactly as you would expect – thunderous and furious riffing, galloping triplet feel, powerful and emotionally charged vocals and rhythmic precision. Jon Schaffer is often overlooked in favour of a certain tall Californian who models for Armani these days when the rhythm guitar stakes are up, and it is criminal how often he is ignored. The thunderous tone and delivery of Schaffer’s galloping triplet riffs is one of the key aspects of Iced Earth’s sound. When this is combined with a meaty bass sound and some hard hitting drumming, you end up with some top quality metal.
“Black Flag” builds slow but explodes to life with some vivid lyrical storytelling and tightly controlled bursts of gallop feel, pummelling away whilst the album opener, “The Great Heathen Army” is your typical hybrid of Thrash-NWOBHM-Power, complete with plenty of neck wrecking rhythms and falsetto ranged shrieks and venom vocally. The more interesting aspect though is found on tracks like “Raven Wing”, “The Veil” and “Seven Headed Whore”. These three tracks which flow back to back seem to show just what the plan for this album was musically as they manage to capture elements of the bands most distinctive sounds – Late 90’s Barlow era (Dark Saga, Something Wicked…) and The Ripper Owen’s fronted “Glorious Burden”. With power, atmospheric saturation, phenomenal heaviness and tone, they tip their hat to the much loved older sound, but still retain the uniqueness of this current era in the band’s history.
The most noteworthy track however is the album closer, “Clear the Way (December 13th 1862)”. This near ten minute epic takes a trip to the bloody past of the USA in the form of the American Civil War. Like the “Gettysburg Suite” from The Glorious Burden release, “Clear the Way” again highlights one of the landmark battles of the war – The battle of Fredericksburg, famously remembered for being one of the more decisive victories in the conflict for the Confederate forces (Long Story short – Union forces attacked troops entrenched on the high ground… It didn’t end well for them and they turned tail and retreated after day 5 of the battle). With its haunting atmosphere, clever use of old military styled music (marching drum, bagpipes and flutes) popping up and some seriously heavy and hard hitting riffs, it is a thunderous track. What really stands out though are the vocals. The sheer power and emotion in the delivery helps show the horrors of this battle and adds the human element often missing from things related to war when used as a musical plot device.
In all, Iced Earth haven’t been corrupted in anyway. Their choice of album title is fitting and many will be glad for this. “Incorruptible” by both name and nature, fans of heavy metal won’t be let down.