Since the Iced Earth template hasn’t undergone any dramatic changes since the late 90s, the real question always comes down to how good the songwriting on an album will be. This has been especially true with the 2010s era fronted by vocalist Stu Block; 2011’s Dystopia was an explosive power metal outing while 2014’s Plagues of Babylon saw the band sinking into mid-tempo mediocrity. In an amusing subversion, Incorruptible seems to stay between the two in terms of quality and ultimately comes out as being a decent Iced Earth album.
If there’s one thing that can be said about Incorruptible, it doesn’t feel quite as cookie cutter as anticipated. The usual blend of upbeat songs, mid-tempo rockers, and ballads is set in place but the songs themselves don’t feel as formulaic or directionless. This was made surprisingly apparent by the album’s singles, as “Raven Wing” is a building ballad without falling into Iced Earth’s typical verse-chorus trap and “Seven Headed Whore” turned out to be one of the band’s most aggressive tracks thanks to the shrieking vocals and extreme metal influences.
The band also sounds more energetic than on Plagues of Babylon. Some of that energy could be attributed to returning drummer Brent Smedley and the recruitment of Witherfall/White Wizzard guitar hero Jake Dreyer, but it’s most likely due to Jon Schaffer’s decision to just make his crunchy triplets more impactful this time around. The vocals also feel more expressive, still largely opting for that Matt Barlow impersonation though allowing for some scurvy inflections on the pirate-themed “Black Flag” and a few Ripper-styled screams on “Defiance.”
With this in mind, the main thing holding this album back isn’t a collection of bad ideas so much as a need to edit what it’s going for. The closing “Clear the Way (December 13th, 1862)” is easily the album’s best song and comes so close to being an epic companion to the band’s Gettysburg Trilogy, but the meandering structure over nine minutes keeps it from hitting that emotional high. “The Great Heathen Army” is also their most epic opening in some time and “Ghost Dance (Awaken the Ancestors)” is a pretty cool instrumental, but neither track is quite at an essential status.
Iced Earth’s newest album thankfully isn’t the mediocre ‘Murica metal that I had anticipated, but it isn’t quite the surprise comeback that Dystopia had been either. The lack of a conceptual theme means that the band isn’t acting too big for its britches but the meat and potatoes approach does feel a little plain without that extra fire. Incorruptible is the most accurate title ever associated with Iced Earth in their thirty year history but it might be nice if they let something corrupt them just a little…
“The Great Heathen Army”
“Seven Headed Whore”
“Ghost Dance (Awaken the Ancestors)”
“Clear the Way (December 13th, 1862)”