• Iced Earth – Plagues Of Babylon

    January 7, 2014 in Reviews

    Iced Earth 2014Iced Earth- Plagues Of Babylon (2014)

    Reviewed by Sebastian Kluth

    Iced Earth has always been a hit and miss band for me. The thrashy American power metal institution has released a few very great, underrated records, but also some overlong and overrated disasters. The band seemed to be reborn from its ashes again with the arrival of Canadian singer Stu Block on Dystopia. The record wasn’t a masterpiece, but it sounded fresh, passionate, and straight enough to call this release a return to strength. That’s why I was eager to find out how a new singer, another new bass player, and a new session drummer might have brought a wind of change to the band on Plagues Of Babylon. The new release has, as usual, a whole lot of positive criticism from the predictable and dependent (for the label) big-name magazines and websites and not from truly independent writers such as myself.


    To tell you the truth, nothing has changed at all because Jon Schaffer constantly does everything on his own. Sounds to me like he’s back to his Something Wicked storyline once again here. The new and old band members don’t really bring anything new to the sound, either. The first five songs sound old-fashioned and exchangeable. We get to hear mid-tempo to mid-up-tempo power metal with thrash metal influences that are all too familiar. Schaffer recycles some worn-out riffs, and the vocals are less unique than before, sounding like a Matt Barlow clone. The first two tracks in particular drag on far too long with unnecessary introductions. The pseudo-epic choruses are so predictable that it’s almost as amusing as a Manowar album. Fans might argue that the first five songs are typical Iced Earth anthems, but I find this rehash extremely boring.

    There are a few guest vocalists on this record, but they don’t really add anything to this rather ordinary album. The background vocals by Blind Guardian frontman Hansi Kürsch are almost inaudible, and can be described as a complete waste of talent. That being said, the collaboration with Symphony X vocalist Russell Allen and Volbeat’s Michael Poulsen on “The Highwayman” is also quite faceless and ineffective. The fact that the band included two cover songs on this album, plus a laughable and completely unnecessary outro only shows off Schaffer’s lack of ideas.

    The album gets a little bit more imaginative towards the middle part. I hoped that “The End?” was the end of theSomething Wicked storyline, but instead it’s a decent mid-tempo track with a few dynamic changes and an atmosphere reminding me of Iron Maiden’s epics of the eighties. This song would have been an average song on some of the band’s past efforts, but is this record’s stand-out, which tells you a lot about the quality of this release.

    Some songs have a few great moments but can’t convince me as a whole. The smoothly evolving “Peacemaker”, with its diversified vocal performance and a very cool guitar solo, is almost great until the chorus is repeated way too often towards the end. “Parasite” works the other way around, and starts with another predictable and exchangeable half-ballad tone before the gripping vocals in the chorus really save this song. Many songs have similar structures, and only a few individual efforts such as the vocals and a few emotional guitar solos put these tracks above an ordinary average level.

    In the end, a few good tracks in the middle of the record save this album from being a complete failure. Nevertheless, it’s already a solid candidate for one of this young year’s greatest flops. This release is for die-hard fans and collectors only. If you want to hear similar music of a higher quality, go for the last Shadow Host album.

    2.0 // 5



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  • Genre: Avantgarde Metal
    Label: Self-production
    Playing time: 57:28
    Band homepage: -


    1. Basil Abscond
    2. Warnings
    3. Massacre & Escape
    4. The Awakening
    5. Ghosts & Vengeance
    6. Erase
    7. Verticalus
    8. Last Fight of the Primordial
    9. The Doorway
    10. Nuclear Warhead
    11. The Triumph of Men


    Back To R'Lyeh - The Awakening / Last Fight Of The Primordial

    BACK TO R’LYEH is a Spanish Avant-Garde Metal band that is mainly inspired by Lovecraftian literature. The band just released its first full length recorded entitled “The Awakening / Last Fight Of The Primordial”. The album production is surprisingly good from the instrumental sound to the flawless and well pronounced vocals. The record should please to fans of bands such as EDGE OF SANITY, MASTODON, PAIN OF SALVATION and many more.

    And the band comes around with a quite big surprise in their opener “Basil Abscond”. The track features almost CARLOS SANTANA inspired guitar licks in the background while a few Country and even Reggae inspired licks can also be found in the song. The bass guitar is quite funky and makes me almost think of the Californian Crossover legends RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS at some moments. Vocally, this track also varies from one genre to the other. A few Death Metal inspired growls reminding me of AMORPHIS meet dark and melodic clean vocals that could also come from ASHES OF ARES or BARONESS for example. The diversity doesn’t stop there as the track also includes a few hectically and aggressively spoken word passages that I would expect from MIKE PORTNOY or an experimental Metalcore band. At first try, this mixture hits you like a train and feels a little bit weird but in the song gets more and more convincing if you are open to accept this potpourri of genres and influences.

    The following songs are more Metal orientated and slightly less experimental but especially the first four songs are quite challenging. “Warnings” sounds like a sped-up VOIVOD track from the “Negatron” and “Phobos” era with some MASTODON influences. “Massacre & Escape” and “The Awakening” are a little bit slower but not less sophisticated and maybe influenced by early KATATONIA and OPETH.

    The second half of the record gets a lot more accessible. The songs are shorter, sound more coherently structured and even include a few catchy moments. The instrumental work in “Ghosts & Vengeance” has a more modern touch and almost relaxing passages somewhere between DAGOBA, IN FLAMES or even experimental KORN. The floating passages in “The Doorway” could even come from SYSTEM OF A DOWN and that’s not a bad thing at all.

    The record ends as weird as it started with “The Triumph Of Men”, an entirely symphonic tell-tale with an atmospheric and epic note. CHRISTOPHER LEE meets THE VISION BLEAK in this strange closure. Even if I’m not sure to like it, it’s definitely an original piece of music and that’s the case for many tracks on here.

    It’s quite hard to mention any favourite tracks but if I had to pick any, it would be the highly experimental opener “Basil Abscond”, the mysterious but probably catchiest song on the record called “Ghosts & Vengeance” and the dynamical “Nuclear Warhead” that mixes brutal with chilling parts in a balanced way.

    Avant-Garde Metal experts and fans of the aforementioned bands should give these Spanish talents a few fair tries. Their music needs some time to open up to you but you will feel rewarded in the end. I’m sure that this record could still grow on me throughout the year even if I'm definitely not able to listen to challenging stuff like this all the time. BACK TO R’LYEH could become the next big thing in their genre over the next years if they can get the magazines on their side. 

    (Online January 26, 2014)

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  • Genre: Progressive Metal
    Label: Self-production
    Playing time: 36:28
    Band homepage: -


    1. Enter The Gate
    2. Leaving As Blind
    3. Chains Of Memory
    4. Runway
    5. Talking To Raven
    6. Tears Of The Machine
    7. Runway (Acoustic Version)


    RiverGate - Enter The Gate

    RIVERGATE is a new Progressive Metal band from Algiers in Algeria that mixes mainly elements of Folk, Power and Symphonic Metal but also includes a few Extreme Metal riffs and vocals here and there. Their exotic, intellectual and melodic approach to music should please to fans of MYRATH and ORPHANED LAND and ZINDAN. The frequent use of dominant keyboard leads is what distinguishes this band and get them closer to bands like DREAM THEATER and SOUTHERN CROSS for example.

    Even though this first EP suffers from a mediocre production, this release is a true little jewel. The band has a perfect sense for addicting melodies thanks to a technically strong guitar and keyboard play and the melodic but powerful vocals. The inclusion of some Maghreb Folk elements or progressive instrumental sections gives these songs a truly liberating atmosphere and makes them feel quite diversified. The songs may have lengths around six minutes but they include no lengths and go straight to the heart.

    The band can convince in every track from the almost radio friendly potential hit single “Runaway” to the dark and raw but also quite modern “Talking To Raven” featuring guest guitarist Yossi Sassi of ORPHANED LAND fame. The mixture of Folk and Progressive Metal elements and modern radio rock passages has rarely sounded so organic and passionate.

    If you are intrigued by my review, give these five energizing songs plus a short instrumental opening and an acoustic version of one song a few fair spins. This is Algeria’s first Progressive Metal record as there are only a few Extreme Metal bands coming from that country until now. When the Tunisian band MYRATH released its first record in 2007, the situation was quite similar and the band has become rather famous all around the world. I’m sure that RIVERGATE could achieve the same kind of recognition if they continue to work as hard as they already did and I’m eager to hear more from them in the nearby future.

    (Online January 26, 2014)

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  • Genre: Progressive Metal
    Label: Self-production
    Playing time: 65:30
    Band homepage: -


    1. Awakening
    2. The Deep Forest
    3. Desperation
    4. Light
    5. Voices from Heaven
    6. No Way Out
    7. The Mire
    8. Death of a Dream


    Thoughts Factory - Lost

    THOUGHTS FACTORY is a German Progressive Metal band composed of members of quite different ages who share a passion for the same genre. Their first record “Lost” is clearly influenced by bands such as DREAM THEATER, MAGELLAN, PENDRAGON, SYMPHONY X and TRANSATLANTIC. The band coherently mixes atmospheric and sometimes laid back Progressive Rock parts with melodic Progressive Metal passages and a few darker moments that remind me of OPETH.

    The band’s first album displays their great musicianship in five short and three overlong tracks. My favourite song is probably the longest song called “Death Of A Dream” as this track never gets boring. It starts with warm melodies and elegant orchestrations before it slowly gets a more modern touch with simple and hard riffs and a few keyboard sounds here and there. The pace of the track varies from slower and heavier parts to a few faster instrumental parts. The vocals also vary from aggressive, fast and short parts with cold sound effects over more pronounced and natural clean vocals to a few rare but extremely efficiently used Death Metal growls. The structure of this song though always remains quite coherent despite the length and the great sense for details. I know the year is still rather young but this song is a solid candidate for the best Progressive Metal song of the year. This is what I would have liked the last DREAM THEATER record sound like.

    The rest of the album can’t catch up with the amazing closer but still has a few great moments. A little problem is that the band chose its two calmest tracks as opening duo. These two songs really open up after a while and have a chilling atmosphere but they are definitely too tame to kick the record off. A short piano ballad interlude as “Light” works much better to give you a break from the longer and more sophisticated songs in the middle of the record but this time I wished this song was longer because it sounds beautiful and inspired in only two minutes. Those who care about Progressive Metal and not that much about Progressive Rock must wait until the third track to get rewarded for their patience. “Desperation” features sharp riffs and noisy keyboard sounds that create an interesting counterpart to the smooth main and backing vocals.

    The best songs come in the second part of the record. The joyous rock opera “Voices From Heaven” features warm keyboard melodies, a strongly pumping bass guitar and synthesizer work inspired by bands such as GENESIS and YES. The song is not very metallic either but an amazing Progressive Rock pearl. The following “No Way Out” is much faster and heavier and could come straight from almost any DREAM THEATER release. The song doesn’t reinvent the genre but its almost Power Metal influenced chorus along with the technically stunning instrumental parts spread a very epic and positive atmosphere. Along with the album closer, this is my favourite song on the record. “The Mire” starts with a quite long instrumental before the record’s best chorus makes this song stand out after three minutes. Melodic and passionate vocals meet an epic instrumental work. Instead of elaborating on that amazing chorus, the band simply repeated it and ended the song that way. If this track had been a few minutes longer, I’m sure it would have been one of my favourite pieces on here.

    In the end, THOUGHTS FACTORY deliver a convincing first strike. “Lost” sounds diversified, passionate and technically appealing. They even deliver a true international genre highlight with the closing “Death Of A Dream” as well as a couple of other solid songs like “No Way Out”. The band doesn’t reinvent the genre and has done a few mistakes that are typical for beginners such as putting the calmest song right at the start of the record and making the longer tracks a little bit overlong sometimes while the promising shorter ones finish too quickly. Despite these little flaws, “Lost” is a great album and fans of Progressive Rock and Metal music should support this young band by buying their record and spreading their name.

    (Online January 26, 2014)

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  • Genre: Melodic Death Metal
    Label: Self-production
    Playing time: 25:45
    Band homepage: -


    1. Into The Fire
    2. Rise
    3. Breed
    4. Time To Pay
    5. A Thousand Scars
    6. Stabbing The Drama (SOILWORK Cover)


    My Imperium - Amongst The Ruins

    MY IMPERIUM is a band somewhere between modern Groove Metal and Melodic Death Metal with a few minor Industrial Metal influences composed of three men and one woman from Lyon in France. Founded back in 2014, the formation now comes around with a first EP entitled “Amongst The Ruins”.

    The band convinces with a balanced mixture of faster and powerful parts, heavily grooving mid-tempo sections and a few almost Metalcore-inspired melodic breaks that slow the pace down.  Fans of modern DARK TRANQUILITY or IN FLAMES should dig this kind of music and the fact that the band included a cover version of SOILWORK’s “Stabbing The Drama” on this release only underlines who their main target should be.

    The short record reserves a few surprises as well. The Asian folk sounds, the bass driven overture, the distorted spoken word passage and the pitiless thrashing main riffs are the ingredients for the heavily diversified “Time To Pay”. This song is on par with “A Thousand Scars” that comes around with a calmer melancholic middle section with great guitar melodies and a versatile drumming that gives a well-needed break in an energizing and fast-paced track with a catchy melodic chorus. These songs may sound a little bit chaotic at first contact but end up to open up after several spins.

    Melodic Death Metal fans can give this release a shot and should support the French band. On the other side, this EP only offers twenty minutes of music if we take off the cover song and the introduction and that’s why I’m eager to hear a full length record by this band to see how they can diversify, improve and make their sound more unique as well. The band has the basics to get some attention in their genre but for what it is, this EP is more like a good average start for possible future endeavors. If you’re intrigued by my review, don’t hesitate to give MY IMPERIUM a few spins under the following link: http://myimperium.bandcamp.com/ 

    (Online January 20, 2014)

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