With the current upsurge of the popularity of traditional metal styles stateside, the heavy music climate is favorable for longtime titans ICED EARTH. If we allow the conversation to devolve into a debate over which metallic branch the band leans more toward on the tree of heavy metal subgenres, there will be obvious mentions of power metal and thrash metal. But at the end of the day, it's clear that the group is a heavy metal band with clear roots in the style's origins. Mastermind Jon Schaffer has been driving forward through times both good and bad for metal, never yielding to trends, not even knocked out by two major back surgeries. He has remained steadfast in purpose and resolve with the band's celebration of all things metal for over 30 years. Like many bands, earlier gems will be difficult to usurp in the hearts of longtime fanatics, yet, in all this time, ICED EARTH has never released a bad album.
"Incorruptible" is strong and accessible enough to reel in newbies and satiate old timers with an organic outpouring of shameless heavy metal. True to form, the band doesn't try too hard. The expression is natural. There isn't an odor of fromage à la GRAVE DIGGER or DRAGONFORCE. With album number 12, for those still counting, former INTO ETERNITY vocalist Stu Block shines with his most confident and soulful performance to date. His involvement with ICED EARTH reaches back to 2011, and his musical relationship with Schaffer is documented lyrically on the track “Brothers".
In stark contrast to its penchant for crafting concept albums ("Night of the Stormrider", "The Dark Saga", "The Glorious Burden", among others), "Incorruptible" is—on a lyrical level—a collection of disparate tales. Opener "Great Heathen Army" reads from the pages of Viking history, while "Black Flag" serves as ICED EARTH's take on pirate metal. The epic, nearly 10-minute long album closer, "Clear the Way (December 13th, 1862) ", meanwhile, documents the Irish Brigade at the Battle of Fredericksburg, a blood-drenched clash that occurred during the Civil War. Slow number "The Veil" is evocative in a manner that recalls the glory days of eighties metal. On the flip side, in terms of tempo, "Seven Headed Whore" pummels with a speed metal attack laden with a double-kick frenzy and chugging riffs, whilst Block offers a coupling of eviscerating, almost blackened shrieks as well as a high-register vocal that suggests the mighty KING DIAMOND.
Schaffer has always had a clear vision within a musically conservative style, suggesting obvious creative challenges for a band deep into its career. However, the contribution of incoming guitarist Jake Dreyer (WITHERFALL, ex-WHITE WIZZARD) is noticeable, and the injection of new blood has revitalized ICED EARTH, adding an exciting, high-energy touch to "The Relic (Part 1) " and a bold approach to "Defiance". Once again, ICED EARTH's star shines bright with a shameless display of heavy metal mastery that is as uncompromising now as it was when they first stoked the fires back in 1985.