If you are familiar with the band’s past two full-lengths, you’ll have an idea of what to expect with this comparison: Take Dystopia and dilute it with the blander audio quality of Plagues of Babylon, throw in a little The Glorious Burden, and there you have Incorruptible. Sound good? Well, sadly, it isn’t. Right out the gate this new album comes through relatively flat, incredibly boring, and with a heavy focus on the guitars a good majority of the time due to how much they emanate over the rest of the audio including additional keyboards that appear from time to time and Stu Block’s performance that comes off like he just didn’t give a damn beyond a small handful of songs including the lead single “Seven Headed Whore”.
There are very few songs that actually seem to try to not just coast through nearly fifty-five minutes. One of them is “Brothers”, a lighter ballad piece that actually introduces a subtle sadness and a shakiness in the vocals of the main verses I hope like hell might just be some bad studio interference. There’s also “Defiance” which tries like hell to capture the glory of th band’s early days, and for the most part does the job well. The main verses are a bit bland with a standard chugging approach you expect to pay off with blistering drums in the chorus leading a trulky epic performance laden with speed all around. Instead the chorus is toned down and comes off more depressing than empowering with some additional vocal layering. It isn’t bad, but rather infuriating due to expecting some classic Iced Earth strength from the build-up, or at least the chugging to be as deep and infectious as “Clear the Way (December 13th, 1862)”, the most memorable track thanks to the more obvious thrash metal input, gang chants, and what seems like the band finally waking up from their coma.
One notable trait about this album is the sensation of both folk and progressive ideas coming into play. The instrumental “Ghost Dance (Awaken the Ancestors)” comes off as a hybrid of those two, aspects trying to dabble in an alright-yet-kind-of-forced darkness in the mix. For the most part, you can pick up on the progression through the sudden timing changes and some of the guitar work leading up to the native american themed chants and folk inspired passed approaching four minutes in. While it manages to add to the traditional Iced Earth sound, it just doesn’t stand out much at all.
Something else worth looking at here is the recent line-up changes. Yes, the biggest for a while was Stu following Matt Barlow’s second departure from the act, but there have been others since. Luke Appleton (Absolve, Fury UK) helms bass duties for the second time in the studio, and the lead guitarist is now Jake Dreyer (Jake Dreyer, Witherfall). Sadly, one spin through makes it obvious that these musicians either don’t fit the mold, or could be the worst case scenario of Jon Shaffer having to write the album to suit their abilities. Either way, you can hear an unpleasant separation in sound between albums, shifting Iced Earth farther away from the sound that made them a household name in the first place.
Thankfully, there are a few catchy songs you’ll end up gravitating back to. “The Veil” is another slower track, but the vocals do have a little more emotion to them with hints of an echo effect in some of the bridges. But it’s the chorus that manages to grab your attention. While not having anywhere near the suitable impact to play up the emotion being pulled forward and even the brief astral leads just past two minutes in, the song just flows smoothly and feels like a finely crafted work you can just lay back and bob your head to. “Defiance” has a little attitude behind it. The main verses vaguely nudge a crossover influence, leaving you feeling like you should be doing some hardcore dancing before finally waving your lighter in the air for the chorus.
I’m also not certain if it’s just me or the album itself, but time-to-time I couldn’t help but feel the audio or tuning of a particular instrument changed throughout the album. “Great Heathen Army” had a stronger focus on the drums and more of a sharper touch, especially in the guitars, while “Seven Headed Whore” and “Clear the Way (December 13th, 1862)” found the guitars much deeper and prominent in the mix. These irregularities are sometimes pretty obvious and, to the right person, just enough to become as distracting as the realization that there is a song titled “The Relic (Part 1)”, hinting at the possibility of a sequel to what already feels like a follow-up or expansion to Dystopia.
Remember a time when you would hear a song and be able to immediately realize it was an Iced Earth track? Or how about when a new album of theirs was essentially considered a whole different experience than the last? Well, Incorruptible has absolutely nothing identifiable about it beyond one, maybe two tracks. This new album isn’t bad, but damn is it generic and boring much of the time. Spin after spin you will find yourself asking what Jon Shaffer was thinking when hearing the final product, which just seems to be on cruise control with no real purpose except to put something new out and remain relevent. There is very little, if anything, you haven’t heard a million times over in the power, heavy, even progressive and folk styles, and topped with a band sounding so uninspired, Incorruptible feels more like a mediocre effort acting as a slap in the face more than anything worth the time of fans and newcomers alike.