The story of Matt Barlow is a rare one in the world of heavy metal. The former Iced Earth singer left the band not once, but twice, and despite that, his sterling reputation with fans and within the metal community has remained consistent. Barlow has never been known for his ego or for inciting drama. Rather, he has only ever been characterized by his empathy and strong convictions in everything he does. Such character is not often seen in the world of metal, and Barlow will be missed now that he has retired from music.
Undeterred by the loss of Barlow, Iced Earth mastermind Jon Schaffer was left with the daunting task of replacing Barlow for the second time in the band’s history. The first time this happened, Schaffer brought former Judas Priest frontman Tim “Ripper” Owens into the group, with good results. This time, though, Schaffer has brought in a lesser-known but equally-skilled vocalist to take the reins for Iced Earth. The Stu Block era has begun for the power metal group, and their new album will be under a lot of scrutiny upon its release today.
Iced Earth, Dystopia (Century Media)
Schaffer’s choice of Block as the new singer for Iced Earth is an interesting one, in that he offers things that both Barlow and Owens are capable of separately. Block is well known for his towering, Ripper-esque high vocals from his work with Into Eternity, of whom he remains a member. However, those that listened to Into Eternity’s 2008 album The Incurable Tragedy also know that Block has an expansive lower register that, at times, rivals Barlow’s inimitable baritone pitch. In this way, Schaffer is capable of writing much more diverse material with vocal tone variations that were not previously possible for the band. While some fans of the band will never accept a vocalist besides Barlow, Block should be a more than satisfactory replacement for the majority of the group’s fanbase.
Evile, Five Serpent’s Teeth (Earache)
Evile is coming off both triumph and tragedy from their last album. 2009’s Infected Nations earned rave reviews for the young UK-based group, with some journalists saying that Evile was the leading group in the revival of thrash. However, bassist Mike Alexander tragically passed away in October of 2009 due to a pulmonary embolism, just two weeks after the release of Infected Nations. In spite of this tragic loss, Evile has continued on, and over the past two years, they’ve grown into one of the most popular thrash revival bands in the world via extensive touring with important veteran bands. Guitarist Ol Drake even contributed multiple key guitar solos to the latest album from German thrash legends Destruction. Now back with Five Serpent’s Teeth, this album will hopefully net the band lots of new attention and fan support.
Insomnium, One for Sorrow (Century Media)
This Finnish group doesn’t have a large fanbase in the US, likely because they hardly ever tour in the States. But those that are Insomnium fans are rabid in their support of the band and their desire to bring them back here for more touring. Insomnium plays a talented, unique blending of melodic death metal and doom metal that many have tried to imitate but few succeed it. Some reviewers have stated that they sound like a mixture of Children of Bodom and Katatonia, a description that I agree with completely. Insomnium mixes the best of these two genres to create a wonderfully balanced sound that they can take in many different directions. 2009’s Across the Dark was one of the best melodic death metal albums I heard that year, and I already know that One for Sorrow will be at or near the top of that list in 2011 as well.
Cradle of Filth, Evermore Darkly EP (Nuclear Blast)
The extreme metal veterans are using this combined EP and live DVD as a stopgap between last year’s Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa and the forthcoming orchestral release Midnight in the Labyrinth. The EP opens with two brand-new tracks, which are followed by remixed and alternate versions of tracks from Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa. The big attraction, though, will be the closing track of the EP, which is supposed to be a “breadcrumb trail” teaser for Midnight in the Labyrinth. The DVD features a new documentary on the band’s live touring from the past year, the band’s full performance at the 2011 Graspop Festival, and the music video for “Lilith Immaculate”. With Midnight in the Labyrinth due to be released early next year, Cradle of Filth is in for an exciting few months in the near future!
Also being released this week:
Puscifer, Conditions of My Parole (Puscifer Entertainment)
Tsjuder, Legion Helvete (Season of Mist)
Alarum, Natural Causes (Willowtip)
Solstafir, Svartir Sandar (Season of Mist)
Electro Quarterstaff, Aykroyd (Willowtip)
Underoath, Play Your Old Stuff (Tooth & Nail)
Emery, Ten Years (Tooth & Nail)
Next Week: We get overwhelmed by mostly unknown groups all releasing albums on the same day, which means you’ll have to read the column in its entirety in order to find out everything you might want to purchase. Come back next week and see what strikes your fancy!