Am I an old school Iced Earth fan boy? Maybe. Have I been waiting anxiously for the follow up to Ashes of Ares’ self titled debut since it was released in 2013? Maybe. Am I going to love this album? Not so maybe. That first album is kickass, and it’s taken five long years but Matt Barlow and Freddie Vidales (both ex- Iced Earth) finally dunnit, releasing follow up Well of Souls in November. A big part of what Ashes of Ares is, is a kind of Iced Earth extension, so you will always find that side of the sound in there, but Well of Souls takes a wide step from what was introduced on the self titled debut, while still sticking largely to the same formula. Vidales is showing his colors not only as a guitarist - there are some pretty sick guitar parts and sweet ass solos on here - but as a songwriter. His influences go some ways beyond the Iced Earth (and let’s face it, Maiden) -esque sound, to dabble in the more extreme and most importantly the arcane progressive. It helps that Van Williams (Ghost Ship Octavius, ex- Nevermore) has added a big touch to the sound, with his progressive background and current leanings - he has left Ashes of Ares since the first album, but still mans the drums here as a guest, appropriately enough.
Pyramaze keyboardist Jonah Weingarten also makes a guest appearance, opening the album up with the intro to Consuming the Mana. He does so in a fashion that distinctly recalls some of his most captive moments from Pyramaze, the deep, invoking keyboards setting the scene. Vidales’ then takes over, and Barlow gives off a banshee like scream to show - he’s still got it. The rest of the song fully sets the tone for the rest of the album; thrashy, powerful and packed to the brim with fleshy riffage and big vocals. Somehow, the first half of the album is slightly less captivating than the second. Mind you, tracks like Unworthy and The Alien still set some massive groundwork especially in the rhythm section and Vidales’ lead guitars (the solo in The Alien is frickin massive), while opting for the bombastic and heavy approach, Williams adding a touch of his signature progressive touches. It takes a slight dip with ballad Soul Searcher and the following Sun Dragon, both of which remain fairly anonymous.
The second half then, takes all the good parts of the first and blows it up with a blast of intensity and creativity. Barlow’s vocals take a turn for the emotional and melodramatic in Let All Despair (if you haven’t gotten a fill of your big sounding Iced Earth semi-ballads lately, there it is), and melodies soar mightily in In The Darkness and Time Traveler, the latter taking a slightly speedy route to set the stage for The God of War, closing the album with loads of fleshy power. That is, except the bonus song You Know My Name, a cover of the Chris Cornell song. It’s a nice little tribute, but pretty anonymous and not up to the standards of the rest of the album. Coming just a few months after Barlow’s debut full length alongside aforementioned Pyramaze keyboardist Weingarten - called We Are Sentinels - this album should sate every need for classic Iced Earth antics, while also standing well on its own and growing what was begun five years ago. Opener Consuming the Mana will sate your need for heavy riffing from Vidales and thrashy Barlow works, while Let All Despair gives you all the melodrama Barlow is known for. The wait was well worth it, as Well of Souls easily grows over its predecessor and in gloriously heavy fashion delivers rifftastic anthems one after the other. The god of war awaits.
Standout tracks: Consuming The Mana, Let All Despair, In The Darkness, Time Traveler