By Carl Begai
Vancouver-born Stu Block made a name for himself in 2006 as the new singer for Into Eternity, adding a welcome new dynamic to the band’s established extreme prog metal sound on The Scattering Of Ashes. In 2008 the band released a follow-up, The Incurable Tragedy, which cemented Block’s reputation as one of metal’s most versatile (and severely underrated) vocalists. Iced Earth founder/guitarist Jon Schaffer was paying attention, however, and when it was confirmed that fan-favoured singer Matt Barlow would be calling it quits, he followed through on a third party recommendation and brought Block in to fill the vacant slot. The end result is somewhat mind-boggling for those that are familiar with Block’s Into Eternity brand of shred and Iced Earth’s traditional metal sound; he fits the songs on the new album like a glove, bringing an intensity to the new songs that Barlow hadn’t exhibited in ages and Tim “Ripper” Owens never had. It’s fair to say Dystopia may well be Iced Earth’s strongest album in over a decade.
“Joining the band, it felt like I’d won the lottery,” laughs Block, an admission some Into Eternity diehards may take exception to. “Really, there was a feeling of validation. Joining Iced Earth is a huge opportunity, so I was feeling a mix of pure joy, excitement, and being scared shitless (laughs).”
For the serious musician with leanings towards the old school, accepting an invitation to join a band with Iced Earth’s credentials would be a no-brainer. Take a moment to look at the big picture, however, and you see the mountain of responsibility Block had to consider before accepting Schaffer’s offer.
“There are certain factors in my life where it was sort of a tough decision,” Block admits, “but I knew in the back of my mind that it was a no-brainer. My mom is dealing with some stuff right now, and I’m going to be on the road, but you can’t live your life being held back. Anyone can find an excuse not to do something. I know this will be a life changing experience, I’m going to be away from my home and my fiancée for months on end, but I have a such a great support system in my family that everyone including my mother is encouraging me to do this. They told me I’d be a fool if I didn’t do it and I agreed wholeheartedly. I try to keep a positive attitude towards the whole thing, knowing what I’ve gotten myself into. In the back of my mind it was a definite yes.”
“There are a lot of emotions involved in this,” he adds. “I’m scared, excited, there’s this anticipation, and I have to keep those emotions under control. Jon has kept me so focused and busy that I haven’t really had time to think about it (laughs). It’s been an incredible journey of creating music.”
Since promo for Dystopia kicked off, Schaffer has made it clear that Block isn’t merely a hired hand brought in to carry Iced Earth. On the contrary, Block was encouraged to bring lyrics and musical ideas to the table for the new album. A potentially nerve-wracking situation given Schaffer has been the infamous no-nonsense creative force in the band, but Block wasn’t about to shy away from the opportunity.
“When Jon and I first talked, he let me know that he wanted me to write lyrics and melodies. Knowing that, I knew he’d be open to anything I gave him. Of course I was a little nervous, hoping that he doesn’t think it sucks, and there were things that I gave him where he said ‘You’re a cheeseball, Stu, go back a rewrite that.’ And that was cool. If it was good he’d tell me, if it was bad he wasn’t going to accept it. That made for good collaboration process. I was more excited to show him what I had to offer rather than scared. It obviously worked out well.”
In fact, Block had more creative input on Dystopia than the Into Eternity productions he was involved with. Not that he’s complaining about the Into Eternity creative process, but he enjoyed having the extra elbow room in his new environment.
“It was a totally new vision,” says Block. “It was definitely liberating in the fact that I could bring in ideas that I had. There were ideas that I had for Into Eternity that just wouldn’t have worked. Tim (Roth / guitars) wrote most of that stuff, but I’d help him out on the choruses. You know as well as I do, that stuff is crazy complex, so that’s where it gets tricky with Iced Earth. In some cases it’s actually harder to sing the Iced Earth stuff. People might think it’s easier because I’m not singing over these complicated Into Eternity riffs and 12/8 time signatures, but that’s not the case.”
“Im working really hard right now,” he adds. “Probably harder than I ever have in any band I’ve been in. With regards to my voice, it’s like working in a leather glove. I’m finding that comfortable spot and I’m learning how to attack that comfort level. I’m getting there gradually; as time passes and I rehearse the old Iced Earth stuff and the new songs for the tour, I’m finding that spot in my voice that’ll be able to facilitate the touring circuit. But, I have to put my own stamp on those songs. If I’m singing a Ripper Owens song I’m not going to sound exactly like him because I’m not Ripper Owens. I’m Stu Block and I’m going to do the songs my way.”
With regards to any personal Iced Earth favourites Block has prepared for the stage…
“I don’t want to give away too much about the setlist, but I can’t wait to do ‘Come What May’. There are some songs I’m really excited about. I’m hoping one day we can do ‘Dante’s Inferno’, but there are a lot of songs on the roster that I’m looking forward to singing.”
In closing, Block addresses his status as a member of Into Eternity and does his best to stifle the rumours that he’ll be pulling double duty at the drop of a hat.
“I’ve been asked this question a lot and… Into Eternity are going to keep going. Tim is the leader of that band and one of my best friends, and he’ll he keep it going at a rate he’s comfortable with. As far as I’m concerned, I have to embrace the opportunity that I’ve been given with Iced Earth. I’ve been introduced to some amazing people, I can’t look back now. I’ll do as much Into Eternity stuff as I can, and maybe do some shows. I’ll record with them as well. As for right now Iced Earth is my #1 priority. It’s my job now and I love the music we’re creating.”
Check the official Iced Earth website here for updates and information on Dystopia.
Go to this location to hear Block’s vocals on a re-recorded version of the Iced Earth track ‘Dante’s Inferno’.