By Carl Begai
In 2011, Iced Earth said goodbye to fan-favoured vocalist Matt Barlow (again). A potentially disastrous situation for a band that had clawed and carved its way to something pretty damn close to the top over two decades, but they were given a second chance (again) with the entrance of Into Eternity frontman Stu Block. His Iced Earth debut album, Dystopia, went over a storm compared to its cold and dense predecessors – Framing Armageddon (’07), The Crucible Of Man (’08) – and the world tour that followed cemented Block’s position as the band’s singer. Iced Earth’s new album, Plagues Of Babylon, doesn’t exactly pick up where Dystopia left off in that it comes off as darker and more aggressive – and hell, more epic – but it most certainly matches Dystopia for intensity and being a solid no-bull fan friendly package.
“Sometimes you hit things right on the mark for the fanbase, other times you do what you feel like as an artist as much as for the fans,” says guitarist/founder Jon Schaffer. “I don’t think it’s a contrived thing. This album is a little bit more epic compared to Dystopia, but the writing period was the same length as it was for Dystopia. I was going through a very difficult time in my personal life and a lot of shit happened, but somehow I was able to put together a really strong record in spite of everything that was going on. With Dystopia, I just felt that was the way to go and I don’t think Plagues Of Babylon is too far from that direction. I think Plagues Of Babylon has a couple more songs that are a bit more epic in terms of the writing, sure, but we stayed on the course set with Dystopia.”
“I produced this album, and one of the things I wanted to do was make it heavier and give it a live feel,” he continues. “I wanted to make sure it wasn’t over-produced. I got really good takes out of everybody but I wasn’t so anal as to make sure that everything was 100% perfectly in tune and perfectly on time. That’s a trap you fall into as a producer. I wanted to capture the essence and energy of a band that’s been touring its ass off and I think I accomplished that.” Continue Reading
By Carl Begai
It’s been a long, long, long time since Iced Earth has done anything for me, with Something Wicked This Way Comes from 1998 standing as the last knock-down no-holds-barred skull basher in guitarist / founder Jon Schaffer’s catalogue. There have been some noteworthy moments since then – ‘The Phantom Opera Ghost’ from Horror Show and ‘The Reckoning’ from The Glorious Burden being the mindblowing faves – but nothing that dug its hooks in down to the bone for the space of a full album. With that in mind, the usual industry hype that preceded the release of Dystopia sounded like smoke-blow for the hopeless fanboy, automatically setting my expectations on the low side as a failsafe against disappointment.
The first spin through Dystopia yanked jaw to floor. Repeated listens since then – again and again… and again – have convinced me that Iced Earth is back in the game and capable of surpassing the brightest moments of The Dark Saga / Something Wicked… breakthrough era from over a decade past.
Dystopia’s charm and staying power stem from the fact that Schaffer has dialled back his penchant of the past five years for delivering music in epic and sometimes too-big-to-be digested portions. By no means is this a sign he’s lacking in ambition these days; it’s just being channelled in a new (old) way. And, Schaffer should be applauded for stripping things down and keeping focus on the bloody point. Continue Reading
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.” Continue Reading
For you Hoser-loving heathens…
First off, unless you’ve been living under the weight of a large rock and your own self-importance, you’re aware that former Skid Row vocalist Sebastian Bach has released his new album, Kicking & Screaming. (Yes, yes, I know he lives in the U.S., but Doodness grew up in Peterborough, Ontario and cut his teeth in Toronto). As I mentioned in my review (found here), the record didn’t do anything for me during the first spin, but it won me over and has since become a regular listen in the hallowed halls of BW&BK’s European crash pad. Apologies to Baz for my initial misgivings, but the album is a brilliant piece of work. If you were ever a fan of the Skid Row debut and Slave To The Grind, pick it up.
Check out my illustrious BW&BK colleague Aaron Small’s recent interview with Bach here. Continue Reading