Exclusive Interview: Iced Earth on New Album ‘Dystopia’
With a new frontman and a highly anticipated new album, Iced Earth are a band reborn. Following the departure of former vocalist Matt Barlow earlier this year, the power-metal stalwarts turned to former Into Eternity frontman Stu Block as his replacement. Work soon began on the group’s 10th full-length Dystopia, which hit stores today. The fresh inspiration that Block gave Iced Earth, and particularly guitarist and main man Jon Schaffer, is there for all to hear on the record. Revolver recently sat down with the five piece–rounded out by guitarist Troy Steele, bassist Freddie Vidales, and drummer Brent Smedley–to get the lowdown on the album, bringing Block into the band, and the record’s political themes.
REVOLVER What about this record are you most proud ?
FREDDIE VIDALES What I like about it is, no matter what album up to date has been your favorite, there’s something for everybody out there. You’ve got fast, brutal, fast-paced music on there, the soaring angelic stuff, everything is on this album.
JON SCHAFFER Stu came in and just owned, like, just did a fucking great job, had the best attitude that you can. I’ve worked with some amazing singers, man, and he’s going up, you know? People are going to notice this guy, big time. He’s got it going, so it’s really cool.
STU BLOCK It helps working with a guy that’s been doing it for a fucking shitload of years.
SCHAFFER Yeah, OK, I’m really fucking old! [Laughs]
How did you come to choose Stu to replace Matt Barlow?
SCHAFFER When we knew that Matt was leaving and I was talking to [our label] Century Media and they showed me the video of Into Eternity and what I was really digging about Stu was the fucking look in his eye. The spirit behind those eyes.
BLOCK We wrote two songs together within two days, you know what I mean, two songs. The chemistry was insane. I talked to Jon and next thing I know I’m in his house in Indiana, we’re fucking recording a song together. I mean, during the “Anthem” video shoot, these cats were jamming and I was like Holy fuck, I can’t fucking believe I’m here right now. Everyone stopped and, fuck it, I just got one thing to say, I fucking yell at the top of my lungs, “I can’t fucking believe I’m in Iced Earth!” And, you know, it was just one of those things, hey, you know what, I had to let it out and, you know, it was amazing. But it’s been a nonstop roller-coaster ride, and I’m in one of the best fucking metal bands out here right now, you know, and I’m fucking proud of it.
Did Stu’s enthusiasm give the rest of you guys fresh impetus as well?
SCHAFFER Totally. Fucking A. Yeah, it’s awesome. I can feel his commitment on a fucking spiritual level. I haven’t had that in years, almost a decade.
How important is that commitment?
SCHAFFER It’s really important, because that’s the voice to the people, so it somehow translates, so they’re gonna see it, man. They’re gonna know from the minute we walk out onstage, we fucking mean business and we’re back. And we’re not playing around. They’re gonna see that right in his eyes, ’cause I saw it at the video shoot and it was badass! [Laughs]
Stu, in Into Eternity, your vocals were very different from what you’re doing with Iced Earth. What was the experience like of exploring your vocal range during the recording process?
BLOCK I learned a lot from these guys, I’ll tell you. Since the recording process, I’ve probably learned more about my vocals than I ever have, which is amazing. Those doors just open up and all of a sudden you just start seeing things and it’s amazing, man. It’s really cool.
SCHAFFER And I can see that in his eyes.
BLOCK It felt like Christmas morning, you know what I mean? I got my toy truck! [Laughs]
SCHAFFER I pushed him toward this direction and that direction, “Try this.” And then after his done you can see he lights up, This is awesome. It was cool, man.
How was the writing and recording process different this time around?
SCHAFFER It was more enjoyable because I’m just much happier now, so, you know, that makes everything a little more enjoyable. But we had a great time and you can tell on the album. We all did, we all laughed a lot. Jim [Morris, co-producer] keeps it fun, and we all do.
TROY SEELE I have to go home and read scripture every night, I laughed so bad, I mean, it’s horrible. [Laughs] Gotta keep my soul clean.
What were your aims going into the studio and at what stage were you thinking that the record was going to be something special?
SCHAFFER I actually knew that in the writing process, yeah, even before we got into the studio, I knew. I could just tell from some of the songs that we had put together and the music was all, it was, you know, great selection of really cool parts and arrangements and stuff. And then the icing on the cake was the Stucifer there. And he nailed it and drove the whole thing home and it just, you know, I knew in the writing that we had something special going.
The themes on Dystopia, it seems like there are a lot of influences from books like 1984 and various movies, too. Where do those concepts come from for you?
SCHAFFER [Laughs] It’s inspired by real life, of course. [Laughs] You know, there’s just a lot of stuff going on in the world that’s sort of very disturbing, feels like things are kind of like coming to a head. So it’s loosely based in fiction and not so much, you know? So it depends on how you look at it. But we used the movies to get that message across.
I mean, you know, we’re in trouble if we don’t get our shit together. I think all the countries in the West, we’ve got some really serious criminal activities going on in our governments, regardless of what puppet they put up. Good people need to stand up.
What in particular concerns you right now?
SCHAFFER Well, the biggest thing is people need to educate themselves about the finance oligarchs that are actually running the world. We’re letting a bunch of private off-shore bankers that pay no taxes anywhere, that they control our money supply. And when you control the money you control the country.
And Stu, are those themes something you share?
BLOCK Sure. I mean, you know, people know I’m from Canada, and they don’t hold it against me.
SCHAFFER Yeah, despite that we still… [Laughs]
BLOCK No, but I think once I started spending a lot more time in the United States, you can see what’s happening. And I think this was a great time to put this record out in regards to this theme because of what’s going on. And you’re gonna see a lot more musicians start putting out records like this, too, you know what I mean? It’s a theme that’s out there right now and people are thinking about it.
SCHAFFER People are starting to wake up, you know. I don’t know what it’s gonna take to get people to really get it. They need to stop, turn off the fucking television, man. It’s a weapon. It is mind control. It’s nothing but propaganda. That’s the first step, just disconnect it and educate yourself. Start talking to your fucking neighbors and, you know, talk about shit that matters, not fucking what dip shit movie star is banging the other dip shit movie star. Who gives a fuck, you know? It’s not important.
Finally, you’re doing a huge world tour this time around, too?
VIDALES Yeah, it’s gonna be awesome. I mean, with Stu on board, everybody gets along exactly alike, we have the same sick sense of humor.
SCHAFFER That’s the most important thing. [Laughs]
VIDALES When we’re not working on songs or doing work related to the album or touring, we’re laughing our asses off all the time.