Revolver has teamed with Iced Earth for an exclusive silver vinyl 30th anniversary edition of their landmark self-titled debut. It's limited to just 300 — get yours before they're gone!
It's been 30 years since Iced Earth released their self-titled debut album. But ask band founder, guitarist and chief songwriter Jon Schaffer if he could have imagined he'd still be here leading the Tampa, Florida-based metal outfit all these decades later, and he's unequivocal in his answer.
"I was always all-in, so yeah," Schaffer says matter-of-factly. "My goal was always to make it a lifelong commitment. There were times before the band was signed and, actually, after, that were so brutal that I was concerned whether I was going to be able to carry on. But those feelings never exhausted my energy to the point to want to give up. Nothing was able to put out that fire."
That fire began with Iced Earth, initially released via Century Media in November 1990 and now available in a 30th anniversary reissue that has been remixed and remastered from the original two-inch tapes by acclaimed producer Zeuss. "I don't know exactly how Zeuss went about it, but he was able to go in and get the low end and the attack of the drums and the bass guitar to feel more present and more punchy and more angry," Schaffer says of the new package, which is being released on 180-gram vinyl and as a digital album and a limited CD digipak. "It just makes the whole thing sound heavier to me than it did back in the day."
Of course, Iced Earth sounded pretty heavy back in the day as well. Despite the rawness of the performances, the album showed the young band to be a fully formed entity — not surprising given the fact that they had already spent years cutting their teeth on the Florida club circuit under the moniker Purgatory. And while by 1990 their hometown was becoming famous as the epicenter of the then-burgeoning death metal scene (Iced Earth was even recorded at the famed Morrisound Studios, which had already churned out records from rising death-metal stars like Death and Obituary) Schaffer and Co.'s debut displayed an adherence to more traditional metal styles, replete with Maiden-esque galloping riffs, thrashy rhythms, catchy hooks, shredding solos, twin-guitar harmonies and wailing vocals, alongside some proggier and acoustic passages.
That said, Schaffer observes, "What you hear on the first Iced Earth album, it's very youthful. There's a hunger there, and just a crazy amount of riffs and tempo changes and stuff like that. It's a snapshot of a moment in time, for sure."
On the eve of the release of the 30th anniversary reissue, Schaffer sat down with Revolver to look back on that moment in time. Here's the good, the bad and the gory (chainsaws? Ziploc bags full of "guts"?) details surrounding the making of Iced Earth.
ONE OF THE THINGS THAT IS IMMEDIATELY STRIKING ABOUT ICED EARTH IS THAT, WHILE THE COMMON THREAD OF YOUR GUITAR AND SONGWRITING IS THERE, THE OVERALL SOUND AND STYLE IS MARKEDLY DIFFERENT FROM WHAT WE HEAR FROM THE BAND TODAY.
JON SCHAFFER There's no doubt that [2017's] Incorruptible, which is our last studio album, is totally different compared to the debut record. I think there's something about when you're really young — you feel like you have to prove something. And then as you go on the songwriting changes. It develops. It's inevitable. I don't know anybody, except maybe AC/DC, that can stay with the exact same formula for their entire career and still be badass. [Laughs] And it's not really something that I have interest in doing, either. As the chief songwriter, I try to make the art reflective and honest to whatever's going on in that period of my life.
AS FAR AS THAT PERIOD, BACK THEN YOUR HOMETOWN OF TAMPA WAS BECOMING KNOWN AS THE EPICENTER OF THE DEATH-METAL MOVEMENT. HOW DID YOU FIT INTO THE LOCAL SCENE?
Well, technically Iced Earth started in '86 as Purgatory, and there was a very different vibe in the Tampa area than what it became in, like, '88, '89, '90. I mean, Obituary used to be called Executioner [and later Xecutioner] and they were playing in the same clubs that we were back then, but you also had Savatage and you had Nasty Savage and you had a band called Powersurge who, I don't think they ever really did anything on the national front. But there was a lot of melodic metal in the area. It's just for whatever reason the indie labels really started pushing the death-metal stuff and it became kind of a trend in the underground. So more bands started moving in that direction in the Tampa scene and a lot of the bands who were playing the more melodic stuff ... I don't know, most of them probably disbanded. Or a lot of the guys ended up joining bands that became more extreme and did the death-metal thing. But I was never interested in that. I like singing and I like melody.
THE ICED EARTH RECORD FEELS MORE ROOTED IN THRASH AND, IN SOME WAYS, EXTREME STYLES. FOR INSTANCE, ON SONGS LIKE "ICED EARTH," GENE ADAMS' VOCALS SOUND ALMOST KING DIAMOND-ESQUE.
Yeah, it's pretty different from what we are now. And the vocal style, Gene has a very unique voice. But his thing was, he's a stage character, you know what I mean? He was more like an Alice Cooper-style personality. Because when we were Purgatory, it was very theatrical. And then there was another band from Cleveland called Purgatory and we just ended up changing and evolving. So the first record is a snapshot of that really brief period of time that the band changed the name to Iced Earth and there was this kind explosion of song ideas. It was all new for us. And then you find your stride and it's like, "OK, this is where I want to go."
YOU MENTIONED THAT PURGATORY WAS MORE THEATRICAL ONSTAGE. HOW THEATRICAL ARE WE TALKING?
Well, the whole vibe was horror, and we had a lot of songs that were horror-movie based. So we would do stuff like, Gene would be onstage in a straightjacket for a song called "Pleading Insanity," or he would come out of a coffin that we built for "Dracula." We had a buddy of ours dress up like Leatherface and he'd come from behind the drum kit and chase Gene's girlfriend around with a chainsaw. And then the same guy would dress up like Jason from Friday the 13th and Gene would take a Ziploc bag, it would be tied with tape to his side and had, like, cooked pasta and raw liver in it, some syrup with food coloring, and Jason would come out and take a knife, slice the bag open and throw the guts into the audience. I mean, we did all kinds of shit.
SO THIS WAS MORE THAN JUST HOLDING UP A PROP SKULL ONSTAGE.
[Laughs] No, no. It was definitely much more. And we were broke. I was a roofer and one of the other guys worked at a donut shop. We were kids and we were taking everything that we earned and putting it back in the band. And we had enough of a skill set between us to be able to build our own props and all that shit. We made our own flash pots. We made our own dry ice. It was crazy but we did it. We did everything that we could do to try to put on a show in a little dive like the Sunset Club where, you know, if you sell 250 tickets you sell it out. But it was fun. People did come to see us ... even though I think the band wasn't very good! We had some good song ideas, but we were just learning how to play and figuring all this stuff out.
WHAT WERE THE ICED EARTH STUDIO SESSIONS LIKE?
It was a quick production. We recorded it for $7,000, and back then Morrisound was an expensive studio. And we had been to Morrisound many times before that, back in the Purgatory days. I think the first demo we did there was in '86 or '87, and it sounded pretty terrible — because we didn't know what we were doing. But I don't remember anything extraordinary that happened while we were making the Iced Earth record. Just that we were under a lot of pressure because we didn't have much money. I think we recorded it in a week.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE THING ABOUT THE RECORD?
I have to say that "When the Night Falls" and "Funeral" are probably my favorite songs. But overall there was just this certain kind of fire that was burning. You could feel that we were excited, because we had been chasing a record contract and we got one [with Century Media]. It was actually a terrible deal, but I didn't realize what was happening. I just wanted to have a contract and get this thing going. So it was tough. All of those early years, there was a lot of pressure and a lot of excitement and a lot of energy because of that excitement and thinking that things were going to start happening. So it's kind of a mix of emotions.
ANYTHING YOU WOULD CHANGE ABOUT THE ALBUM IN HINDSIGHT?
I've never been super-thrilled with the production. But again, that's because we didn't have money or experience. I wish we could have gotten a better drum sound. And I think, with this new one, Zeuss has been able to make the drums sound as good as they possibly can, given the technology and the playing, too. I mean, all of it's a factor, man. And all of that stuff has to do with your experience as you go through it.
AS FAR AS EXPERIENCES, YOU HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO SUPPORT THE ICED EARTH ALBUM BY TOURING EUROPE FOR THE FIRST TIME, ALONGSIDE BLIND GUARDIAN. WHAT WAS THAT LIKE?
It was killer. We had a blast. Our first gig was in Hamburg and people started chanting "Iced Earth" before we got onstage. And we're looking at each other like, "What the hell is going on? They know who we are!" So we went out and we kicked ass and we ended up doing three or four encores. And I remember going to the backstage area and Ingo [Schwichtenberg], the drummer from Helloween, was there and he's looking at us, we're hearing them chanting and they were saying, "Zugabe!" And he's like, "What are you doing? Get back out there! That's 'encore!' Go!"
After that we just realized that this was going to be an amazing tour and we partied all night with the Blind Guardian guys. And, you know, we had a bus break down, we went through a lot of shit, but we soldiered through it together and dealt with all the shit that was thrown at us. That's when my bond with the Blind Guardian guys, and especially with Hansi [Kürsch, Blind Guardian singer], was sealed. And we had unbelievable amounts of parties.
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This year is the 30th anniversary of the debut Iced Earth record. Look out for a cool remix release later this year. Photo is from backstage on the European tour with Blind Guardian in 1991. @icedearth_official @demonsandwizardsofficial @blindguardian @geneadam139 #icedearth #blindguardian #icedearthdebutalbum #1991
ANYTHING IN PARTICULAR YOU CAN TELL US ABOUT THOSE PARTIES?
Nothing I want to make public. [Laughs] But there was all kinds of crazy shit.
COME ON, YOU'VE GOTTA GIVE US SOMETHING ...
Well ... one thing is we got pretty out of hand when it came to the end-of-tour pranks. Because Blind Guardian came out and got us. I don't remember exactly what they did, but I know that we fucked them up. We went out and we mixed up a concoction of, like, raw eggs and ketchup and beer and all this shit and we dumped it all over those guys. And then we went to our tour bus and cut open some feather pillows, took a whole box of feathers and dumped that all over the guys. So the feathers were completely sticking to them and their guitars.
But we were just insane. Hansi and I were always the last guys up, and it was always way after the sun was coming up and we'd finished every drop of alcohol on the bus. And that was just the way it was. [Laughs] It was a fantastic time.