Iced Earth - 11/08/2008

ICED EARTH is an American heavy metal band that combine influences from thrash metal, power metal, progressive metal, opera, speed metal and NWOBHM. Iced Earth has been known to have a volatile and oft changing line-up, founding member, songwriter, and rhythm guitarist Jon Schaffer being the only original member who has remained, handling nearly all of the songwriting and leading the band. Current vocalist Matt Barlow and former lead guitarist Randall Shawver are the next longest-tenured members, the only people besides. Barlow joined in 1994 and remained until 2003, when he was inspired by the September 11, 2001 attacks in the U.S. to leave the band and become a law enforcement officer. However, he returned to the group in late 2007.


Vocalist Tim "Ripper" Owens became Iced Earthís new vocalist in 2003 after he parted ways with Judas Priest (to make room for returning original vocalist Rob Halford). His first album with the band, ĎThe Glorious Burdení (2004), is an examination of many aspects of warfare and military figures who have shaped the modern world. Its topics range from the Declaration of Independence to 9/11 to Napoleon Bonaparte.


In December 2006, Jon announced information about the two upcoming Something Wicked albums. He also announced that the original "Something Wicked" trilogy of the 1998 album ĎSomething Wicked This Way Comesí would be re-recorded as an EP and will come with a new track "Ten Thousand Strong". In September 2007, Iced Earth released it's eighth full-length studio release, ĎFraming Armageddon (Something Wicked Part 1)í and three months after this release Schaffer announced that Barlow had returned to the band. He revealed this would considerably push back the release date of Something Wicked Part 2. This marks the end of Ripper Owens' tenure with Iced Earth.

The new album "The Crucible of Man (Something Wicked Part II)" continues where ICED EARTH's 2007 release, "Framing Armageddon (Something Wicked Part I)" left off. "The Crucible of Man" features the return of frontman Matt Barlow who was mainman / guitarist Jon Schaffer's original voice of choice to introduce the "Something Wicked" saga back in 1998 as a trio of songs which concluded their album, "Something Wicked This Way Comes".


While the 1998 album provided a general overview of the story Schaffer has been conceptualizing for well over a decade, the saga is being fully brought to life with the release of the back-to-back conceptual albums "Framing Armageddon" and "The Crucible of Man". While both albums provide answers to mysteries the previous releases would create, the timeliness of the story in today's world is guaranteed to keep people thinking and guessing. Schaffer's ability to convey the central themes and events of the story without always revealing exactly "why" characters' decisions are made and "how" events come to pass, will keep fans of the saga coming back as future mediums for the "Something Wicked" storyline are revealed.



So there is much to talk about and therefore Metal-Experience went to Amsterdam to set up an interview with Iced Earth mastermind Jon Schaffer. Here you can read what he had to say.  


Good afternoon Jon, thank you for meeting with us! Weíd like to ask you a couple of questions about your new album ĎThe Crucible Of Man-(Something Wicked Part II)í since it will be released over here on September 8 (via Steamhammer/SPV).


How did you launch into writing the material for this album?


All of this and ĎFraming Armageddon-(Something Wicked Part I)í were written all at the same time. I started in February 2006. I started cutting drum tracks a year later in February Ď07 and then we recorded about 35 songs right at that same time. So the music for this has been finished for a year. After the Framing Armageddon tour of Europe I went back and finished writing lyrics and vocal melodies. Itís all one story so it was all created at the same


What were the goals that you had in mind when you started writing these albums?


Well, itís a very complex story so I had to figure out how to tell the story musically because, you know, you can only do so much lyrically without it coming off as a narrative which wouldnít be very exciting. In song writing you want to have personal views in there to give it different textures so that songs can stand alone as well, outside of the concept. It presents different challenges. I wrote this story around ten years ago and the plan has been all along to use world instruments mixed with the music to give it a different texture, to give a tribal kind of worldly feel to it. Thereís a lot of different texturing with the guitars. Itís the first album where I used a variety of amplifiers to give different tones. I really spent a lot of time on the production of it.


Who was responsible for the production?


Myself and Jim Morris.


Did you take matters into your own hands in order to preserve the Iced Earth sound?


Yeah, I mean Iíve been involved in every production weíve ever done in the last 20 years so itís not really anything new. But I do think that some bands need a producer more than others. Some bands have ideas but they need help turning these ideas into actual songs and thatís not really the case with Iced Earth. I have a very clear, precise vision of what it is that I want. Jimís job is engineer and co-producer. What I really want him for is that I trust his opinion and his input. Besides myself, heís probably one of the only people in the world that I trust their opinion about specific things concerning my music and how he hears it. So his opinion certainly matters. The best thing for him is to get the best performances out of us, and to help if I get myself into a theory question where Iím having trouble finding exactly the right harmony part for a vocal melody or for a guitar part. Jim is really knowledgeable in music theory so he can help with that.


Can you actually hear his input on the album?


Well, heís played a few of the guitar parts. But I think thatís really subjective to the listener. Somebody else may have heard one of Jimís other productions and will hear a production technique or something but thatís not something that I would really know. I mean, I know what Iced Earth is because itís my baby so I know what the sounds are. They happen in my head before they ever happen on tape. And Jimís job and also my job in production is to make it a reality whatís going on here (points at his head) happen on tape. And that can be challenging.



Would you work with an external producer if your record company asked you to?


No. It will be my decision always.


Did you run into any difficulties when Matt (Barlow) rejoined the band?


No. Because, contrary to what people think, the song-writing does not revolve around a singer. Not the way I write songs or any songwriter Iíve ever met. Any singer thatís in Iced Earth has to meet certain criteria or they wonít get the gig because Iced Earth is a very dynamic band, meaning we have a lot of different sounds. So a monotone singer that has one voice is not going to fit in Iced Earth. You have to have a very wide range in order to deliver the songs the way they were written. When you have talent like Tim (Owens), like Matt, like Hansi KŁrsch (Blind Guardian) who Iíve worked with in the past, these are guys who can do almost anything humanly possible with their voices. So as a songwriter who writes very dynamic music from stuff that is very melancholy and very clean to very heavy, to very high and raspy, to clean and high, to powerful mid-range, thatís the way I write parts. And the singer has to be able to do it or he wonít be on the album in the first place. So I write the parts and then the guy has to do the delivery, it doesnít go the other way. I donít write to someoneís ability, that would be foolish, it would limit the song.


Ok, I never looked a it that way..


One of the cool things about music is that people hear it differently. I mean, thereís people out there that only listen to the voice, thereís people that listen to everything but the voice, thereís people that really pay attention to the lyrics and a lot of people that donít. Some people just listen to the guitars or the drums, everybody hears things differently and itís pretty cool. But from the standpoint of a songwriter which is what I do, I would never allow the limitations of a human being to limit my songs. The song has to live and breathe, itís beyond the singer whoís just another instrument in this mix. In my songs I write the lyrics and vocal melodies, the drum parts, the bass parts, everything you hear. So I have a very specific, precise vision. If I write all the music and Matt writes the lyrics and the vocal melodies then thatís going to be a little bit different from what I would do. Because heís going to do what he hears. Itís just a different process and most of the Iced Earth catalogue Iíve written by myself and I canít limit it to the limit of a human being. The song has to be the song.


Is it not hard for your musicians to keep up with you and your music as you evolve as a songwriter?


Itís been an issue in the past, especially in the early days because the songs were growing faster than the ability of certain players and so we had to make changes. But the thing is with Iced Earth, even though thereís been many different players in the band through the years, itís still very obvious when someone puts a record on that itís Iced Earth. You can hear it within the first couple of notes and I think thatís the definition of a style, like AC/DC has a style and Judas Priest has a style and Black Sabbath and Metallica and Iron Maiden. All these guys are established, thereís a specific style that they have. Weíve all been influenced by everything from the Beatles down to whatever, but still itís you personality and your depth of character that really makes it individual and that takes it to another level. Itís a gift that I have been able to create a band that has a specific style. You can hear our influences in it but we have our thing, our sound. And that tends to make people pretty jealous and talk a lot of shit. And thatís the way it is because there are a lot of frustrated musicians out there. I understand that but it also makes for a very devoted fan-base on the other side.


How did Matt contribute on the album?


Well, on this one, when he came in it was late. Everything was done. Itís my story but what Matt did help with is the lyrics on some of the songs. Because I was pretty fried after doing this, consistent writing for a year and a half, then we did a few months of touring and then back in to wrap up the writing. Literally about four or five days off in a couple of years is all I had, so it was tough. I have faith in Mattís ability to write lyrics, thereís very few people that I would even consider writing lyrics with. Actually, there isnít anybody else except for Hansi (KŁrsch). Matt gets it and he knew the story from back when I first created it, on the original ĎSomething Wicked This Way Comesí album. I just gave him titles and bullet points and what the subject matter had to be about and things that he had to mention because it was the way the flow was. He came up with some really great lyrical parts for the record. I think he wrote four or five song lyrics.



How important is it to you that people pay attention to the lyrics in your songs?


Itís not really important. I guess my thing is, I hope they get something out of the song, whatever it is. If itís the music that makes them feel a certain way or if it is a lyric that touches them. It doesnít matter what they get, as long as theyíre getting something out of it. If they get something special out of it, then thatís great, then weíve accomplished our goal. If itís some young kid that really wants to become a guitar player and they just really listened because of the way I play guitar, thatís cool. If itís somebody that just loves Mattís voice, thatís cool. As long as people enjoy it.


It was 1998 when you wrote ĎSomething Wicked..í, did you actually set out to do all this back then?


Oh yeah, this was planned years ago.


Why did you choose to release ĎFraming Armageddoní and ĎThe Crucible of Maní separately, instead of opting for a double cd?


Because itís way too much work to put out in one release. Itís something that the record company wouldnít allow anyway. And, frankly, I would feel like Iíd have been kind of cheated out of it because people have no idea of the amount of work that I have put into this record. And literally 90 percent of the time I was by myself in the studio doing it. So itís a true labour of love. And thatís the way I prefer to work. When I can get into my head and be isolated and left alone, not be interrupted. Then I just work until I drop. Especially on something like this as it is such a defined, precise vision and the story is so exact that I need to do it my way.


ďIf you want it done right, do it yourselfĒ, right?


Yeah, itís like that most of the time. If I was unsure of parts or if I knew I had a cool part and I really couldnít hear anything else going with it and I needed somebody else for that, thatís one thing, thereís some songs I do that with. But most of the time if I have a theme for a song or the vision for a song or whatever, if I feel strongly about it Iím just better off if I do it myself. It will go much faster that way. When it comes to questions about creativity, I kind of am the guy you need to talk to. But that doesnít mean that the other guys donít have anything to say, they do. They are intelligent people and theyíre good people.



Can you tell me about the story on ĎThe Crucible of Maní?


Itís a very complex story so itís kind of hard to just say a little about it. The premise is that mankind is actually alien to the planet earth. And that we came here on a quest for this ultimate knowledge that these beings called the Setians had. They were the true inhabitants of earth and they are the direct descendants of God or the grand architect of the universe. So they have all of the answers as to why things are the way they are. And human beings were after this unlimited power. So they come to planet earth and they basically wipe out the civilisation of the etians Ėthis is all in ĎFraming Armageddoní- and that story takes place from the point of invasion up until the birth of Seth.

The first part is a 10.000 year period. Before the invasion, the Setians see in a prophecy that this is going to happen. So they send 10.000 of their own chosen people to go into hiding to survive the attacks of the humans. And until after this event called ďthe cloudingĒ which is where the earth goes through this cataclysmic shift like the magnetic properties of the polar caps shift and volcanoes erupt and thereís earthquakes and sandstorms and the whole of earth goes haywire. At this point, the human beings believe that they  have wiped out all of the Setians and they go through the days of clouding.

When the days of clouding are over, they have lost their memories of where they came from and why they are here. And so this whole invasion armada that came, all the ships and other evidence has been buried in the desert. So they wake up and what was once a lush green land with water is now a desert. So the 10.000 come out of hiding after the days of clouding and they now look like human beings. Setians are humanoid anyway but they have different features, they can morph and shift and look exactly like humans. Another thing that happens after the days of clouding is like the story of the tower of Babel: the human beings that have similar skin colours can speak to each other. This creates confusion because now the white guys can talk to each other and the red guys can, but they canít talk to guys with a different colour. Then they start to faction off. This is a way to keep people divided. Itís all part of the plan of the clouding. And when the Setians come back in and mix with humans, they take leadership positions and they spread around the planet, societies grow. But the whole time they are being manipulated by the Setian leaders. They build up the order of the Rose. This is a lodge, like a philanthropic organisation that is supposed to be different, doing good for the world and for humanity. And for the whole time they are actually plotting the destruction of mankind. Every empire that rises and falls, it all happens by their design. You could say, for instance, that the rise and fall of the Roman Empire was by the design of the Setians. And all of the religions of the world were created by the Setians as well, because all these things help keep mankind divided, they thrive on the weaknesses of man in order to bring us to our demise. Ten thousand years pass and then the saviour is born named Seth. Heís born six months before Christ and he is personally responsible for the crucifixion of Christ and for this new religion called Christianity.

Itís all very in depth, I could talk about this for hours because it goes on and on. But the whole point is, part one deals with the period from the invasion up until right before Sethís birth. And then part two takes it from his birth, like in ďBehold The Wicked ChildĒ, to his youth when the minions are telling him what he is and what he has become, to the struggles that he has with that and how he finally comes to accept what he is. Then he goes through the trials and how he takes the crown and he finally accepts that he is basically the antichrist to mankind but heís the saviour of his own race of beings. This thing doesnít really end because the whole ĎSomething Wicked...í universe is really much bigger than a couple of Iced Earth albums. The way I chose to end the record is that it just comes up to modern day. And so weíve got 2000 years of Sethís life on part two. Itís up now till modern day and the only way that the human beings can live through this is if we actually, truly evolve as species. Which means that we would truly have to start being honest. And thatís the problem with mankind. Itís never going to happen and they are using that, itís the whole weapon against us. Like in ďCome What MayĒ thereís a lyric from living in caves till man flies in space, weíve done all these great things but the nature of mankind has not evolved at all.


Where does all this come from?


From my twisted mind! (laughs) I donít know. I donít even remember how it all happened; I just remember that the first image of him (Seth) came to me as this Egyptian-looking god. I donít know where that came from, it just came.



What happened to the plans for shooting a video for the single?


We were supposed to but there were some issues with SPV so weíre trying to get it worked out. We definitely want to do a video.


How are you going to manage to capture this story in one video?


Itís difficult; you can only kind of take one slice of it. We were going to do the video for ďI Walk AloneĒ and we may still do it. The imagery was going to be from the standpoint of showing Seth in an inter-dimensional world. You see, heís a time traveller as well, he can manipulate the folds of time and space and that allows him to go back and change things so that this whole domino effect takes place. The idea was to have him in this area between the realities where he is manipulating like in the movie Minority Report where they have all the screens up. Heís looking at different points from like the Hindenburg exploding and J.F. Kennedy getting assassinated. ďTen Thousand StrongĒ was also a video that was difficult because there was so much that we were trying to say but we pulled it off pretty cool. That was more about the invasion and the performance of the band. This video would have been a similar thing with a very similar way of story telling. We even want to use the same director. We just have to see whatís going to happen.


What else can we expect from Iced Earth in the future?


Weíve done a lot more touring than people had expected already this summer. Weíve got several more shows planned this summer and a North-American tour coming up in September/October and then New-Zealand, Australia and Japan in November. Weíll be touring Europe probably in early 2009 as a headline tour.


What about playing the whole saga in one show?


That could happen, yeah. We would love to do that, itís just a question of whether the fans really want that to happen. I think they probably will but we need to wait and see. When we come back in 2009, I wouldnít want to do that yet because I think that there are too many songs in the catalogue. With a twenty-year old catalogue itís very hard to pick a set list that everybody is going to be happy with. To come out and only play new stuff, that could be disappointing and we donít ever want to disappoint the fans. So it will probably end up as a very special tour if it develops and grows like I think it will.


Weíll be looking forward to it! Thank you for your time.


Youíre welcome, it was nice to meet you.


(Martina Schouten)




Jon Schaffer - Rhythm Guitars,Lead Guitars & Backing Vocals

Matt Barlow - Lead Vocals,Backing Vocals  

Brent Smedley - Drums

Troy Seele - Lead Guitars  

Freddie Vidales - Bass Guitars


Former Members :

Gene Adam - Vocals (1985-1991)

John Greely - Vocals (1991-1992)

Matthew Barlow - Vocals (1994-2003)

Tim "Ripper" Owens - Vocals (2003-2007)

Bill Owens Ė Lead Guitars (1985-1987)

Randall Shawver - Lead Guitars r (1988-1998)

Larry Tarnowski - Lead Guitars (1998-2003)

Ralph Santolla - Lead Guitars (2003-2004)

Richard Bateman - Bass (1985-1986)

Dave Abell - Bass (1987-1996)

Keith Menser - Bass (1996)

Steve DiGiorgio - Bass (2000-2001) (studio)

James MacDonough - Bass (1996-2000, 2001-2004)

Greg Seymour - Drums (1984-1989)

Mike McGill - Drums (1989-1991)

Rick Secchiari - Drums (1991-1992)

Rodney Beasley - Drums (1992-1995)

Mark Prator - Drum (1995, 1998) (studio)

Brent Smedley - Drums (1996-1997, 1998-1999)

Richard Christy - Drums (2000-2004)


Studio Albums :

Iced Earth (1990)

Night Of The Stormrider (1992)

Burnt Offerings (1995)

The Dark Saga (1996)

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1998)

Horror Show (2001)

The Glorious Burden (2004)

Framing Armageddon - Something Wicked Pt.I (2007)

The Crucible Of Man - Something Wicked Pt.II (2008)


Live albums / EPís :

Alive In Athens - Live Album - 3 CD BoxSet (1999)

The Melancholy - E.P. (1999)
Tribute To The Gods - Covers Collection (2002)

The Reckoning - The Glorious Burden Single/E.P. (2003)

Overture Of The Wicked - Framing Armageddon Single/E.P. (2007)

I Walk Among You - The Crucible Of Man Single/E.P. (2008)