Something wicked comes yet again 

Yes folks Iced Earth return with yet another fine album, now back on their old label Century Media the band have just released their new album 'Dystopia' which is a stunning album indeed. Packed full of the typical Iced Earth monster riffs, big sounds and ripping vocals by new front man Stu Block from Into Eternity, a great singer who reminds me of the melodic vocals across between Ray Alder (Fates Warning) and the aggressive Death Metal vocals. Stu on the other hand doesn't sound like either in Iced Earth, but there are hint's of Matt Barlow in his voice. Iced Earth have come a long way since the days of their debut album 'Iced Earth', which was released back in 90 was just the beginning of a long successful career. More albums followed such as 'Night of the Stormrider' 92, 'The Dark Saga' 96, and later on 'Horror Show' 2001, 'The Glorious Burden' 2004 and now 'Dystopia' 2011. Former guitarist Jon Schaffer found the band and he has managed to keep the flame alive with a new singer and a fresh new approach to the band. I managed to have a chat with Jon and front man Stu about the new album, old stuff and how Stu's old band feels about his departure. Here is what the 2 had to say. The interview starts off with Jon and later Stu enters the interview.

Ok Jon lets 1st talk about the DVD the band has recently put out 'Festivals of the Wicked', how successful was it compared to that of the live DVD in Greece?

(J) "Hi Jason, great speaking to you again, and to answer your question, I really have no idea how well it is sell to be honest. It is so low on my list right now as we have been working on the new album and we had to play some festival in Europe this summer so we have been flying back and forth in-between the album. I think the DVD did well but like I said I have no idea to the sales on it. It is a cool package but it is not the divinity Iced Earth DVD and it is just festivals, and I am looking forward to doing a proper full live headlining show as a DVD."

Was if difficult picking 3 festivals for the DVD?

(J) "No not at all Jason, they were the only 3 that were filmed. I think there was also some footage from Graspop but I didn't know if we had the options to buy those master tapes."

So lets talk about the new album so why the title for the album and what does it mean?

(J) "Well I came up with the title for the album, and the basic theme for the album is about a 'Dystopia' future and I think we are living in some pretty dark times right now with a lot of bad stuff going on right now. I think this album parallels reality and and it also has several songs which are based on movies, 56 songs are based on the 'Something Wicked', the opening song and the closing song and then there is one about 'Dark City', 'Equilibrium', 'V'."

So Jon I guess you had other titles for this album, what were they if you had any?

(J) "Well not really, I did at one point think about calling the album 'The Dystopia Nightmare' but then we found out that another band had already taken that name for an album title, so I shortened it to 'Dystopia'."

Would I be right in saying that the artwork was done by the same artist who did the last few albums?

(J) "Well the guys who did the new album are the same guys who did 'Framing Armageddon', 'Crucible' and they are tattoo artist, well at least one part of the team are, and the other lives in Columbia. (Ed: How did you find these guys?). Well the tattoo artists are friends of mine who have done by tattoos here in the U.S.. One of the tattoo artist is a fan of the band and his name is Nathan Parry and he decided to give the artwork a shot and he did it and it looked great!! The rest of the guys contacted me about the rest of the artwork."

So Jon how did the artwork concept come about?

(J) "Well what I did on this album cover was to lay it out like a scenario and then send it to 5-6 artists and who ever came up with the coolest artwork got the job. The artwork is all hand drawn and penciled in and then inked and then scanned into a computer and then coloured on a computer."

Is the artwork in the booklet similar to that on the outside of the CD booklet?

(J) "Well the booklet will have art by Nathan for each individual song and there is some art panel like our last albums had."

Has the song writing within the band changed since we last spoke? A team effort or individual members writing lyrics and music?

(J) "Well the music is the same, I write it and arrange it and Troy contributed to a few parts on a couple of songs and then Stu & I worked on the lyrics and vocal melodies and some of the lyrics he wrote by himself and some I did as well. We also wrote a lot of stuff together & it was great and really smooth and relaxed writing process and chemistry between us."

One question for you Jon, who does the backing vocals on the albums? They sound very much like Paul Stanley from Kiss.

(J) (Laughing) "There done by me, and there isn't many but when we do them it's Stu and me & Jim & Howard and that is it. (Ed: It also almost sounds like Matt is doing backing vocals) No not at all."

Do you still keep in touch with Matt? I know he is married to your sister so I guess you have to be on good terms right?

(J) "Well yes we are really good friends, we just did the Wacken festival together a couple of weeks ago and yes he is married to my sister."

After leave Century Media the 1st time you went to SPV and now your back with Century Media how did the deal all come about the 2nd time?

(J) "Well after the SPV deal CM offered us the best deal, & I think they are in a good position right now were the music business is changing right now and as far as label strength goes I think CM are in a pretty good spot with EMI behind them."

So how long is this deal with CM? What other labels did you approach the new album for?

(J) "Well have signed for 1 album with 1 option. We really didn't approach any other labels as CM offered us the best deal."

So where was the new album recorded? I guess Tampa (Morrisound) might be in there, Am I correct?

(J) "Yes it was recorded at Morrisound in Tampa with Jim Morris and myself."

What time period did it take to record the album?

(J) "Well we recorded it in July & August which was done in a straight run but I had to fly back and forth to Europe several times for festivals with was a bitch (laughing). (Ed: You must be one of the few bands that still use Morrisound, it was a well known place back in the day). Well bands still use it, the doors are still open but the problem is that the music industry is dying and bands can't get the kind of advances they use to get from labels. There is software out there that you can record on your own and it is also cheaper to record at home. If you use one of the Morrisound brothers then you get experience and a killer sound. Its not all about recording songs, you have to know about the tones, understand the music and communicate with the bands to get the best sounds."

Would I be right in saying that the Morrisound brothers Jim and Tom are involved with Iced Earth's sound?

(J) "Yes Jim and I are a team and we have not done an album at that studio in years and we have mixed there but we were using my own studio at that time. I have now sold the building were we did out recordings in the past and I will set the gear up somewhere else at some point."

OK Jon, so what was the reason why Matt left the band once again?

(J) "It was his job been a police officer, and also the music industry is also changing and the band wants to work and needs to work and he is not willing to commit to that. When he did come back it was under the conditions that it would be a part time thing and I thought we could make that work and when he came back in 2008 I realized his heart wasn't really into it. You can make a lot of money been in this band but for Matt it wasn't about the band or the money he wanted to be with his family and to be a cop. He doesn't have the desire to do this anymore and we are playing places we have never played before like China, India, Thailand and places like that."

How did you hook up with Stu? Also what do you think of his old band 'Into Eternity'?

(J) "Well his band isn't my kind of music, I like the choruses and Stu comes up with some really cool hooks and then there are parts that are really bad ass but I am not really into the Death Metal stuff at all. I also don't like progressive stuff which has tons of parts in it. The most progressive I get is Rush. His band opened up for us in 2008 for a few shows and I watch him from the side of the stage and I even commented to Matt that he has some serious range to his voice. At that time it did not enter my mind about having Stu as the singer for Iced Earth and when the issues were coming up with Matt the Co at the label told me to check out Stu to replace Matt. 

He showed me one of his videos on You Tube and I was really impressed with his vocal range and I thought it maybe interesting to see if he has a middle range to his voice that would work in my band as our music is within that range. So the label hooked me up with him and and then we talked on the phone and he was send some of the instrumental files through the internet and a couple of days before we was to fly out to meet me I sent him some original pieces of music and we just jelled. I knew then I had found the perfect replacement for Matt. Once we was in the band we went right to the deep end of writing songs together and I think Stu flew back to Canada and I would carry on writing and he would do the same in Canada when he got home. It was really well in the end."

Did you audition any other singers beside Stu?

(J) "Well we didn't do any other auditions, we had phone conversations with other guys with somebody from Sweden, the U.S. and we had a lot of tapes we had to listen too but Stu was the 1st guy I auditioned as my gut feeling was telling me I had the right guy for the job."

Do you see any of your old members at all Jon? If so who and what are they doing now?

(J) "Well I saw our old drummer a couple of weeks ago in Morrisound Mike McGill who did the 1st album and I also saw Bill Owen who I played in Purgatory back in the mid 80's. I see Tim every now and then. I don't think the guys from the early days are not doing too much musically, they just play as a hobbies."

So what songs from the new album do you like and why Jon?

(J) "Well I like the 1st 2 songs 'Dystopia' & 'Anthem' as I think they are awesome!! The 1st song has a great intro and it has 3 great vibes of Stu's voice and then music really does fit that. The other song is just big and I love it.

Do you have anything to add before you leave the room Jon?

(J) "Yes thanx to our fans for their dying support, please give Stu a chance he is an awesome singer and nice speaking to you again Jason.

At this point Jon leaves the room and Stu enters the interview.

Hi Stu, hows it going? great to finally chat with you. One question is most fans of Into Eternity will want to know, are you still involved with them or not?

(S) "Well that is a Stu one man, I think it is going to be tough for me to juggle both bands and I have been given the opportunity that is fucking amazing to be in one of the top metal bands in the world. Iced Earth right now has to be my 100% priority and I am not saying I will not help Into Eternity and I have already recorded 2 songs with them and one is called 'Sand Storm' which is available iTunes right now and the other is about the earthquake in Japan. I think it might be one song here and there and I go on tour with Iced Earth for 2 months and then I get hoe and then go on another tour for another 2 months is not good for me. Those guys are really good friends of mine and they are awesome musicians and I think they need to keep on doing that they feel is good for them. They will carry on as a band."

So Stu who are your influences and how do they reflect within the music you have played and are playing with now in Iced Earth?

(S) "Well for me I like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Helloween, Thin Lizzy, the list goes on... Dio, and I was into the Death Metal thing too like Cannibal Corpse, Napalm Death, Death, al the whole scene. The whole Florida scene."

When I listen too your old band I hear the vocals influences of such singers as Ray Alder (Fates Warning) do you agree?

(S) "Yes Absolutely, he is an awesome singer indeed and I had the pleasure of going on tour with Dream Theater and Redemption and they were opening up for them and Ray is the singer for them & he is a great singer. I am also a huge Russell Allen fan fro Symphony X he is amazing singer."

How do singers like Ray combine into the music of Iced Earth?

(S) "Well I just do want I need to do Jason, with my old band I followed what their style was doing and even before I was into my old band I was a fan of their music and I was a fan of Chris vocals before I joined them & Tim's vocals too. So when I was asked to join Into Eternity I was trying to follow along the same ways as they did but doing my own thing too."

So which album did you join Into Eternity?

(S) "Well it was the album 'Scattering of Ashes' and I also toured for the 'Buried into Oblivion' too."

So what was your 1st reaction when you heard Iced Earth were looking for a new singer & you were approached?

(S) "Well I didn't know they were looking for a singer and they contacted me so what happened was I got a call from an A&R guy at C Media and said a band were looking for a singer for the next album and tour. I thought it was another Death Metal band but when he mentioned Iced Earth I dropped the fucking phone as I am a huge fan. So I composed myself and I thought I should give it a try and I talked to Jon and next thing I know I was in Indiana writing songs together and we wrote 'End of Innocence' together, and we wrote 'Dark City' together and he gave me the job."

Do you think it will be or has it been hard for Iced Earth fans to accept you as the new singer?

(S) "Well I think there will be certain people who will accept me and some that won't but I think when they hear the album I think they will be pleasantly surprised!! I try to do my own thing but I am a fan of the band and of Tim Owen's and Matt Barlow so I am trying to be on those same lines as those 2 singers. I 1st got into the band when I bought the 'Burnt Offerings' & I have been a fan of the band ever since and I have been a huge fan of Matt's voices since I got the CD."

I asked Jon earlier what his favouriter songs were from the new album, could you tell me which ones stand out for you and why?

(S) "Well for me it has to be 'Anthem' which is an epic song and it is a celebration of life, and you have our own destiny for your life and I think it has a real positive message. I also like 'Tragedy and Triumph' because it's about you taking control of your life no matter what has been thrown at you. There is always a way out of it if you always keep positive. I wrote the song 'End of Innocence' because my mum has cancer and she had breast cancer and it has now moved to her bones and into her liver and I am preparing myself that my mum might not be here for much longer. So I am preparing myself for that and I am very close to my mother and she has taught me a lot. It will be taught to sing because my mum will be at one of the shows and I am hoping she will be well enough to attend the shows. I think the 1st song 'Dystopia' is a venomous song, really in your face and I think it has so much energy and power to it. I like all the songs on the album and I like the ones about the movies as I am a huge movie fan."

How long did it take you Stu to do the vocals for this album?

(S) "To do all the master vocals it took 15 days and I am happy with my performance on the record. When you are an artist you have to know when to step away form your piece of art and at the end of the day you have to be happy with what you have achieved. I think I was putting a lot of my true heart into the album and it was coming from the heart."

Will the band be doing a promo video for this album? If so which song?

(S) "Yes we are, we are doing 2 songs which will be 'Dystopia' and 'Anthem'. I really don't know what the concept for the videos will be yet sorry!"

What sort of feedback has the album been getting so far from the press?

(S) "Well I haven't seen any reviews yet, but the indication from all the journalists is very positive. We had 2 journalist that did not do much of their homework who listened too the album they didn't even know I was the new singer and thought it was Matt singing on the album."

How excited are you to be touring with Iced Earth shortly?

(S) "I am very excited Jason, I am super stoked for doing all the tour but I have a lot of work to do with the preparation and I have a few songs already memorized and it will be fun this tour."

What does your old band members think about you been in Iced Earth? Are they pleased for you?

(S) "Yes they are very supportive and they are my brothers and they supported my decision, Tim has been really amazing with the whole thing and he could of got a new singer but he doesn't want to do that. The band will not do too much touring anymore and there will be studio albums and some festivals here and there."

Well Stu thanx for doing the interview, do you have anything to say before we finish the interview off?

(S) "Yes thanx for the interview, I hope the fans will accept me and give the album a chance. I hope to see all the fans on tour shortly.

Thanx to Century Media and the band for the interview, best of luck guys!