The (Horror) Show Must Go on
CoC chats with Matthew Barlow of Iced Earth
by: Adrian Bromley
Any time someone decides to put on a show, whether it be a small theatre performance, an acoustic performance, hell, even a puppet show, it takes a lot of work to make sure it all comes together. Plans are drawn up, ideas are discussed and changes are made at last minute. Sometimes, once it is all over, there are a million things to change and once again things are re-routed and altered.

When the idea for Iced Earth's latest disc _Horror Show_ came into the conversation a few years back, singer Matthew Barlow says guitarist/songwriter Jon Schaffer was just aiming to do a small EP. Well, as mentioned above, plans change, and now Iced Earth has unleashed to their fans a monster (get it?) release that tells the tales of so many classic stories with a solid metal ambiance. Such tales tackled include Werewolf, Dracula, Frankenstein, Jack the Ripper, Jeckyl & Hyde and a whole lot more.

About the new album and the work that was involved, Barlow begins, "Every time we finish up a record it makes me feel good to know that we have kind of completed an episode, I guess you could say, in our quest to metaldom. I really think that this record, as well as projects we have worked on in the past, is just one more step up in the right direction for the band. It is good to feel that way after each release. I hope we never feel like we have fallen backwards after we finish recording an album -- that would be a bad thing."

"_Burnt Offerings_ [1995] was a record in our career where we didn't feel too good about ourselves and where we were going", admits Barlow. "We just needed to get out of that situation with what we were doing and just take it higher. We need to take this higher all the time, but stay true to our roots and ourselves and not be redundant. That is very hard to do, but some bands do get caught in a rut, and I hope that never happens with Iced Earth [the band is rounded out by guitarist Larry Tarnowski, drum superstar Richard Christy (Control Denied / Death) and bass legend Steve DiGiorgio (Sadus / Death) -- Adrian]. I don't think we will, because as a writer Jon is very in tune with what he does and how he wants to carry things out."

When asked about the early ideas behind _Horror Show_, he comments, "A few years ago it was just an idea for an EP. After we did _Something Wicked This Way Comes_ [1998], we wanted to do something on the trilogy from that album, but we knew it wasn't really the time for it. We wanted to make sure that when that concept came out it would get proper treatment. Therefore, we were kicking around ideas and Jon wanted to do singular songs with purpose and their own defining meanings. We then started to talk about the whole horror and movie monster EP project and making it into a bigger thing."

Did Barlow have any apprehensions about doing this album and what their label (Century Media) might think?

"Jon has had a relationship with the label for a very long time. He has been given full artistic control of things and what he wants the band to do. That started around the time with _Burnt Offerings_ when he wanted control over artwork, because he felt the label wasn't doing things right and how he had envisioned the band. They kind of came to realize that Jon knew what he wanted to do musically and artistically with the band, and so they have left him alone to do this."

He adds, "Jon has a lot of weight on his shoulder as far as making music and handling the business. He is not going to let just anyone handle that stuff. He allows me to be a part of that and I take on as much as I can. I like to be involved and knowing what is going on."

Over the past few months there has been a lot of talk and concern from fans about Iced Earth and certain musicians being in and out of the band. How do those situations concern Barlow?

"I think that often people worry about all of this too much", Barlow explains. "If you listen to all of the records, there is a connection, and that is Jon's writing and the music he creates. Everything would be fine if everybody could just hone in on that and appreciate the music and not worry about that other stuff. We are people too. We have to deal with people on a professional level and we can't just be, "Hey buddy, want to play guitar in our band?", or "Hey man, come be in our band!" We are so beyond that. We are a professional outfit and we can't be like that. Jon does a lot of hard work with the music and loads of other things related to Iced Earth. I try my best to work hard to bring my vocal talent to the band. If everyone else just did their job, there wouldn't be a problem."

Going a bit more in detail about _Horror Show_, he says: "I think the original intent of this album and the songs was to make the characters really come through the music and give them their own defining quality. I think Jon did a nice job to find the right sound and music. When you hear it, you know it is obviously Iced Earth, but there are also subtleties thrown in where you know this song is about this certain character. It was a hard thing for Jon to do", notes Barlow, "but I think he did a real good job with the album, even though he had all of this weight thrown upon himself to make this work."

"This record does have a very modern Iced Earth sound for sure, but nothing that can be associated with new metal sounds and styles going on. We don't listen to any of that new metal music", he juts in. "We knew there was a potential for this record to become something it isn't. The music could have been portrayed as cheesy and corny had it not been tackled the way Jon opted to do it. Given the subject matter and how people might perceive it, we took the story and put an Iced Earth spin on it. With these songs we have taken artistic license and done stuff with it, whether it be re-working the story line or just using the basic concept, and just did our own thing with it."

"We really just wanted to pay tribute to these characters and how these concepts have influenced us as writers and intrigued us. A lot of people out there have given heavy metal music a bad name for this reason or that reason. Some people say they don't like heavy metal music because it is Satanic. But do they give Stephen King shit when he talks about the devil in his books? No, they don't. We are trying to be storytellers and that is always what we have done. This is just another set of tales we have provided Iced Earth fans and metal fans to listen to."

With each release for a band, a lot comes along with it, most notably press tours. How does Barlow react to press days?

"This is real cool to be a part of it all and do this stuff for the press tour", he says. "Of course there is a bit of monotony on the press tour. You always answer the same questions and you need to spin things around and try to answer the question a bit differently so that the answer is a new answer. This is part of the gig and it is fun to talk to a lot of people about the new record, especially if they are legitimate Iced Earth fans and know about our music and us. When I do an interview with someone who doesn't really care about us or the music we play, and isn't into the interview, my answers are going to feed off that. It is like playing live. When you have a great crowd, it is going to show in how you perform. You just reflect on what is being given back to you."

"I really enjoy what we do", states Barlow about why he does Iced Earth. "We try not to categorize ourselves other than say we are a metal band. I think we get a lot of fans from many different crowds that can relate to what we are doing."

He finishes off, "We are not a political band here to tell people to think a certain way. We are just here to entertain."

(article submitted 12/8/2001)


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