HEAVY METAL ISN’T A FAD. IT’S A LIFESTYLE. IT’S A COMMITMENT.
“Iced Earth is my vehicle to write songs and to move people,” says founding member and songwriter Jon Schaffer. “That’s my thing, since the very beginning. Making records is a testament. They’ll outlive us. They’ll be here many years after I’m gone. What keeps the flame burning? I’m still hungry. I still have plenty to say as a writer. When the day comes that I feel that I have nothing left to express, well, then I’m done. Then, I’ll know it’s over. I don’t want the brand I’ve dedicated my life to, to fall to mediocrity, or worse. I want to end on a high note. That being said, the guys and I still have a lot of records left in us.”
Indeed, after nearly three dedicated decades, Schaffer, drummer Brent Smedley, vocalist Stu Block, bassist Luke Appleton, and new guitarist Jake Dreyer have assembled the fiercest Iced Earth record since 1996 milestone The Dark Saga and 1998’s chart-blazer Something Wicked This Way Comes. Titled Incorruptible, Iced Earth’s 12th record is inspired not by things political but by things personal. Since Plagues of Babylon landed in 2014 to heaps of praise and chart-topping success, Schaffer and team have weathered proverbial storms. Management shake-ups, Schaffer’s well-publicized and very serious neck surgery—he’s since fully recovered—and lineup shifts all played positively into Incorruptible. But that wasn’t always the case.
“The Judas Goat was the tentative title,” Schaffer reveals. “Had I focused on writing earlier, it would’ve been a much more negative and darker record. We were pretty pissed off. It was good that we calmed down. I focused on healing, and then building the HQ. It turned out positive. That’s why I called it Incorruptible. At the end of the day, no matter what I’ve gone through, my vision for Iced Earth has been incorruptible. There isn’t enough money on the planet to change why I do this. No matter the hardships, the ups and downs—things most bands wouldn’t survive through—I just don’t quit. I’m not going to give up. My integrity and my vision for the band are not for sale. We’re incorruptible.”
WHERE THERE’S WILL THERE’S A WAY
Written primarily by Schaffer over the course of several months — a process he calls “typical”—Incorruptible finds Iced Earth pivoting off everything they’ve learned—going all the way back to 1990’s Iced Earth—to come away with an album that feels and sounds superlatively heavy metal. And definitely like Iced Earth. From the Viking-inspired power of opener ‘Great Heathen Army’ to the epic pirate-inspired ‘Black Flag’ to the aggression of ‘Seven Headed Whore’, based on the Whore of Babylon, Incorruptible bestows upon its listeners a ceaseless supply of killer riffs, a cavalcade of righteous vocals, a storm of drums, and continuous volleys of jaw-dropping solos. Certainly, after 27 years of releasing albums and 666 minutes—or thereabouts—of music, the multi-national band, with Schaffer at the helm, show no signs of slowing down, getting old, or venturing off the deep end.
“The songwriting process should always be about growth,” offers Schaffer. “I don’t mean that I’m spending more time with my instrument and necessarily growing as a player, and I never look externally for influence by what’s trendy at any given moment in time in the music business. It’s a direct reflection of growing as a spirit and human being. That’s always been the case with music. Wherever it comes from - I’m the chief songwriter in the band and I’ve never fully understood where it comes from - but I channel that energy and put it into a piece of music and lyrics. I think you grow more on some album cycles than others. Like ‘Clear the Way’ for instance. It’s a song I’ve wanted to write for years. The Irish Brigade at the battle of Fredericksburg is such a tragic and brutal story. For whatever reason I’ve always felt very connected to it, and the time was finally right to bring it to song.
Unlike its predecessor, Incorruptible wasn’t recorded in a studio far flung or renowned. Instead of venturing off to Germany, England, or Sweden, Iced Earth settled in humble Indiana—where Schaffer now lives—at a newly anointed studio called Independence Hall to record their newest stunner. Although Iced Earth had studiously prepared for Incorruptible, the entire master tracking took around 20 days to complete. With Schaffer heading the production and Christopher ‘Zeuss’ Harris (Sanctuary, Queensrÿche) handling the engineering (as well as the mixing/mastering), the studio experience for Incorruptible was one of collaboration, innovation, and perseverance. That it sounds killer is an understatement. And, oh, Independence Hall is a command center/studio owned and operated by Iced Earth’s main man.
“Independence Hall is the place where we can be independent,” Schaffer says. “We can handle everything here. From archiving, running the business, to recording the albums, to warehousing our equipment. It’s our HQ. I started this band 32 years ago. I’m not going away. I’m completely committed. I would’ve started a place like Independence Hall years ago, but the timing wasn’t right. Now, the timing’s just right. It makes sense for us, ’cause the music industry’s changing so much and so rapidly, we see what’s coming. But our brand is strong. Our fans are strong and fiercely loyal. However music is marketed and sold in the future, we’ll be ready for it. We’ll be in control. That’s why I’ve called it Independence Hall.”
FATAL TO ENTER WAR WITHOUT THE WILL TO WIN IT
If there’s one—or two—things different from Plagues of Babylon to Incorruptible it’s the lineup. Long-time guitarist Troy Seele had to move on from his tenure in Iced Earth. Schaffer labels Seele “like a brother”, but it was time to invite new blood into the fold. So, a wide net was cast to fill out the sideman slot. Over 500 guitarists—from Greece and Sweden to Canada and South America—auditioned for the spot via a digital submission process. In the end, it was newcomer Jake Dreyer (ex- White Wizzard) who won over Schaffer. Taking a one-way ticket from California to Independence Hall, Dreyer impressed Schaffer so much that he welcomed the 24-year old into Iced Earth on a “great audition” and a “great attitude”. That Dreyer’s also imbued with the same heavy metal sense that has followed Schaffer all these years was also a plus.
“I trust my gut,” states Schaffer. “I knew Jake ’cause he was in White Wizzard and they were support for us in Europe several years back. He is a great player. After spending time on the phone with Jake he was invited to an in-person audition. We hung out a lot, I recorded him, had him do solos on songs I’d arranged. I liked the vibe he was picking up on. It just got better with Jake, from the demos to the master tracking. Jake also has a vast knowledge of music. His father raised him right. The biggest difference between Troy [Seele] and Jake is this: Jake is a metalhead. Troy likes metal, rock, bluegrass, blues, and he can play all that. With Jake you can tell metal’s in his soul.”
With a new lineup reconfigured, a newly completed Iced Earth headquarters to call home, a new record in ready for hails and headbangs, all powered by Schaffer’s indestructible drive and infinite engine, it’s clear Iced Earth are making 2017 their banner year. Songs like ‘Clear the Way’, ‘Black Flag’, ‘Raven Wing’, ‘Ghost Dance (Awaken the Ancestors)’, and ‘Great Heathen Army’ are destined for the halls of heavy metal greatness. In fact, Incorruptible is special. A contemporary classic. A legendary record barely out of the gate. It just feels like a record of import. Turns out, Schaffer agrees.
“To me, I get that feeling with Incorruptible,” Schaffer beams. “At the end of the day, it’s the fans that will decide if it’s going to be a classic. I have no control over that. To me, it’s a classic and I’m good with it. Even if everyone else hates it. I’ve had similar goosebump moments. On The Dark Saga. On Something Wicked This Way Comes. And on Dystopia. I have that feeling on Incorruptible. It’s a highlight moment for me. There’s a resurgence of energy, power, and hunger from all five of us.”
Iced Earth IS Incorruptible!