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Iced Earth Interview

by Matt Hensch

With the release of Something Wicked Part I: Framing Armageddon almost upon us, Iced Earth frontman Tim "The Ripper" Owens took some time out to speak with Matt Hensch about the new album and more.

ThrashPit: To start things off, coming up in September Iced Earth will be releasing Something Wicked Part I: Framing Armageddon. What can you tell me about it?

Tim: Well, it's a story Jon had thought up some time ago, going back to the Something Wicked Trilogy on the Something Wicked (This Way Comes) album. He always wanted to do it, but just wanted to wait for the time. It's a Sci-Fi type story. It's very interesting; I'm not even a Sci-Fi fan, but the story is just so cool, you know. It's about how we humans really weren't the first people on Earth, and there were a race of people called the Sessions who were actually the first people here on Earth. They didn't have any weapons or technology, and the humans were actually the aliens who attacked and took over Earth. It's pretty unique, but it's kind of hard to talk about the whole story because there's so much going on. He (Jon) wanted to wait for the right time. He knew that Century Media wasn't the right label to put it out on, and we signed to SPV, which is why we did The Glorious Burden first. He just knew it was the right time.

ThrashPit: So were you pretty satisfied with the outcome of the album?

Very. You know, it's just awesome. It's just such a great sound record to me, and it really is a classic Iced Earth CD. It is a blend of what Iced Earth is about. And the thing about Iced Earth is they've always sounded a bit different with each record, so one fan wants this, the other that, but it stayed Iced Earth. This CD has it all...the sound of it is just awesome.

ThrashPit: When you were laying down vocals, was it an easy process, or was it something that took a lot of effort or time?

It was spending the whole day in the studio singing until you can't sing anymore. I would say it was an easier process then when I was with Judas Priest, you know, and there are songs that you know what to lay down. It's a quicker process then Judas Priest. We went over the songs a lot faster by far. It was a lot of fun. We enjoy working with each other, we're friends, and that's what makes it fun. They're definitely some of the hardest vocals I've done in my career. You're stretching the limits all the time, you know, and it gets tiring.

ThrashPit: Do you think it's one of the best vocals performances you've ever done, even throughout Judas Priest and Iced Earth?

It definitely has the biggest variety I've done, you know. The only areas that Judas Priest tapped into a lot was the really, really low stuff… the heavy stuff, which is ironic. People would probably think I'd do it more in Iced Earth, but I actually did it more in Judas Priest, and Iced Earth taps into a high, natural voice a lot more. Yea, it's probably definitely the best vocals. I think every record I've done… I think The Glorious Burden was the best vocal record up to that point I did. After that, I think the Beyond Fear record was the next…I think that took it a step further than what The Glorious Burden did. It's definitely some of my best work, but I like every single record I've done for a certain reason.

ThrashPit: On the topic of Framing Armageddon, you guys just shot and completed a video for "Ten Thousand Strong." Will you be doing any more music videos from that album?

Oh yeah! I don't know which one we'll be doing next, I think we'll definitely be doing some video, and continuing on, you know? There's so much there…telling the story, and that's what's great because we can tell it in our video, and I think that's what the first one is about. I think people have to get what the video is about. It's kind of a comic strip…kind of a sci-fi comic strip come to live because there's a story being told. It's definitely the highest-budgeted video Iced Earth has ever had. But it's great, so we'll see what's next. I think at the end of the "Ten Thousand Strong" video it says 'to be continued.'

ThrashPit: Yea, I noticed that. I'm glad you explained the storyline of the album because it seemed very futuristic.

Yea, you know. That's the thing…it's going back, obviously, you have people on Earth who didn't have any technology ten thousand years ago, and they didn't even have weapons. Humans attack…they had weapons, but then the Sessions come back - ten thousand of them - and they erase everyone's mind, and they kind of start all over, you know? It's very in depth…it's hard to get it. The album cover and the album sleeve will tell the whole story. That's what's neat about this thing. It's the typical metal video, and maybe that's the problem. Some people's minds might not be too bright to kind of understand that this is a comic book-type video that's telling a story. If they don't understand it and want to see another heavy metal band in a warehouse…they might want to watch Headbanger's Ball.

ThrashPit: You guys recently performed at The Wacken Festival. How was that?

It was great. It was outstanding. One thing about the festival …it's kind of hard for me sometimes to do a big show like that, because the crowd was probably forty feet away from me, and that's a long way away. It was good there were 70,000 people going nuts, but it's still forty feet, and, you know, that's kind of hard. But with the crowd, the fans…It went really well. It was the biggest stage show with pyro I've ever had. I had some bigger sets with Priest, but as for pyro and explosives and fire…it was pretty awesome.

ThrashPit: On the topic of touring, Iced Earth will be opening for Heaven and Hell in November. Heaven and Hell is Dio-fronted Black Sabbath. Are you excited to be opening for them?

Oh man…it's awesome. Ronnie is just one of my idols, but he's also one of my friends, and he's just a super-super nice guy, and it's a great opportunity for Iced Earth to do this, you know? I wish we could tour the whole European theater, or do a whole European tour with them, but…you know…it's a great opportunity, and I'm excited. They're one of my favorite bands, so going to be a good time.

ThrashPit: On the topic of Sabbath, are you a bigger fan of the Dio-era Sabbath, or Ozzy Osbourne-era Sabbath?

I'm probably a bigger fan of the Dio. I don't think there's any doubt with being a singer like that, you know? Dio is definitely an amazing singer, so I think it's probably definitely him…definitely Dio.

ThrashPit: You recently did your album with Beyond Fear. Will you be doing any more installments of that band in the future?

Oh yea…definitely. It was a good success, and it was probably one of the top reviewed records that I did, you know? That was pretty cool to write this album. I've been a songwriter for a long time and I don't get to it that much anymore. As a singer, I might not write all the songs, but there's been part where I put melody in the lyrics, especially nowadays and I always enjoyed doing it, you know? So that's the fun of Beyond Fear. It's my project and I get to do what I want…with the song, you know? And having it become one of the best reviewed records was pretty great.

ThrashPit: Yea, I mean it's a great record. I think for you, on a personal level, it was probably great to write your own material and work within your own boundaries.

It was. Being able to write six songs or so by myself - music and everything - was pretty cool. I'm not necessarily going to do that in the future, you know? These were songs I kinda wanted to do. I think Jon and I probably would write better songs than I felt I could do by myself. I could do a direction I want to, more than I would by myself. If I wanted to write a whole record of Sabbath-y type…Priest-type songs I would just do it myself probably, but we make a good team and it's a lot of fun.

ThrashPit: What are some of your favorite bands that emerged in recent times?

Oh man…that's hard, you know? I don't really know…I don't listen to a lot of music, you know? That's the whole thing; it's just not a new bands…I don't know. I'm a fan of bands that are probably closer to my genre of metal…there's not many of them out there. I don't like…I don't really listen to anything. And that's kind of the weird thing. I listen to more talk radio, and things like that…I don't listen to much music.

ThrashPit: To begin the release of Framing Armageddon, Iced Earth released Overture of the Wicked, which contained a re-recording of the Something Wicked Trilogy with you on vocals. How was that? Was it hard to match Matt Barlow's vocal melodies?

No. John wrote them. And that's the whole thing…people don't realize…I think people have to understand Matt didn't write the melodies in Iced Earth; John did. Matt came up with some lyrics…this is what John said…I'm going by what John said. Jon was the writer of the Iced Earth songs. He told him - just like he does with me - this is how…this is the melody I have, but these three are different. We played it with a baritone guitar and tuned it down and made a heavier sound…a deeper sounding song(s). But the melodies stayed the same, but they put 'em in different registers. Some of the vocals became lower, and some of the vocals became higher, you know? So it really wasn't the same. Really, I love singing the version Matt made a lot, you know? I've sung it live, but I'm not sure if we'll ever do it again because we'll probably do the new version of it, but I enjoyed singing the original version a lot. We only really re-did the song because we wanted to re-introduce it…we wanted it to have the same vide the record is going to have…the record's story. We probably really only did it because the label wanted us to do something, and that's why it was done…and it really wanted it to have to same vibe as the record.

ThrashPit: Do you prefer playing the newer Iced Earth material as opposed to the band's older work that you were not a part of?

I love doing to all. The funny thing is the newer stuff is definitely harder to sing than the older stuff. For my voice, which makes it harder to sing because I really stretch it all to the limit, you know? But it's definitely harder to sing, but I really enjoy singing all of it…it's a lot of fun. Like Jon said, it's kind of written for my kind of singing. He's always written the stuff, and that's with the singing and melodies he's had in mind, so it's kind of cool really.

ThrashPit: Iced Earth also announced in early 2008 you'll have Something Wicked Part II: Revelation Abomination, which is the second part of Something Wicked Part I. Have you already recorded and mastered that album?

No, not the whole thing. We have the rhythm guitars, the bass; the drums…the main things are done. We have to finish up the vocals, you know? Jon is going to finish up the storyline to it and write the songs. But it won't take that much longer. We'll probably have it all done this year, and be ready…we're ready to go with it. Jon's just finishing it up now, and we'll pretty much hit it. It's pretty much there.

ThrashPit: You're story is quite an amazing one; you even had a movie made about you, about your transition as a person, going from a Judas Priest tribute band to singing in Judas Priest. How has that affected you on a personal level?

It was a dream come true and got to where I am today, you know? It launched me out for people to see me. The only problem is I get to hear the Halford-clone thing and stuff. Still now, this is how I sing. This is me. I sang like this in Winter's Bane, I sang…probably more like that. I sing with my voice. I can't change it, you know? And if I ever change it or sing a different style, someone compares me to somebody else. I don't think I sound like Rob, because I have high notes. I don't think I sound like him; it's just my style of singing. That's probably the funniest thing, because Priest picked me for a reason because that's the kind of singer I am. And you know what? I really like those guys. We're great friends, and had an awesome time. There was a song that somebody said on the new record…I think it was even Ten Thousand Strong… said, "Now he's trying to sound like Rob Halford meets Ronnie James Dio." Who in the hell would make that up? Who would listen to that song and think he's trying to sing like…no, I'm singing. I definitely don't think of another singer when I write music. I don't know who does. I certainly don't. And that's all because being in Priest, and if I would have joined Iron maiden, they'd be saying," Oh my God! He's trying to sound like Bruce Dickinson!" for the rest of my career, you know? That's the one thing that came from it. But man, it's an awesome thing. I wouldn't be able to do anything I do today. It's a great time in my life.

ThrashPit: This is where the interview ends. Thanks again for taking time out of your schedule to talk to me.

No problem.

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