Ashes of Ares – Answering the Call

Wednesday, 28th August 2013

Forever the level-headed and likeable foil to Jon Schaffer’s sometimes polarizing personality, vocalist Matthew Barlow was cast as sideman during his tenure in Iced Earth. For all intents and purposes, it was Schaffer’s gig: He started the band, wrote the songs, and made all the decisions, so really, all Barlow had to do was show up and sing what was given to him. Now, that’s stretching it a bit (he had more involvement than that, obviously) but you can see where this is going – Barlow would never be the “guy” in IE, regardless of how Schaffer’s songs were the benefactor of the man’s voice – not the other way around.

The newly-formed Ashes of Ares happens to be Barlow’s first real go at fronting a band on his own terms. Joined by former Nevermore sticksman Van Williams, as well as ex-Iced Earth guitarist Freddie Vidales. the trio’s self-titled debut is a suitable platform for Barlow’s identifiable and muscular vocals, just go down the line on numbers like “Move the Chains,” “On Warrior’s Wings,” and “Dead Man’s Plight.” And as we indicated in our review, this is not the literal combination of the combo’s previous bands – Ashes of Ares has more than enough capability to take on a life of its own, something that appears to be happening rather organically.

Barlow – a police officer in Delaware – was kind enough to drop DR a line to talk about the new band, its prospects, Iced Earth, and serving his country when it needed him the most. Let’s go…

Dead Rhetoric: You will not be a full-fledged touring band, and at the end of your time in Iced Earth, you weren’t able to go out for extended periods of times. So, when you got together with Van and Freddie, was that one of the things that was initially agreed upon?

Matthew Barlow: Right. That was our main thing. Freddie is a civil engineer by trade. There’s a lot of things he can do with his laptop, but he still needs to be in proximity. Van’s a new dad, he’s got that role as well as a graphic artist, and you know my gig, so I definitely have to stay close to home. This is what we want to do as well. With the last Iced Earth record, I toured more for that than any other record. I was still able to be a police officer and everything, but still, it took a lot away from family time. I have a five and a seven year-old, and it’s hard being away from them for periods of time.

I don’t think it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make, although I appreciate anyone that does it if they need to – if that’s their livelihood, and with the way it is today, you have to tour to survive if you want to be a full-time musicians. It’s something I don’t have to do and I think people appreciate that. They appreciate that it’s a decision I’ve made and they’re cool with that. As long as I put out a good product that people want to listen to, that’s okay. We will tour as much as we can so people who haven’t heard the band, so people can come out and see us, but we’re definitely not going to be Iced Earth – no six months of touring.

Dead Rhetoric: In a way, do you feel that takes some pressure off the band? That it becomes more fun when you’re not faced with the notion of having to tour all the time?

Barlow: Absolutely, man. You hit the nail on the head. That’s what we want – we don’t want it to be like a job – this is supposed to be fun, which is the reason some of us started out in music. Some of us got to a point where it was more like…work, just dealing with your own bandmates. I don’t want to speak out of turn for any of the guys who are involved in this deal, but I think our main goal is to have fun. Obviously, we’ll try to support it financially by selling merch – that’s one of the only ways we’re going to be able to support the band and be able to do certain things like paying for plane flights to go places, or to get together to rehearse, things like that.

We are going to be reliant on merchandise sales but as far as the recording budget, every single cent we received, went into the recording. We’re not skimping on anything as far as the recording, and also the record budgets are not huge anymore. We’re doing what we can do. I hope and pray that we sell enough records that Nuclear Blast says “Hey, we’ll give you the same budget as the last record.” I think this next time, we’ll try to budget a little better, so we’re not coming out of pocket – we actually came out of pocket for this. We’ll re-pay ourselves down the line.

Dead Rhetoric: You have to.

Barlow: Our dedication is there. People understand and realize that.

Dead Rhetoric: What drew you to Van? He was band-less because of the break-up of Nevermore, and you toured with him back in the Iced Earth days, but what was the determining factor in getting together with him?

Barlow:  We’ve known each other for years – like 1995 or ’96. Van and his wife moved up to New York after they had their child and we got together a bit. We really got together in New York when he got out of Nevermore, but at that point, I wasn’t courting him for the band – Freddie wasn’t even out of Iced Earth. We were hanging out as friends, he was enjoying life away from that, and it had really brought him down. He was doing some stuff with Chris Amott. Actually, I still think they’re doing something.

Dead Rhetoric: I think they’re called Ghost Ship Octavius. [Amott has since left Ghost Ship Octavius – ed.]

Barlow: Right. When Freddie got out of Iced Earth – Freddie and I had already talked about doing something when we were both in Iced Earth. When he got out, it seemed like a perfect time. Shortly after, I injured my hand and wasn’t able to work for 3 ½ months. We had more time to bounce ideas back and forth, and that’s where the majority of these ideas came together. When Freddie and I had some stuff put together, we approached Van and he dug it, and it went off from there.

Dead Rhetoric: Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is the first band that is “your” band. Iced Earth was Jon’s band, and you joined Pyramaze well into their existence. This has to be a different type of feeling for you, right?

Barlow: That’s the whole thing. I’ve said this before: it really is for the first time being in total creative control of lyrics and vocal melodies. That’s a big deal for me. It’s a big step, but without Freddie writing the music – he wrote 99.9 however much of the music, it would be different. I’m a music writer, but not writer per se. I did write the basis for “Move the Chains,” but my guitar playing sucks [laughs], but Freddie made it sound like actual guitar playing, and I did “The Answer,” which I wrote acoustically.

It’s really more – I’m going to take the hits – good or bad, as far as lyrics and melodies because it is all me. Freddie wrote 99.9 however much of the music, but it’s really this collaborative effort. Van took the ideas we had and wrote these cool drum parts that we didn’t even think of – it changed the dynamic of the songs. It’s a really cool joint collaboration, and we’re really proud.

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