– By Vinny Cecolini –
“ASHES of ARES: The Dawn of a Power Metal Supergroup?”
During Matthew Barlow’s early days with Iced Earth, the vocalist was a veritable road dog who sacrificed relationships and any semblance of a home life for endless touring and little remuneration. So, when he and his wife decided to start a family, his priorities needed to change. He headed back to college, completed his degree in criminal justice and then informed his band mates he was retiring. Although he was briefly dissuaded from leaving the band by leader / guitarist Jon Schaffer, Barlow’s growing lack of focus became evident and he was fired. Barlow now says his dismissal was “meant to be,” because less than six months later he was accepted into the Georgetown, Delaware police academy. Despite his unusual career change, his passion for music never wavered. Within a few years after becoming ‘Officer Barlow’, the musician would resurface as the lead singer for the First State Force Band, a project made up of Delaware state law enforcement members who use music as a way of stressing the importance of staying away from drugs.
Matthew Barlow, in every sense of the word, is the antithesis of the stereotypical heavy metal vocalist. He’s also a hero. Every morning when he puts on his ‘day job’ uniform, he’s a marked man. That became painfully evident on September 2, 2009 when Barlow informed readers on Blabbermouth.com of the saddest day of his life. In his statement, the musician / police officer said, “Last night I was called into work with the Georgetown Police Department. I then found out that two of my brother officers had been shot in the line of duty. Corporal Shawn Brittingham was wounded and Patrolman Chad Spicer had been shot and killed. Chad was one of the kindest people I have ever known and he will be terribly missed by all of us.”
The singer’s previous announcement on the site had been happier. In mid-2007, he announced he had joined the band Pyramaze, but before he and the Danish metal band released their first album together, Barlow shocked the metal community by rejoining Iced Earth. “Schaffer and I had a gentleman’s agreement that Iced Earth would structure their activities around my work schedule as a police officer,” explained the singer.
Although his return resulted in the acclaimed The Crucible of Man, the sequel to the band’s classic Something Wicked This Way Comes, Barlow resigned following the band’s appearance at the 2011 Wacken Open Air festival. His reasons for leaving – family commitments and Iced Earth’s desire to tour more than his schedule would allow.
Once again, Barlow’s retirement would be short-lived. On June 26, 2012, the singer revealed on Facebook that he had formed Ashes of Ares with former Iced Earth bassist Freddie Vidales and former Nevermore drummer Van Williams. Less than a year later, after posting YouTube “teaser videos” and circulating an impressive four-song demo, the band signed with Nuclear Blast. The trio then headed to Tampa Bay’s Morrisound Recording where, under the tutelage of Jim Morris, Ashes of Ares forged what just might be the best power metal release of 2013.
The trio’s self-titled debut is more than the sum of its parts. Though Vidales and Williams perform with an intensity that suggests the metal veterans believe they have something to prove, the MVP is Barlow. Renowned for his wide-ranged vocal style, and his ability to quickly adapt to changing melodies and styles, Barlow gives “Move the Chains” “On Warrior’s Wings” and “The One-Eyed King” the potential to become metal hits.
Most rock acts play music to avoid day jobs. Not Ashes of Ares, named after the Greek God of War. The band’s tour schedule is fashioned around the day jobs members of the band hold down.
On Tour Monthly: Because of scheduling conflicts, Ashes of Ares’ three members are not often together in the same room.
Matthew Barlow – True, it is difficult, but we do get together and jam before each show to make sure the band is tight. Most of our debut was created over the Internet. Being an old guy, that was an amazing process. Pro-tools are an amazing thing.
OTM: Is this the first time you’ve created an album over the Internet?
My first experience working over the Internet was with Pyramaze. When we agreed to work together, they had already written the songs. Guitarist Michael Kammeyer had composed lyrics, but he told me to do whatever I wanted to with the vocal melodies. I made some minor tweaks to his words, but that was it. With Ashes of Ares’ debut, it is all me. Good or bad, I take full responsibility for the lyrics, vocal melodies and some core stuff our producer Jim Morris and I worked on. I’ve been lucky that the three of us in the band bounced ideas off of each other. I did not ask Freddy to change his music to suit my lyrics. I accommodated his songs both lyrically and vocally.
OTM: Did any of you work in any unused Iced Earth ideas into Ashes of Ares’ music?
No. I had some lyrics that I’d been working on since I left Iced Earth, but that was it.
OTM: What inspired you to reevaluate your life and alter you career path, briefly dropping out of music a decade ago?
I didn’t change as a person, which has been a common misconception. I simply changed my priorities. My wife and I had been talking about starting a family. Then the events of 9/11 put things into perspective. I realized what was most important to me. It got me thinking about where
my wife and I were and where we were going. At that point, Iced Earth did not pay the bills, so I put emphasis on the future of my family and started taking online classes to complete my criminal justice degree.
OTM: How did your first stint as Iced Earth’s vocalist end?
I tried to bow out of Iced Earth to pursue a criminal justice career, but Jon talked me into staying. After working on 2004’s The Glorious Burden, I was fired and replaced by Tim Owens, the former Judas Priest singer who was the original inspiration for the 2001 film Rock Star. Six months later, I entered the police academy. It worked out beautifully for me; otherwise I would not be here in my home with my wife alongside me and our two sons playing video games in the next room. I would say that 2004 was a serious turning point – a catalyst for me – and now, I
couldn’t be in a better place.
OTM: How do you find time for your law enforcement career, family and Ashes of Ares?
My wife makes sacrifices so that I can do music. Yes, law enforcement is a 24-hour-a-day, even-day-a-week job. Fortunately, I have great bosses and really supportive colleagues. We all have our personal lives. Everyone realizes that when you’re a part of law enforcement, it’s important to have a personal life as well. My work schedule allows me to work four days on then four days off. That allows me to do stuff. It opens up windows for short tours. If I take a week off, I essentially have 12 days off. It seems strange that my day job would lend itself to me being in a
band, but it does. Then again, there are a lot of guys in law enforcement who are involved in various outside activities. Mine just happens to be music.
OTM: There’s no doubt that being a police officer is a very stressful job. I would think that creating and performing music provides a nice release.
Absolutely it does. It’s very therapeutic.
OTM: Has anyone recognized you while you’re in uniform?
It happens occasionally. A couple of months ago I stopped a guy on a motorcycle. One of the guys he was riding with was a big Iced Earth fan. It was cool chatting with them.
OTM: Did you give the guy a ticket or a warning?
(Laughing) I can’t answer that.
OTM: After Ashes of Ares began circulating their demo, how did Nuclear Blast come into the picture?
We were fortunate to hook up with Continental Concerts, who manage us. They did a great job of shopping the record. We had also done some promo teaser stuff to get the music out there. We used social media, which is a pretty cool thing.
OTM: Was there immediate interest?
Some labels just said “Nah.” Nuclear Blast said “Yes.” They are a good pairing with us. The label understands where the band is coming from. We were very forthcoming with everyone involved. The label realizes the band is not going to be a bunch of road dogs. We are not going to be able to hit every town in every country. It is not what we’re about. In being straight up and honest with everyone, we were treated with respect. There are a number of bands who share our situation; guys who have lives and obligations outside of music. What these artists create is driven purely by love.
OTM: Is that why it took Ashes of Ares, a band with quite a degree of notoriety and talent, so long to get off of the ground?
We wanted to take our time before we began shopping for a record label. We wanted to make sure we had a decent demo. No one in the band is an engineer, so the demos were created with the Pro-Tools rig we have. Nuclear Blast heard all they needed to hear and trusted us to make a good solid metal record. Name recognition is going to sell a few copies, but I hope the album stands on its own. I don’t want to hear anything about our past. I want people to listen to the music. I want people to hear it a week after its release on YouTube or some steaming service and say, “This is really good. I want to go and pick this up.”
OTM:> What was the inspiration for the song “Move the Chains”?
I wrote the lyrics a few years ago. Oddly enough, the title was inspired by football.
OTM: You used Ronnie James Dio’s method of songwriting. He was inspired by Los Angeles Lakers games to write about wizards and dragons.
I did not know Ronnie James Dio did that. I got a little goose bumpy hearing that. I didn’t intend to do that, but I am a huge football fan. The main idea of the song is that I believe that there are there are powers beyond what we see, powers beyond the President. We need to wake up and realize these powers are above the puppets. Even with the things we’re able to obtain and hold on to, there are forms of slavery. Our cell phones have GPS that can be tracked anywhere we go. I have an iPhone and I’m on it a good portion of the day. It’s not called TV programming” for nothing! There are certain powers that control our emotions and our perceptions. News programs do not necessarily report the news like it did in the past. Now it’s almost like news is created to support an agenda. No one really trusts news on a national level because the networks have their own agenda, and slant it to influence public opinion one way or the other. Until we all start waking up to these things – how we are manipulated – we are not going to be able to move forward as a society. We have to break the chains before we are able to move them.
OTM: Society is literally being ‘dumbed down’ these days, especially when it comes to news.
That’s because the tools for manipulation are getting broader. New technology is great in one aspect and used against us in another. Look at how the NSA is dipping into our private affairs. Transmissions between people are private. I’m a cop, so I understand that “search and seizure” is a big part of how it works. The police are supposed to be the good guys. Yes, the bad guys will always have somewhat of an upper hand because they are constantly evolving their methods of attack. Regardless of what other people do in regards to the law, we still have to follow a certain pattern of existence to remain being the good guys.
OTM: When the events of September 11, 2001 occurred, this country was forced to rethink the definition of freedom. We had to sacrifice certain things in exchange for national security and the prevention of additional terrorist attacks.
Those sacrifices are supposed to be decided by the people. A lot of these decisions were not.
OTM: During your second go around as Iced Earth’s singer, for lack of a better word, did you feel you ‘handcuffed’ by your day schedule?
(Laughing) I was going to do a drum roll and a rim shot after hearing that pun! Essentially, Jon approached me and said, “Iced Earth is reliant on touring.” When I rejoined the band, we had a gentleman’s agreement that we were going to do things around my schedule. I made good with my end of it, but I understand that the industry has changed and bands rely to touring to make money. I told him I just couldn’t do it. The financial offer he gave me was pretty darn good, and if I was in a different position, I may have gone for it. However, at the end of the day, letting go of what I’ve accomplished with my other job just was not worth it. I also didn’t want to be away from my family for extended periods of time. With Ashes of Ares, I have the best of both worlds. I can still be artistic while maintaining a career in law enforcement that I absolutely love.
OTM: What was it like to collaborate on Ashes of Ares’ debut with producer Jim Morris, owner of the legendary Morrisound Studios?
Iced Earth worked with Tim Morris on Burnt Offerings in 1995, and then with his brother Jim after that. I also worked with Jim when I contributed to the Pyramaze record. Jim and I have a great relationship and we’ve always worked well together. He’s a great guy with a really great sense of humor and super intelligent.
OTM: It helps to have a long established relationship between artist and producer where both of you completely understand one other.
You’re right, and it really came in handy with time management where my job was concerned. I had my parts of the record finished in less than a week. We did a couple of songs each day for five days straight at his home. It was expedient and financially efficient. Jim doesn’t invite everyone to record at his home, so I felt honored. It was a very cool, laidback experience. We just went into his home studio and knocked the stuff out. Then the drums and all of the mixing and mastering were done at Morrisound Studios.
OTM: You do not have the luxury of working in a recording studio for six months.
No and we probably never will. We have to go into the studio fully prepared and just do it.
OTM: Although Ashes of Ares have European festivals scheduled, the band will only tour in spurts. You’re also releasing your debut in various ways, including double vinyl.
Yes. We’re going to do the best we can to get out there and promote the record, but it will be more limited than other working bands. The vinyl will be blood red. Now, I need to go out and buy a turntable.