Iced Earth Biography

Despite facing all manner of adversities, public indifference and a constantly changing line-up, this old-fashioned US heavy metal outfit is one of the few acts to stick defiantly to their guns in a much maligned genre. Originally based in Indiana, Jon Schaffer (15 March 1968, Franklin, Indiana, USA; guitar) and Greg Seymour (drums) first worked together in the early 80s under the moniker Purgatory. The duo relocated to Florida in 1985, where they teamed up with Richard Bateman (bass), Bill Owen (guitar) and Gene Adam (vocals) to record demos and perform on the local club scene. Bateman and Owen were replaced by Dave Abell and Randall Shawver respectively, and the band were forced to change their name to Iced Earth when it transpired there was another outfit already known as Purgatory.

Iced Earth’s sound, a combination of classic metal and 80s thrash delivered with a contemporary edge, first surfaced on 1989’s Enter The Realm demo. The tape earned them a contract with Century Media Records, but Seymour was replaced by Mike McGill before recording sessions began on their debut album. Iced Earth (1990), despite containing some solid songwriting, was let down by poor production. After a European tour McGill and Adam left the band, and were replaced by Richey Secchiari and John Greely respectively. The new line-up commenced work on Night Of The Stormrider, a 1991 concept album with a religious theme. Featuring much improved production and songwriting it sold well in Europe but the band remained largely ignored in the USA.

It was to be another three years before the band surfaced again with yet another vocalist Matthew Barlow (b. 10 March 1970, Biloxi, Mississippi, USA) and new drummer Rodney Beasley. Burnt Offerings was a darker affair than the previous release, and demonstrated Iced Earth’s vision in the form of a 16-minute marathon ‘Dante’s Inferno’. Consistent touring after this release saw the band improving considerably and The Dark Saga (1996) reproduced this form in the studio. Featuring session drummer Mark Prator, the album revolved around the concept of the Spawn comic character and combined caustic riffing and strong songwriting in a forceful combination.

Abell left shortly afterwards, and was replaced by Keith Menser and then the more permanent James MacDonough (b. 3 April 1970, Jacksonville, Florida, USA), while Brent Smedley (b. 14 January 1971, Alexandria, Virginia, USA) was installed as the new drummer. The new line-up subsequently entered the studio to re-record material originally written between 1986 and 1995. Released in 1997, Days Of Purgatory was marked by consistent performances and strong songwriting. The following year’s Something Wicked This Way Comes was preceded by more touring, including a stint in Europe, and the recruitment of Larry Tarnowski to replace the departed Shawver. This concept album featured more experimentation than had been present on earlier releases, with session drummer Prator reprising his role from The Dark Saga. The triple live album Alive In Athens followed shortly afterwards, with Smedley returning to the line-up. In the same year Schaffer worked on his Demons & Wizards project with Hansi Kürsch of German power metallers Blind Guardian.

By the end of 2000, Iced Earth was enjoying the most success of their long career, despite further personnel changes which saw Steve DiGiorgio (b. 7 November 1967, Waukegan, Illinois, USA, ex-Death) replacing MacDonough and Richard Christy (b. Thomas Richard Christy, 1 April 1974, Fort Scott, Kansas, USA) taking over from Smedley on Horror Show. The 2001 box set Dark Genesis featured an album of heavy metal cover versions that were released the following year on the single CD Tribute To The Gods. Further line-up changes ensued in 2003, with ex-Judas Priest vocalist Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens (b. Timothy Owens, 13 September 1967, Akron, Ohio, USA) replacing Barlow and Ralph Santolla coming in for Tarnowski. The band’s debut for the SPV label, The Glorious Burden, was a concept album exploring American military history.

In the latter part of the decade, various personnel passed through the ranks of Iced Earth. By the end of 2007, Smedley and Barlow had returned to join mainstay Schaffer in the line-up. Former vocalist Owens’ final project with the band had been the first part of a planned concept series, Framing Armageddon: Something Wicked, Part 1.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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