Photo Credit: Jennifer Farace
For long-time Metal fans, the voice of Matt Barlow the former Iced Earth and Pyramaze talented vocalist has been one of power and consistency, being instantly recognizable and lauded as one of the premier voices in Heavy Metal. Since 2013 Matt and his partner Freddie Vidales started their band Ashes of Ares and after successfully forging their path with their instinctive sound, they have now made it to a 3rd studio album titled “Emperors and Fools”. Matt took the time to talk to us about the new album, the challenges faced in releasing it, some of his previous works, and what fans can expect of the new record which comes out January 21st, 2021 via Rock of Angels Records. Check it out!!!
Pre-order the album here: https://bit.ly/ashes_of_
1. A City in Decay (Intro)
2. I Am the Night
3. Our Last Sunrise
5. Where God Fears to Go
6. Emperors and Fools
7. By My Blade
8. What Tomorrow Will Bring
9. The Iron Throne
11. Throne of Iniquity (CD Exclusive Track)
12. Monster’s Lament
Ashes Of Ares:
Matt Barlow – Vocals
Freddie Vidales – Guitars, Bass
Drums on all tracks by Van Williams
Keyboard intro composed by Jonah Weingarten
1st solo “The Iron Throne” by Wiley Arnett of Sacred Reich
2nd solo “The Iron Throne” by Charlie Mark
2nd solo “Monster’s Lament” by Bill Hudson
Guest vocals “Monster’s Lament” by Tim Ripper Owens
Keyboards “Monster’s Lament” by Brian Trainor
I’m a big fan, by the way of your work. Not just in Ashes of Ares, but before I follow you up through your career with Iced Earth and Pyramaze, I’m a big fan of your previous stuff and current stuff. Anytime I hear music from Matt Barlow is always great. I’m glad you’re still doing it, because your vocals always sound great. I want you to just get into it and let’s talk about the new record.
It’s the third album titled “Emperors and Fools”. I’ve heard it a few times since we got the promo, and it’s another great record. Every one of these you do. You always sound great. Freddie sounds great on the guitar. Van Williams it’s awesome on the drums; tell me a little about how it came about?
Some of these things we had in our mind when we were doing the last record. So some of it’s a little bit of stuff that we were working on that was sort of in the process, but especially like “Monster’s Lament”. That was one that we were thinking about doing on the last record, and it just wasn’t going to work out as far as time and songs and all that other good stuff and having them perform on that. So we just held it off and said, hey, we can just do it next time, right. So here we are. The other stuff. There are bits and pieces of songs that we were working on that didn’t make it onto the last record, but it’s like one of the things when you have all these different songs, because Freddie and I kind of it’s just kind of the way we are. We’ll pitch stuff back and forth and keep things going, and we try to keep as many songs as we can going at once. If something’s not completely coming to fruition, then we’ll keep it on the side and work on it, continue to work on it. So we have songs like that now, still, but we had a full record with this one, and so that’s kind of the way it works, the way that we have to work, because we live in two separate parts of the country.
We have to work by just sending files back and forth and sort of it’s. Whatever is striking our mood at the time, like when Freddie sends me something that is just basically a song laid out. He’s like, hey, just go ahead and do what you want with it. Tell me if there’s anything you want to do if you want to move parts around, which I do, sometimes I can Frankenstein a song like I’ll make double a chorus or what I think is a chorus. He usually give stuff to me except outside of Monsters. He usually gives stuff to me without any kind of preconceived notion of what a chorus is or what anything is, which is good, because it kind of gives me a fresh perspective. It’s just like a clean slate. Whatever comes to mind or whatever I’m feeling at the time when I’m listening to the song. So if I’m hearing a chorus in a spot, he never says in one way or another, he never goes, that’s not really a chorus. I had that in mind for it. So that’s just sort of the way we work. We try to keep it as organic as possible.
And when it gets down to the finer things, for instance, if I’ve done a chorus and I think, man, it would be really cool if there was just a little cool little singing guitar part over top of it,that I’ll say, hey, man, can you do this and can you slide this in here and do that? So that’s where we kind of.
Get to the really the finer details is whenever we start doing that stuff, just kind of, hey, can you do this? And he says, hey, can you do this like a couple of songs? He said, hey, man, can you break out the horror show high stuff and a couple of these songs? And certainly we sort of have that relationship. So if he asked me to do something, I’m probably going to do it and vice versa. So we know that’s for the betterment of the record as a whole and band. So we usually at least trust each other’s instincts on certain things because sometimes you can get too close to a song, and that’s because we sell produce this record. We don’t necessarily have that outside producer looking in. So we kind of rely on each other to do that and add to the songs.
Well, that’s a great way of elaborating on your thought process. One of my questions was the process between the writing for the album. But I know that you guys started writing some of it right after the second record. So it’s been kind of a few years in between. There a lot of stuff happened in the music world. So how do you get back to it after you’ve been trying to get this done for a few years, right.
Well, the funny thing is that this whole record was all done in 2020. We had to do mixing and mastering in the beginning of 2021 last January, when Freddie was able to get into the studio and do that because 2020 was locked down everywhere and including Arizona, which is where he is. And he got the studio out there and got things reserved. And he was doing some stuff as far as doing reamping guitars and things like that at the studio prior to that in 2020. But like, all my tracks were done, I think, man, probably by fall, early fall, something like that. So we’ve sort of been sitting on this for a long time. You know what I mean? We certainly weren’t expecting that much turnaround for another record. We were hoping it was going to get done quicker, but unfortunately, the way that the things turned out here we are again, because that was kind of our major issue with the last record was that it was so much time in between and just so many things went on that we’re really beyond our control again. But that’s just the way it happens, because I think we actually work pretty efficiently when we get our kind of head in the game and start working.
We work very, not quickly, I wouldn’t say, but certainly efficiently. We do what we can when we can and try to knock the stuff out because we like writing and we like recording, but we like that finished product, too, like everybody else does. Everybody else wants the stuff done. So we go and when it starts feeling right and we’re heading in the right direction, then we dig on. Yeah.
That was one of the questions I had. On the challenges the music industry has been facing with the pandemic, not just Rock and Metal. It sucked for people that are touring and can’t tour and cancelled tours. The one source of revenue that some bands do rely on. I know that’s not for every band is different for every band, but there’s a lot of challenges with getting together. Like you’re saying the lockdown, the whole 2020 was a mess. And two years later, we’re still kind of in this dealing with it still. So that was one of my questions. Some of the challenges you face, which you’ve answered. So that’s great. I figured you guys probably had the record mostly done. It’s just getting all the final pieces finalized to release.
Really kind of what put us behind the eight ball. And this was we pushed it back as we were going to try to release it in fall. But vinyl production was so backed up with everybody. So it’s tough. And I do I feel for everybody in the industry. I feel badly for not just the touring bands, obviously do because I’ve got friends that are in touring bands, and it’s tough, man. It really sucks having to do things that you might not normally do outside of touring, if that’s what your life is, but also the vinyl makers, just the small labels. It’s just really difficult to kind of get that keep the thing going. Mom and pop shops, I would imagine, are hurting like every other smaller business. I would imagine the mom and pop music stores are hurting. It’s just tough all around, so hopefully we can get out of this and get beyond it.
And you mentioned the Vinyl backlog. I’m assuming that was supply chain issues, right? They were having with Vinyl Productions.
Yeah, I think just I’m assuming. And again, I don’t know the whole inside of the industry where the vinyl has been, but I’m assuming it probably was just tougher getting stuff done because either sick or they’re out or they can’t work or what have you. But apparently there was a huge backlog for vinyl, and so we were sort of pushed towards the back as well.
Yeah, I got a few myself. I collect. I’m not as big of a collector as some of my friends overseas. Yeah, but yeah, that was probably part of it, too. I’m sure it was supply chain issues. Like you’re saying things just got difficult for everything, right? The last couple of years for everybody, not just on the music side. It’s personal, but we’ll go through it. We are here; we’re still making music, right? That’s a good thing. People are still promoting it. They want to hear it, right. So that’s always a great thing, right? One of the other questions that I had was…we’ll get into some of the songs here. And then you can elaborate on some of the songs for me. Freddie Vidales, he’s been in a lot of different things. You guys were together in IE previously as well so you have that connection from before.. When I listen to the music, I already know this sounds like your work just by listening to the first few songs on the new album.
And it’s very recognizable, not just with Ashes, but just the way you guys work. You can just tell just by listening to it. I know you probably get this question asked a lot with your vocals, but you go a few years in between performing or recording an album. How do you keep your vocals in shape? I mean, you have that power vocal voice, and you go from power to melodic. And that’s kind of been your staple for years singing in Metal. How do you keep it in fine shape?
Well, probably one of the things that I’m able to do and maybe other guys aren’t is I can actually rest in between because it’s not my full time gig. So if I was out there hitting the road all the time and just tearing it up, it may be a different situation because I know a lot of guys that do and have surgery and things like that for polyps or what have you. So maybe that’s a benefit. I don’t know, man. I do try to take care of myself as best I can. I don’t smoke, I do drink, but I try to just be smart about it. And whenever I’m recording, I don’t go in there like all the stuff for Ashes. I’m going in and recording myself in my own studio so I can go out for a couple of hours and then take a break and then come back to it another day. So it’s not, like, necessarily like I’m going in there and just hammering everything out in five, six days, like old school Iced Earth, like back then, which is good because it would be probably pretty tough on me to do that.
I think that the last record that I kind of did in that way was “We Are Sentinels“. So when I did that with Jonah, I went to Minneapolis and took, like, four days, I think, to do that whole record, and that was tough even on stuff that’s not as because it’s not like that was a really aggressive record, but I had a lot of vocals on that. It was like just a lot of layers and choruses and things like that. So just doing it by day four. Man, you’re just really especially when you’re 50 years old or whatever. I was when I did that record 49, maybe. Yeah. So obviously age is going to be a factor in about everything, because recovery time and all that other good stuff. But with this man, I’m actually really glad and happy that I can record a record this way because I do think it’s beneficial to take a little bit of time in between in between doing things. And it gives me also the ability to kind of step back and listen to it a little bit critique go back in go. I don’t really like the way that sounded and go back, so I can do that as well.
And on the bad side of it, maybe some people might critique is maybe it gives me a little too much time. So I’ve got too many vocals going, but I like creating that’s one of the things definitely made me kind of the evil. I’m not going to say genius, because that would indicate that I’m like a genius, but I’m not, but maybe evil. But I go in there and I’m building these choruses and things like that, and that was a lot of fun for me. I got to keep it fun for me while I’m doing it while I’m creating it. So maybe I overdo sometimes. I don’t know. I guess the listeners will be the judge of that.
I actually had a question about that project, but we’ll get into it later as a follow up. So I’m glad you mentioned that, because we actually covered that album, too your collaboration with Jonah Weingarten (Pyramaze), and that was really something different for you, the way that was instrumented with not a lot traditional instruments, he used keyboards and piano and stuff, but it’s predominantly vocals. That was the big thing. It’s like, man, this is different, something that Matt hasn’t done before, and I think a lot of people liked it.
Yeah. And that’s what we were kind of going for. At least when Jonah contacted me about doing something we actually got together when I did ProgPower USA with Pyramaze, we did like the three singers and all that. Lance King etc, when Jonah was talking to me about it, I was like, Well, man, he was wanting to do, like, more of a progressive metal type thing. And I’m like, well, that would be cool. But you’ve got all this cool music that you do outside of that, like, the cinematic stuff. If we did something like that and then put vocals over top of it, how would that be? That’s what it turned into. So he started giving me stuff, and I just started doing lyrics and vocal lines and things like that. There are songs that have choruses in there that I said, hey, man, do you mind if we loop this a couple of times so we can make this a chorus and much sort of like, I do with Freddie’s stuff sometimes. But that was it. A lot of the stuff that he gave me was outside of just doubling some stuff and just to give me a little bit more room to make some courses. It’s kind of the same thing. You just gave me stuff, and I just kind of ran with it because it was the way I was feeling with it.
Yeah. Absolutely. It’s great. Well, that was one of the questions I had. Thanks for talking about that, because there are fans that really like that project that you did. So anyway, we’ll get back to it. Let’s get into the record. That’s the main thing where we want to talk about the new Ashes of Ares record. These are some of the songs that stood out for me. The whole record is great. It’s just as good as the other records previously. We reviewed it. My writers here always high notch for everything on there. I think it’s just a product people are going to enjoy if you’re a fan of the band or your previous work same things that Freddie’s done before you will enjoy this one. Some of the songs that stood out for me were “Our Last Sunrise”. I thought the guitars in that song are great, but it has this really aggressive rhythm. When you listen to that song; It’s just one of those top tunes for me. Talk to me about that song.
Yeah. No. That song is really cool. And I was thinking that because we were kind of laying out for promotion and things like that. And I was like, hey, man, if we’re going to do, like, if we were going to do something that would be to me, I would think that European fans would really like would be that song because it definitely has a very European metal vibe a lot. It sort of did from the very beginning. And maybe I approached it that way when I was doing the verses and the chorus and things like that. But that’s one that Freddie primarily wrote all the music, obviously. And he primarily wrote the lyrics. I moved some things around and added some stuff. I think we got another I got another verse out of it and moved some things around. But anyway, there was his concept and rolled with it It’s really cool, really aggressive. It’s got a really cool anthem vibe, and I didn’t necessarily try to I just think it just it’s what I heard I was channeling some Bruce Dickinson in there a little bit, some of the chorus parts, so yeah, it’s just the way it turned out.
Man, I love the song. I think it’s really very cool and very like you said, aggressive, but also has some cool melody in there. And things like that. And the drums are great, too, by Van Williams. He does a great job; Former Nevermore for people not familiar. I’m sure they are, but some may not. His drumming is incredible as well. Another one that I really enjoy was ”Primed”. I think that one comes very dark… really dark rhythms to it kind of doom esque groove to it. That one stood out for me as well. And also “Where God Fears To Go”. I want to talk about the lyrics in that. So those two songs, if you could talk about those.
Okay. Yeah. “Primed“. Yeah, it is. It’s very dark and kind of Moody, for sure. Just sort of the concept of basically sort of a mild brainwashing, I guess you would say, is what “Primed” is about kind of more like I’m not going to say in your face, but sort of, yeah, in your face, you’re being brainwashed without realizing it, which goes on. But when Freddie gave me the music, I really got this kind of almost when the song first comes out, I almost got kind of like a little bit of an old school Queensryche vibe to it. I don’t know why, but it just kind of hit me that way. And so I was kind of channeling, I guess some Operation Mindcrime a little bit with the vibe as far as the lyrics went. And the way my delivery of how the song starts out. So, hey, man, I can go back to all the people that have influenced me and all the bands that have influenced me. And that’s probably what you’re going to hear tinges of that here and there. And Freddie’s much the same way “Where God Fears To Go”. That was another one that Freddie was inspired by a biography about silver mining in Peru.
I believe it’s sort of its own culture there, but it seems as though the folks that mine there understand that it’s a place where you go to work because you have to and you do it. But at the end of the day, they understand that death is all around them because it’s just a horrible, horrible condition. And people die there constantly and continually. So it’s very heavy, man. I mean, the whole concept was heavy from the beginning and I hope I did it justice. That’s one of the ones where I was kind of dooming it out a little bit. And then Freddie says, hey, man, can you get those “Horror Show” highs in there? I’m like, alright, man. Hey, it’s your song, bro. I’ll do it. I’ll do whatever you want me to do. So that’s where the really high high power stuff is there. Freddie’s like, hey, man, poking me a little bit to get me going that direction.
Awesome. Well, I appreciate the insight into that one. That’s pretty cool. It’s interesting to hear sometimes where some ideas for songs come from, right. And then you get asked to, hey, I want you to fill in the void by doing this and it works out great. Most of the songs are great on there, but those are some of the songs that stood out for me. The title track also was another one that I was going to ask you about. It’s a nice change of pace on the record because it’s kind of calm and then it transitions from slow to melodic to power. And I like that this is versatility of your voice. I mean, you’ve done that the whole time you’ve been in the music industry. So I think that’s a really cool song as well. And of course, you talked about the one with Ripper too “Monster’s Lament” , the big epic finale as well. I like the way it ends the album.
Yeah, man. Yeah. “Monster’s Lament” is really cool thing, but another one, Freddie had the concept from the beginning as far as he wanted it to be. He knew what he was going for because there are two characters in the story. He wanted both characters obviously be played by different people. And he kind of had Tim in mind. And when we were talking about it for the last record, unfortunately, it just didn’t work out for them. But sometimes that’s the way it goes. Freddie and I had everything that we were thinking about was like, well, hey, that’s okay because we’ll just hold it for the next record. It’s not a problem. There’s going to be another one (Ashes of Ares record). So that’s good. Either way, whether Roar (Rock of Angels Records) wants to do it or not, we’ll do it. We’ll get it out there somehow. So that was the idea. So whenever we have song ideas, we’re not going to just completely ditch them because that just doesn’t make sense, especially if we feel pretty strongly about how they’re going in the direction that they’re going. And that was a big one for us. The concept was always there, and we thought that it was important to do and certainly important to work with him as well, because we thought it would be a really cool idea.
And I know a lot of fans have really wanted something like that to happen for a while. With all the folks out there on YouTube mixing mine and Tim’s vocals together on Iced Earth songs original where we’re actually working together. Yeah, that’s cool, man. I really love the way it turned out. We pretty much had the song laid out. I had both parts, essentially where we wanted them as far as melody and things like that and where they wanted to be. But at the end of the day, we gave it to Tim. We wanted him to be him. We didn’t want him to just do something else. It’s like, dude, roll with it. These are the parameters. They’re basic, but it’s just basically, we can keep your character where it needs to be in the song. But outside of that, just go nuts. So I think it really worked out. Well, he did his thing. After I did the basic layout, we handed them off to him. He did his thing. And then I went back and redid my stuff to kind of match his intensity and things like that. And even though we’re not, like, dueling banjos or anything, we’re trying to be our individual characters.
So that’s kind of the point of it as well. I didn’t want to sound like Tim. I wasn’t trying to match what Tim does, because Tim does something completely different than I do. We were just trying to make our voices what they are and accentuate the better parts of our voices. So I think it worked out.
Yeah, you’re right. And I think it’s cool that there’s a connection between, obviously the previous band and your work and those bands. And I think it’s a great idea that you were able to get him and collaborate on that. First of all, I appreciate you saying it’s going to be another Ashes of Ares record. I think fans are going to enjoy that, because that was going to be another question as long as you keep making music. Matt, that’s always a good day in the Metal world!!!
Yeah, well, man, I love doing it, man. So it’s kind of what I do is a thing that gives me joy. My wife understands that. It gives me joy. And so whenever I go get lost in the studio for a couple of hours, she’s okay with it. She watches her murder shows.
Ohh yeah? What kind of stuff does she watch? Haha
Real stuff. The discovery.
Well, I had actually wanted to ask this… and I don’t like going back into history. I mean, I always say I discovered your vocals because of Iced Earth. I’ve always been a fan of the band. That’s how I discover them and yourself to me “Alive in Athens”. To me, is one of the greatest metal live records I’ve ever heard, and a lot of metalheads would agree with that. But I discovered you way back then, and I remember when you left the band the first time and you went to and I don’t know, I was going to ask you if you were still a police officer because I know you had gone into that career then I was going to say how hard of a transition that was from going from a touring musician to, hey, I’m going to change my lifestyle because I want to take care of my family and do something different and do something that’s more meaningful to that.
Well, yeah, it was different, but it wasn’t really hard. It wasn’t a hard decision. It was actually a decision that I was thinking about prior to leaving the band. Anyway, I was doing some online courses and things like that for criminal justice and all that. I essentially told John what my intentions were, and it was just the right time and the way it worked out. It worked out actually perfectly because got fired in March, and I was in the police Academy in September of 2003. I think it worked out pretty well, man. And I’m in my 18th year, so I was able to take some time and utilize some time when I went back with the band in 2008 to 2011 around there. So I probably did well, actually, matter of fact, I know I did more touring. I did more touring with the band during that time in support of that record than I did for any other records combined, I think, because back in the early days, we weren’t touring so much. We would tour Europe for a month on Dark Side. We toured for a month. I think Something Wicked. We toured for a month and probably Horror show.
We toured for a month, right. And then did some stuff in the US in between there. But we weren’t on the road all the time now. Granted, most of the shows that we did when I went back with the band, it was probably over an extended amount of time, but we still did a bunch of shows, man. And so I was able to do that using vacation and things like that and utilizing that smartly. And so it was good. I made some money and things like that, which is always good. But it was also kind of helped me realize, hey, I do really do like this stuff. I still like performing, and I still like doing records and things like that. And I’ve had a pretty decent go of it since I’ve been a police officer. I mean, I’ve done 1-2-3-4-5-6 records in that time. So I mean, that’s pretty good. And some guest spots here and there.
Yeah. And then the other thing, too. I mean, you’re able to balance your life with something you wanted to do and you’re still making music on your schedule and your time. That’s great. I think people realize that because at the beginning, I remember some people got upset over all the stuff. It’s hard for a musician to make a living. Let’s be honest, it is.
Yeah, especially I actually made the transition, I think at the right time because quite frankly, it’s tough, man. I mean, it’s tough now because you don’t make money off of records. It’s just not a thing. Whereas it used to be you’d make money off royalties and you’d be sitting pretty or you get all these big record advances and somebody could make a living off of that. You can’t do that now you got to be on the road and you’ve got to be touring. And that means you’ve got to be away from your family for six, nine months of the year. And it just wasn’t going to work out for me. So I sort of saw the writing on the wall a little bit, but I certainly didn’t expect it to go the way that it did so quickly. But again, I guess the fates were looking at me and going, hey, man, you got to do something else.
And it’s worked out great. It was a good choice. I mean, you’re still making music today, and it kicks ass. It’s all it matters. I wanted to follow up right quick, and I’m a little over my time, so let me know if we need to cut it short. Here. We will. I apologize. We’re a few minutes over, but the Jonah Weingarten project “We Are Sentinels”, I was going to ask you about that one just to follow up. Is there anything in that works for a follow up to that?
It’s not off the table. It’s just things as they are with the lockdowns and everything else. And I wanted to make sure that we got another Ashes record out before I looked at anything else. I certainly owe that. Freddie is my main guy, Freddie’s my main partner, and Jonah understands that. And Jonas fairly busy as well. So he’s got a lot of other things going on a lot of other projects, which is awesome because he’s another one of those guys. He does session work, and I’ll give a shout out for anybody who needs session work. Please ask for Jonah because he’s awesome. He does amazing work, and you can hear some of his stuff on the intro for the new Ashes of Ares, which is amazing, and it will be out soon.
Absolutely. Do you have any other favorite tracks on the record that you want fans to know about, or did we cover some of those already?
Yeah, there’s a lot. There’s a lot of different little stuff all over the place. “Gone” is one that’s pretty important to me. I just think it’s one that I wrote, really. All of that came from the heart. So I think people will hear that, I hope. That one. “I Am The Night” and “By My Blade”, are both comic characters, tribute to because I’m a comic fan. Comic nerd. We try to keep it as eclectic as possible. We weren’t going with any themes on this record. There are some concepts anyway, but there are some themes that kind of run through it, but most of its pretty dark, but there’s still some, I think, trying to be inspiring songs on there “Gone” being one of them, even though it’s the subject matter is depressing. Hopefully it’s a more spiritually uplifting song. “What Tomorrow Will Bring” is another one that I hope is people can get some inspiration from, I hope. And hopefully we can make the world a better place, a little bit, a song at a time. That’s what we’re trying to do.
Absolutely. Well, I’ll give you the final word. We’re going over our time here, but any message for your fans, the fans of the band that you want them to know about for the new record.
Yeah, man. Thank you for all the folks that are pre ordering and all that stuff. We do have the pre order up on Amazon now in the US, which finally is available. So that’s very cool. Thank you for supporting us for as long as you have for me forever. Decades now, I guess. And we really do appreciate your help and your support and keeping this going. Like I said, we’re not in this for the business aspect of it. We’re in it for the love of the music. And it shows we put all of the money into our music and merchandise and things like that, so we can just keep people tip to that and keep them a part of the family.
Awesome. That’s great message. I agree with you on everything you said for the love of the music. That’s the reason we do what we do, too. We don’t do any of this for any personal gains. We do because we want to support the bands, and I think the fans are going to enjoy the new record. I personally enjoyed it. It’s as good as the other two, if not better. So, for any fans of your previous work or your current work, I think it’s going to be great. So I want to thank you for taking the time. Matt, I appreciate it.