Profile: Luke Appleton of Iced Earth and Absolva
Written by Brett Kihlmire
Born and raised in Manchester, England, Luke Appleton has been rocking to a furious rhythm since discovering heavy metal at the age of 11. This discovery was facilitated by a pair of musicians in his immediate family, his father and brother, ensuring that he was always “surrounded by good rock n metal music like Motorhead, Rush and Iron Maiden.”
For Luke metal and rock wasn’t just music, it was a calling that would send him down a path of success that he’s enjoying today.
“When I first took an interest in music, everything started to make sense for me and gave me a lot of goals in life!” says Appleton, who picked up the bass guitar as his first instrument shortly after diving head first into heavy music.
“My brother and father both player guitar, so I felt like I wanted to be a little bit different, therefore I chose the bass!” he says of his signature instrument. “Bass felt very natural to me and I progressed very quickly with it. After a few years, I then started to develop my guitar skills, practicing to old school Maiden and Megadeth songs in my spare time. I enjoy playing both instruments very much, however, bass will always be my baby!”
Though he began playing bass at 11, he didn’t get a bass of his own until his twelfth birthday, so he had to rely on using his father’s spare up to that point. He recalls his first bass being a Warwick Rock 4 string.
“I was extremely excited about getting my own instrument; it felt like it was a part of me. I played a lot of cool local shows with that guitar and got it me through a lot of years before my collection started to expand.”
As stated, bass is Luke’s signature instrument, but he’s no stranger to the guitar, either.
“My first guitar I inherited off my father. It’s a Standard Plus Gibson Les Paul. I basically claimed that guitar due to the fact that it wasn’t getting used that much anymore, as my father didn’t really gig that much. It’s a beautiful sounding guitar and I was over the moon when I received it.”
A dedicated player from the start, Appleton learned the basics from his brother and father, but taught himself thereafter. This allowed him to create his own play style that he uses to great effect in the likes of Absolva and the legendary Iced Earth.
“I would spend hours in my room at a time learning Iron Maiden albums start to finish, trying to perfect my memory of the songs and my playing style. I also attempted to learn entire Dream Theater and RUSH albums, which I found very entertaining/challenging due to their complex time signatures and grooves,” he says but he has since developed a unique play style.
“I am very in favor of playing with a pick when it comes to playing heavy metal as a bass player. I believe you can get a lot more power, aggression and accuracy by playing this way. I can play with my fingers, however, I prefer playing with a pick. My thing with the bass has always been to play with the drums. Less is more in a lot of ways. The bass should be the glue between the drums and the guitar,” Luke explains, but he’s no one trick pony; he’s actually quite experience in various play styles, though not everything has made it to the studio just yet.
“One of my favorite styles of playing/techniques is slap bass. Now, I have never used slap bass whilst playing metal, even though it’s not unheard of, however, I have never found the song or opportunity to throw it in there. Slap bass is something I have learnt in my spare time and I find it so addictive! I could go on for hours and hours just slapping away on a bass. I believe it’s a very good wrist technique to have and would recommend to any bass player to learn it, understand it and to have in your kit bag!”
As a musician and a native Brit, Iron Maiden is an obvious inspiration for Appleton, but his appreciation goes far beyond national pride.
“Steve Harris was my first big inspiration as a bass player. When I saw Iron Maiden play for the first time, I was mesmerized by Steve’s raw power, adrenaline and enthusiasm on stage. I remember saying to myself ‘I want to be exactly like that!’ Every time I get up on stage, whether its Iced Earth or Absolva, I always go on with the mind set of giving the audience a 110% show!”
As well as Steve Harris, Luke cites his current bandmate Jon Schaffer of Iced Earth as one of his biggest influences, which speaks for itself. Honestly, how many people can say that they storm the stage with one of the musical heroes?
“Jon Schaffer has been a personal hero of mine ever since I discovered Iced Earth in 2007. Iced Earth became my favorite band immediately! I adored the songwriting, the huge riffs that went with the bass and drums and screaming vocals that would melt face! Everything about the band’s music just bonded with me instantly. I first saw them play live at Manchester Arena opening for Heaven & Hell and I was hooked ever since! After getting home from that show I began buying their albums and the fascination grew from there! I believe Jon Schaffer is one of the greatest rhythm players on the planet and just as good a songwriter.”
Though he’s now an accomplished player with a solid resume to back it all up, it all had to start somewhere. For him, it was when he was a 13 year old with just two years of experience with the instrument. This first band, known as Breakdown, was formed with his friends Chris and Jon Needham.
“I couldn’t have asked for two more talented guys to start my first band with!” says Appleton. “Breakdown was a hard rock band that covered the likes of Black Sabbath, Velvet Revolver, Black Stone Cherry, etc. and then eventually started throwing in more and more original songs. Chris and Jon were coincidentally the sons of my father’s drummer in his rock covers band. We played some great local shows in the Manchester area and these times hold a lot of precious memories for me.”
Though Breakdown remains near and dear to Luke’s heart the chance to take his career to the next level eventually came with an invitation to join Fury UK, which featured his brother Chris.
“I had been watching and learning a lot from Fury UK in my early years in the music business and I was very keen to join the band the first chance I got. After Fury UK’s previous bass player left the band, my brothers first choice was me!”
Luke would make his live debut with Fury UK at Bloodstock Open Air festival 2008 in Derbyshire, and would go on to play with numerous festivals and tour with the likes of Saxon, Blaze Bayley, Y&T, Michael Schenker and Iced Earth. It was his experience rocking and touring beside Iced Earth that earned him the chance of a lifetime.
“Well, seen as Fury UK got the tour to support Iced Earth around Europe in 2011, I was immediately on Iced Earths radar. A great friendship was made on that tour as both bands became very close with each other and shared many great nights during those couple of months that we were together. Six months after the tour had ended I got a call from Jon Schaffer informing me that their previous bass player Freddie Vidales had left the band and Jon wanted me to replace him. I was over the moon! I couldn’t believe my ears and wanted to talk to my father and brother about it as soon as possible, as when it comes to music, their opinions matter most to me. After speaking to my bro and pops about it, I accepted Jon’s offer and was announced as the new bass player of Iced Earth. This was such a huge dream come true for me!”
Brought into Iced Earth between the Dystopia and Plagues of Babylon albums, Luke made his debut on the latter, which released in 2014 and continued the band’s epic “Something Wicked saga.” And though he was only 18 years old, thus far young than anyone else in the band at the time his recruitment, Appleton remarks that he was treated no less than anyone else in the band.
“My time with Iced Earth so far have been some of the best years of my life! I’ve experienced so many new cultures, toured the world, met some fantastic people and began to make a name for myself in the music business. The Iced Earth boys welcomed me to the band with open arms and have always been firm but fair with me from the get go,” says Appleton. “This was a huge experience for me! My whole time with Iced Earth has been such an amazing learning experience and I feel like I have grown so much as a musician, performer and songwriter. From travelling in 6 seater transit vans, playing small venues, to double decker tour buses and sold Academies and arenas! I am grateful for everything I have done and for the opportunities I have been presented over the years and I never take anything for granted. I worked very hard for what I have now and am extremely proud of the things I have achieved! I cannot wait for the tours and albums to come and hope I maintain the same quality that the fans deserve!”
More than just a bassist, Luke says one of his best memories of being Iced Earth was being asked by Jon Schaffer for ideas for their then upcoming album Plagues of Babylon.
“I was truly honored when Jon turned around to me and asked me for song ideas for the record. It’s an amazing feeling when your hero asks you for that!”
As with Plagues, Schaffer tapped Appleton for ideas for their most recent album, Incorruptible. As a result, his ideas for a pirate tune managed to inspire Schaffer to write the hard hitting pirate anthem ‘Black Flag.’
“I love it that I am able to inspire Jon like that sometimes and I take it as the biggest compliment!”
Though a dedicated member of Iced Earth, Appleton has since joined his brother Chris and Fury UK drummer Martin Mcnee as a member of Absolva. However, in this band he serves as rhythm guitarist with the talented Karl Schramm on bass. But what ever happened to Fury UK?
“After I left to join Iced Earth, my brother didn’t feel right with carrying Fury UK on without me. Therefore, he created a new band called Absolva! Absolva features a few changes musically and Chris wanted to introduce a second guitarist. After a few lineup changes in the first couple of years of the band, I joined in 2014/2015 as full time rhythm guitarist of Absolva.”
Juggling two touring and recording bands is no easy feat, but Appleton manages it, and quite successfully, too. In 2017 he recorded Defiance with
Absolva and Incorruptible for Iced Earth, which were released just months apart!
As of this writing, Appleton is switching gears from Iced Earth and preparing for a European tour with Absolva promoting the Defiance album. The band will be hitting Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, France, Czech Republic, Switzerland and the UK.
“We are all very excited for this tour, as this will be the first time Absolva have played together since September last year, so we are all very geared up and ready to play these new songs live and to see all of our amazing fans around Europe again!”
Of course, Iced Earth has some plans of their own, including a US tour. But you’re probably wondering how Appleton finds free time between recording and touring with two bands.
“I don’t get a lot of free time these days due to the amount of bands I am committed to…which is just the way I like it! Music is my life, passion and job. I am living my dream job and am so proud that I have achieved this goal! Whenever I do get some free time at home, I like to visit all my friends and family. My only other hobby is indoor rock climbing, which I find to be an excellent sport and keeps me very active when I’m at home.”
As well as Absolva and Iced Earth, Appleton is plans to open a third musical front with the return of Fury UK at some point. When this will happen is anyone’s guess, but the calls from the fans are being heard. Of course, Iced Earth is Appleton’s priority, as is Blaze Bayley for his Absolva bandmates. That being said, don’t expect a Fury UK revival this year, but expect it one day!
“My plan is to keep doing what I am doing right now,” Appleton says in regard to his plan for his career, including thoughts on reviving Fury UK. “Tour as much as possible, playing in as many countries as possible, providing quality music and quality shows! I believe I have been very fortunate with the opportunities that have been presented to me and I am extremely grateful for this and want to carry on living this dream and celebrate music with people all around the world!”
An accomplished musician that’s yet to surpass a quarter of century of life, Luke Appleton is easily one of the most ambitious musicians on the scene and an inspiration to players everywhere. Of course, he didn’t get to where he is by luck alone. Raw talent, hard work and dedication played a crucial role in helping him achieve his dream, so he has the following to say to those still struggling or just starting out.
“The best advice I can give is to never give up! Never stop playing and don’t get disheartened by anything. If you are truly passionate about music and want to make this your living then follow that dream and make it happen! You will never be given anything in life unless you work hard for it and make your dreams come true. Another key bit of advice when writing music or learning how to play would be to find your own unique style. Don’t become somebody else. Be your own person and do what you love!”