In 1996, American power metal band Iced Earth was ready to enter the studio, coming off the release of what was possibly their best album to date, Burnt Offerings. They came out of the studio with their fourth full length album, The Dark Saga
. The album is a concept album based off of Todd MacFarlane's comic book series, Spawn. The Dark Saga is Iced Earth's second concept album, the first being Night of the Stormrider.
As I just mentioned, The Dark Saga is a concept album. The concept tells the story of a man who sells his soul to return to the woman he loves, who, unknown to him, has married his friend. He is left alone in the world, and his actions are influenced by dark thoughts. Yeah, not the most original story, and definitely not the best you’ll ever hear, but Iced Earth makes the most of what they have. Just as they are in past albums, the lyrics are dark and emotional in The Dark Saga. I can't really say I'm a fan of the lyrics in a lot of the songs, but Schaffer did a good job putting them together. Matt Barlow's deeper vocal style also helps the songs sound much more emotional, especially the quieter, more sullen moments such as the intro to the second song, I Died For You
. But luckily there's more to The Dark Saga then lyrics.
With The Dark Saga, Iced Earth takes a different path than they did on past albums. The music here is a more mid-paced and more laid-back effort than on previous albums. The Dark Saga's material is also a lot shorter than in the past, with all but two songs being shorter than five minutes and only one track breaching the seven minute mark, that being the album's closer, A Question of Heaven. While this is slightly disappointing, coming from the same band that wrote the 16 minute epic, Dante's Inferno, Burnt Offerings, and Travel in Stygian, the simpler songs found on The Dark Saga are likely better off at four minutes than eight. As the themes found on The Dark Saga are dark (obviously) and sad, the music is more melancholic. Riffs still heavy, but they contain a sullen feel to them. This is a very good effect that song writer Jon Schaffer used to symbolize the suffering that our protagonist goes through. However, the entire album isn’t all melancholic. The album also contains angrier songs such as Violate
, The Hunter
, Vengeance is Mine
, and Last Laugh
. These songs feature vicious riffs and harmonies, as well as violent leads that well represent the tension dominating the middle of The Dark Saga.
However, one thing The Dark Saga lacks is intensity. The album features a few energetic tracks, but more or less, the feel is not all there. It's as if the band was playing in their sleep. The phenomenal energy that Iced Earth displays on songs like Burnt Offerings or later songs such as The Devil To Pay, Jack, or The Phantom of the Opera Ghost is nowhere to be found. Maybe it's just me, but I feel Iced Earth has a lot more to offer than what they show here. Another problem with the album is that many songs start sounding the same. While the production helps improve the melancholic atmosphere that much of the album stresses, it also makes the music start to sound very similar. The band's long, quiet intros don't help their case either, as they are not that well done and listeners may get disinterested fairly quickly. The second track, I Died For You
, unfortunately falls victim to this.
Overall, The Dark Saga is a great album. Some of the songs are superb, and very enjoyable, while some of the other songs are fairly boring and skippable. Iced Earth is not as consistent with this release as albums such as Horror Show or The Glorious Burden. When the band shines, they're one of the better metal bands, but The Dark Saga is not the best example of the band's skill. Still, it's a good album and if you've got money to spend as well as the other, more essential Iced Earth albums, I would definitely recommend picking up The Dark Saga.
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