1996’s conceptual The Dark Saga is the fourth studio album by American Power Metal/Heavy Metal band Iced Earth; it was their second album with Matt Barlow singing. It was produced by Jim Morris of Morrisound fame and released on Century Media.
The lyrics are based on the story from the Image comic “Spawn,’” (a lot of character exploration and melancholy – just like the early issue of the book) and so is the artwork. To be honest though, blink and you’d miss it… lyrically it still sounds like most Iced Earth albums anyway and the artwork could easily match their other releases anyway. Its not as if it’s a concept album about The Smurfs or something.
The music on the album is a sort of average of the band’s influences, one part NWOBHM, one part Thrash, one part Power Metal, without being any one overly more than the other… its not their fastest, nor their most bombastic, nor their most “Heavy Metal.” It moved away from the sound of their earlier records and set the tone more or less for their next three or four albums.
If you’ve never heard the band before, image Queensryche’s The Warning mixed with Testament’s Practice What You Preach and Saxon’s Denim & Leather played mostly in a mid-tempo. There’s evocative wide ranging vocals that communicate a lot, there’s a certain rock-meets metal balance and there’s a substantial chug and some double kicks and a bit of a Thrashy edge… only without ever breaking out into a blistering speed.
The standout moments include ‘I Died For You,’ ‘The Last Laugh’ and the seven-minute closer ‘A Question Of Heaven.’ To be honest its all pretty equal though, not much in the way of filler, all of the similar high standard.
If I was going to level any criticism at this record, I could maybe use the ‘formulaic’ card, as its not the most diverse or eclectic release in the world, but that is balanced by how solid and reliable it is. I could play the ‘wearing their influences on their sleeve’ card but their mixture of influences is at least resultant in something that is unmistakably Iced Earth. I don’t feel either is particularly warranted however, this for me is a really decent album from a really decent band… for a brand new listener I’d recommend trying Something Wicked first, but otherwise this is a fine addition to your Iced Earth collection and yet another strong record from the consistent and dependable act.