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3.51 | 37 ratings | 4 reviews
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Album · 1996

Filed under US Power Metal


1. Dark Saga (3:42)
2. I Died for You (3:47)
3. Violate (3:38)
4. The Hunter (3:54)
5. The Last Laugh (3:46)
6. Depths of Hell (3:00)
7. Vengeance Is Mine (4:22)
8. The Suffering: Scarred (5:53)
9. The Suffering: Slave to the Dark (4:03)
10. The Suffering: A Question of Heaven (7:40)

Total Time: 43:49


- Matt Barlow / vocals
- Jon Schaffer / guitars, vocals
- Randall Shawver / guitars
- Dave Abell / bass
- Mark Prator / drums, backing vocals


- Kate Barlow / female vocals
- Jim Morris / backing vocals

About this release

Released by Century Media.

Thanks to Time Signature, adg211288 for the updates


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Iced Earth's fourth release, 'The Dark Saga', is a concept album based upon the story of comic book character Spawn. It's a bit of an odd release in the bands discography, as they stripped down their sound a quite a bit, and as a whole nothing here reaches the intensity, aggression or complexity of anything we'd heard before.

I'm probably one of the very few who didn't like previous release 'Burnt Offerings', which is held in high regard by fans, and while 'Dark Saga' is somewhat a step back in the right direction, it still fails to truly connect with me. I feel like the Spawn storyline is also a detriment to the music. As a huge fan of the character, it seems like halfway through the album the lyrics and music don't seem to relate to the source material anymore. Or perhaps I'm just struggling to pay attention.

Musically, it's standard power metal, but the band have slowed down a lot, with only a couple of songs reaching the same speed as past compositions, but there's still that unmistakeable Iced Earth sound to it. Mostly in part thanks to vocalist Matt Barlow, who, with this release, is the first singer to make it to their second album with the band. With that said, his vocals are fairly disappointing here. I'm not sure if it's the hackneyed songwriting or the uninspiring lyrics, but his delivery just doesn't seem to work.

Even the guitar solos on this album are unremarkable. Most of them just being slow, melodic lead breaks with the occasional harmony. I'm all for solos suiting the songs and not playing speed for speed's sake, but there's just nothing truly memorable happening here.

Complaints aside, there are a handful of moments that save this release from being a complete abomination. The title track, as well as 'I Died For You', 'The Hunter' and 'The Last Laugh' are all decent tracks. But none of them hold up well compared to Iced Earth's other (burnt) offerings, and while it's certainly not the worst album I own, it's probably not one I intend to go back to very often. If ever.
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
The Spawn comics were bold and brash affairs with a quintessentially mid-1990s art style which was lurid, over the top, and more than a little cheesy, to the point where you kind of had to be there to appreciate it.

I guess the same is true of Iced Earth's The Dark Saga, which some fans have praised as a high point of their career but just doesn't sound particularly outstanding or special to me. It's somewhat more straightforward and simple than the music presented on Burnt Offerings, and whilst some of the big chunky thrash metal riffs the band break out from time to time are fun, I enjoy them much better in an actual thrash metal context. One for fans of a slightly thashier style of power metal, I guess.
Time Signature
Depths of metal...

Genre: power metal

"The Dark Saga" is less aggressive than earlier releases by power metal behemoths Iced Earth, and it is also more straightforward with less twists and turns and shorter songs. I think that there are also more corny elements that on previous releases, but, thankfully, we are not cast into Cheese Hell.

I really like Jon Schaffer's psycho-galloping guitar-riffs, but these are not as prominently features on this albums (there's some typical Schaffer riffage in"Vengeance is Mine", though). This is not a weakness though, as it frees up some space for other things like twin leads, clean guitars on top of distorted ones, and heavier riffs. Some tracks, like "Dark Saga", "I Died for You", are"Scarred", are quite melancholic and contain several ballad elements. There is also a lot of emphasis on melodic vocal lines (which fits Matt Barlow's unique voice quite well).

There are also fast, almost thrashy tracks like "Violate", which contains some pretty cool breakdowns and some insane vocal lines, too, and "The Last Laugh".

Certainly recommended to fans of power metal, and I think that fans of traditional metal will appreciate it, too.

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