Lineup:

Jon Schaffer - Rhythm Guitar / Vocals

Randall Shawver - Lead Guitar

Matthew Barlow - Lead Vocals

Dave Abell - Bass Guitar

Mark Prator- Drums

Additional info:

Recorded at Morrisound Studios, Tampa, Florida (January – February 1996).

Produced by Jim Morris and Jon Schaffer.

Year: 1996

Album Length: 43:54

Genre: US Power Metal, Heavy Metal

Label: Century Media

Background:

With their fourth album, Iced Earth continues to evolve. The Dark Saga is a concept album based on the Spawn comic book series. It tells the story of a man who sells his soul in order to come back to his true love on Earth. But he soon discovers that she has married his own best friend. He is left completely alone in the world, and although he has good inside, he is influenced by the dark forces that are inside him. Every one of his desires is denied, even his own death. The focus is now less on the technical side and more on the lyrics and sounds of the emotional story. Therefore, the music is generally more dark, emotional, melodic, and simple than other Iced Earth albums. The heaviness is still there, but now it is intertwined with more melodic and emotional elements. The Dark Saga is Iced Earth's most thoughtful and emotional work to date.


The Good:

The concept of this album makes it that much better. The songs are great when played together or when played separately. The storytelling that is on display during this album is probably the band's finest.

I love the emotional lyrics and instrumentation of the record. Barlow's vocals are dripping with soul and the band's playing is perfect.

This album gives Iced Earth fans a nice variation of more melodic tracks as well as heavier ones. Tracks like "Violate" will satisfy the fans of the thrash-oriented side of Iced Earth and fans of more melodic tracks will love the more emotional side of the band as demonstrated on several tracks including "I Died for You."

This is an album that gets better with time. The heavier Iced Earth albums may stand out more at first, but after several listens, I can almost guarantee that this album will be played repeatedly by any fan of this band.

The Bad:

There are no glaring weaknesses with Iced Earth's fourth album, but there are two tracks that I am not crazy about in the middle portion of the album. "The Last Laugh" and "Depths of Hell" are both decent, but they are certainly not great like every other track on the album.

Favorite Tracks:

Track 1: Dark Saga

"Dark Saga" is an excellent opener with great lyrics, a dark atmosphere, and extremely catchy riffs. It may be a more simple and straightforward sound when compared to the band's last album, but it shows maturity as well as growth from the band.

Track 2: I Died for You

This is probably my favorite Iced Earth ballad. It is extremely catchy and great to sing along to. This is definitely one of the band's most memorable tracks thanks to its fantastic chorus and Barlow's terrific vocals. The emotion and soul that the band plays with is fantastic and really gives this song a terrific atmosphere that is dripping with emotion.

Track 4: The Hunter

This song is one of the band's most epic tracks that they have ever done. The song tells the story of "The Hunter" who is an angel that has come down to slay the hellspawn. There is a great mix of both melodic and heavy riffs throughout this entire track. There is also a nice guitar solo.

Track 7: Vengeance is Mine

The beginning of this track sets up the atmosphere of this song perfectly. Iced Earth shows off their fast-paced riffs during this track which happens to be one of the heaviest on the entire album. The guitar solo is fantastic and the lyrics are also extremely good. For example, "I shall do what the law won't do, I can make the sacrifice." This song is speaking about Spawn taking vengeance upon a child killer in the hopes that it will set him back on the path to righteousness.

Track 9: Slave to the Dark

This track is the second of a three-part trilogy called "The Suffering" that ends this album. It is fantastic thanks to a great mix of atmosphere, fast paced riffs, terrific vocals, and more fantastic lyrics. The chorus is one of the most memorable from the album and the guitar solo is definitely one of the best that Iced Earth has ever done. This is a fantastic track from beginning to end.

Track 10: A Question of Heaven

This is a wonderful closer that ends the album on an incredibly high note. It has beautiful lyrics, excellent vocals, and emotional playing from all of the members of the band. I love the addition of backing female vocals makes the song that much better. Barlow's vocal performance is incredible on this track and he again demonstrates why he is one of the best lead singers of all time. The song is a great mix of the melody and the heaviness that makes Iced Earth such a great band. This song is probably the best from the entire album.


Rating Scale:

1: Garbage

1.5: Awful

2: Bad

2.5: Mixed

3: Decent

3.5: Good

4: Great

4.5: Excellent

5: Perfect

Verdict:

Iced Earth's fourth album is excellent. The Dark Saga gets better with more listens thanks to the emotional vocals of Matt Barlow and the terrific songwriting from Jon Schaffer. The concept of the album is easy to follow and also easy to become entrenched in. The Dark Saga is one of Iced Earth’s most thoughtful and emotional works to date.

Rating: