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Well, it certainly isn’t the trashy Iced Earth people had come to know when this album was released. Since Jon got his anger out with the fervent rage of Burnt Offerings, I guess he figures it’s time to cool down and focus a little more on his emotionally ardent side. Although a good amount of the songs are fairly simple, they are also very catchy and memorable. When I first started playing guitar the first full song I learned was “Dark Saga”. I was able to learn this song in less than a week as an amateur, but that isn’t the point.
The point is that complexity doesn’t equal greatness. The album may not be complex, but it still has a nice overall sound to it (with the cool Spawn theme to add to it). From the steady and smooth flow of “Dark Saga” to the emotional and heavy hitting enthusiasm of “A Question of Heaven” this album has quite a bit to offer. Iced Earth still retains its sense of melody and construction of heavy riffs, but there isn’t a lot of velocity to be found here. The fastest you’ll ever really go for most of this album is mid-paced, but you hardly enter the swift realm of thrash.
Chunky riffs make up most of this heavy hitting recondite concept album. There are a few thrashy songs like “Violate” and “Vengeance Is Mine,” but this album wasn’t really meant for the speed train. “Violate” has some pretty cool and semi-violent lyrics - “I’ll beat you with your spinal cord, split your skull in two. I’ll feast on your intestines; there’s nothing I can’t do. I’ll rip your heart out of your chest, watch it beat as you cry!”. A nice change with a surprising crash through the walls of recycled song construction.
Listening to the first song in the Suffering trilogy, it is pretty recursive with all of the other mid-paced heavy hitters. After the bridge the song picks up a bit with some melodic palm muting, but it doesn’t do enough to call this song fast. The song “Slave To The Dark” is fairly fast, starting off with the dark mood of the guitars and building up to the shrieking “NO!” Which kicks the song into full blast. Following the rapid and quick “Slave To The Dark” comes the melancholic “A Question of Heaven,” which starts off with some gloomy acoustic work to represent the pessimistic and sad spirit of Spawn. Schaffer really has a good sense of empathy to be able to pull this emotional song off.
It’s almost as if Schaffer put himself directly in Spawn’s shoes and wrote a song about how it must feel to want to die and to be rejected by an (supposed) ever-loving being such as God. With Matt Barlow’s excellent performance is the heavenly voice of his sister, Kate. This is simply a stunning song all together.
I love Iced Earth and all, but a lot of this feels kind of boring. Yes, I like a lot of the songs, but this album doesn’t really excite me all that much. It’s a good listen, but there needs to be more thrash elements to give this album a bit of pep. A fairly decent album, but definitely not Iced Earth’s best.