Iced Earth guitarist Jon Schaffer loves his new album. He likes the music, the lyrics and most importantly the artwork of the album. The cover artwork (and inner artwork) of the band's latest effort, _Dark Saga_, as well as the whole album's concept theme, is based on the immensely popular Spawn comic series drawn by acclaimed artist Todd McFarlane, a comic series Shaffer has followed faithfully since it's beginning a few years back.
Schaffer accounts the steps taken to be able to successfully use both the rights to the artwork and the story for the album. "It all started with us approaching the Spawn people/McFarlane camp about doing some soundtrack music for the HBO animation series or the live action movie which is coming up (both out in 1997). So one thing led to another and we became really good friends with some of the people working with Todd McFarlane. So I asked Todd to do an album cover for us and he looked at us as if he was saying, 'Are you crazy? I am busy with all this stuff to do anything.' We asked to use some of his existing art but he wasn't to keen about that, but what he was willing to do was let us use some artwork for Spawn #50 which just recently came out. So that is good for us seeing that they came out about the same time. It is really good timing how everything happened at the same time almost. I have been a big fan of the series and it has been an inspiration for me to write and make music too."
"I see this album as a dark love story," says Schaffer describing _DS_, "It is what Spawn is. It is very much a tragedy: life and death, heaven and hell, opposites and just a dark fantasy."
Schaffer is also pleased that with McFarlane helping them out with artwork, he will also be able to help make Spawn a bigger phenomenon then it already is - if that is possible. "When we knew we were going to get some artwork I was going to help spread the word of Spawn to the places that we are popular around the world and he can help us over here in the States. It is a really cool crossover thing for us and I am really excited about it."
Since the self-titled debut album of this Tampa, Florida quintet - rounded out by singer Matthew Barlow, guitarist Randy Shawver, drummer Brent Smedley and bassist Keith Menser - surfaced in 1991, Iced Earth had been considered one of the bands to watch out for, with their melodic and versatile approach of delivering their take on speed metal. The band continued on with their style and sound and produced two more well-received records, _Night Of The Stormrider_ in 1992 and 1995's _Burnt Offerings_ that helped keep the band going and keep their fanbase growing. Musically the band was not to happy with what they were doing. Sure they were given the opportunity to create and record music but there was something missing and after spending some time planning, Schaffer had the perfect idea.
"This album is done more with a positive feeling about the writing because I felt good for a change while writing, something I haven't felt in a while. Between _NotS_ and _BO_ I was really pissed off at the music industry and the way things were. And when you are young you have these preconceived notions of the way things should be and they don't go that way. The negative writing that took place in _BO_ was good and a lot of people liked it but it wasn't the direction musically that I wanted to take the band. This music made me feel better about being a musician because it is more positive but still dark. I was very keen on vocals and melody and I see it as a more mature piece of work. You change with every record but you can still tell that this is us and what we do."
The writing for this album was derived from the series, with Schaffer taking ideas and characters from the series and molding them into songs. "I took characters from the comic series and used them in my songs. Some songs are written about them but there was also a good size amount of my own ideas that went into the record too. There are a lot of different ideas with my imagination. Both were able to come together and create this album." NOTE:
Al Simmons, the man who the series is based on, even had his hand in helping write one of the album's songs, "Depths Of Hell."
Not only is the new album being distributed in record stores, but _DS_ will also be sold in comic book stores too. On top of that, the band has already done and will continue to make appearances at several comic conventions throughout the year to push the album and the comic series. "We have been doing some promotional stuff at conventions and sold lots of CDs already. We got a good thing going here for us." The album has 'spawned' other forms of the album too, with special limited edition digi-paks, picture discs, gatefold vinyl, normal vinyl being distributed as well as a special vinyl just for comic stores where the album folds out into a poster. It is really cool shit. We are really taking this seriously. People see this as a gimmick and it is. No one is helping us except some cool underground zines and that is it. We aren't going to get support from radio or MTV. Century Media doesn't have enough money to make this band an overnight success. You have to do what you have to do and fans of heavy metal music have to understand that this shit is dying. There are not many bands left playing now. We are doing this and if we can reach young kids who read comics then so be it. A lot of these kids haven't been brainwashed by MTV yet.
"I am really disgusted by the whole music scene here and this is a great thing for us because they [McFarlane and co.] have been really good with us and supportive and maybe with that help we can stir something up and bring this music back. We'll see."
Getting back to the support of label Century Media, Schaffer says, "They are doing a great job with the band because they know they have something to market the band with now. We have never been able to use anything to market us except for our music, which is the way it should be, but in this day and age it not easily accepted. There are a lot of people sick of the music scene with all the alternative music and grunge shit happening and the trends. I think a lot of people, both adults and kids, are into this comic series and heavy music. The two go hand in hand."
So, if this is even somewhat successful, will Schaffer and his band attempt another concept album? "I would like to use another artist to do our cover because there are a lot of great artists out there, but I don't know... we'll see. This is such a unique and special thing for me and I don't know if I want to milk it like that. I also wouldn't want to look like we were out to be hooked up with Spawn and have no identity. I think and see this as a good partnership. Me and Al Simmons have become good friends. I have no idea what will be on the next record and we still have lots of life experiences to have before we settle on doing another record."