Sunday, November 09, 2008

It's Not Who I Am, But I Know That It's All That You See

Green Day's "American Idiot" was continuously praised for bringing back the concept album, but the mainstream media always overlooks Metal. Heavy Metal bands have long been burning the concept album flame with no recognition. Savatage were one of those metal bands that pumped out concept albums years before Green Day cashed in on the idea.

After "Streets" mediocre success one would have thought Savatage would never do another concept album, but lo and behold 3 albums later we get (what I consider one of Savatage's best) "Dead Winter Dead". The story is about a Serbian boy and a Muslim girl who our brought together by the haunting melodies of a lone cellist who played in the Sarajevo town square during wartime.

I remember reading an article in Readers Digest about Vedran Smajlovic "the Cellist of Sarajevo" who for 22 days straight played his cello in the town square during on-going battle in honour of 22 victims killed while waiting for bread. Paul O'Neill has stated that Vedran is the inspiration for "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24" and has developed a poignant and heartwarming story around this man.

The album "Dead Winter Dead" begins with the thoughts of an ancient stone Gargoyle who watches over a fountain in Sarajevo's town square with vivid imagery established by mood-setting grandeur and Savatage's signature heaviness on the opener "Overture" which transitions darkly into the haunting and heavy "Sarajevo". The story picks up with the Serbian boy on "This Is The Time (1990)" which is a passionate bluesy number with some very moving vocals and guitar work. This is one of my favourite songs here.

All hopefulness is crushed on the broodingly sinister and deliciously evil "I Am" featuring vocals by the Mountain King himself, Jon Oliva. A heavy song with a killer riff. "Starlight" takes on a military feel with its ominously pounding riffs and lets loose towards the end with wailing solos. This speed and heaviness is continued on "Doesn't Matter Anyway" a crunchy heavy metaller. It is here that we are introduced to the Muslim girl who is buying weapons to fight with her comrades.

"This Isn't What We Meant" is a moving and powerful blues-infused ballad and has the sense of hopelessness and broken dreams. "Mozart And Madness" is an instrumental loosely based around compositions of Mozart. This is an antsy piece with soothing breaks and builds the story's tension nicely. "Memory (Dead Winter Dead)" is a somber, yet uplifting take on Beethoven's "Ode To Joy" which leads into the title track "Dead Winter Dead". This song is a mid paced cruncher. "One Child" follows in the same vein as the "Handful Of Rain" album. A piano/guitar rocker with some nice melodies and counterpoint vocals first used on "Chance".

The albums focal point and story climax is the break away hit "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24" made famous by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. It's ancient melody and dark sound create a wonderfully conflicting feeling of joy and foreboding. The closing song and my favourite "Not What You See" is in the new staple style of Savatage power ballads. The somber versus' create a pleading optimism that crescendos into a raw and powerful climax. It's simplistic piano/guitar work and use of counterpoint vocals is inspiring and passionate bringing the album to a hope filled and bright close. Great solo too!

Of all the Savatage concept albums, "Dead Winter Dead" is my favourite and quite possibly my favourite album of their catalogue. The story's concept, though not hugely original has a very unique edge and a timelessness that's refreshing.

Up next is the theatrical "Wake Of Magellan".


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