Sunday, November 02, 2008

The New Savatage

I have to admit, when I first picked up Savatage's album "Handful Of Rain" I was a little disappointed. It had a melancholic feel and a monotonous rhythm. However, after a while I grew to appreciate this album for what it was.

After the loss of guitarist and founding member Chriss Oliva, this album has a dark reflectiveness and a sombre elegance that is unlike anything Savatage has done. And as I mentioned before, there is a grandness on this album that has not been seen since "Gutter Ballet".

"Handful Of Rain" is essentially a Jon Oliva solo project released under the Savatage moniker, yet these epic theatrics would carry over to future Savatage albums. Recording all instruments himself, Jon had Zak Stevens perform the vocals and Alex Skolnick to perform the guitar leads. Johnny Lee Middleton would tour with the group, but long time member and drummer Steve Wacholz would depart and Jeff Plate would step in for the tour.

Starting the album off is "Taunting Cobras" which is a fast and heavy song pummeling forward with some crushing riffs giving the album a great start. "Nothing Going On" is the other metaller with fast riffs and a thunderous feel.

The title track "Handful Of Rain" is a twangy acoustic/electric rocker with a nice melody and groove-infused breakdown. "Stare Into The Sun" and "Castles Burning" are bluesy rock ballads of sorts. More reflective then sappy with some fine melodies and their own charm.

"Watching You Fall" is a blues infused ballad with similarities to "Castles Burning" and some nice guitar/piano work. "Symmetry" is ballad like as well with acoustic verses, a catchy chorus and a darker edge.

The truly stand out tracks here are the epics "Chance" and "Alone You Breath". Both are grandiose and theatrical, but with completely opposite tones.

"Chance" starts off with a haunting intro that builds with orchestral theatrics into a dark and heavy metal tune. The song eventually breaks down into a quiet reflection which gets broken by the orchestral theatrics and a chunky bridge and some killer riffs. The song also is the first Savatage song to use counterpoint vocals that builds into a crescendo ending.

"Alone You Breath" on the other hand is an epic, heartfelt piece reeking of conviction and whose emotions are worn on every note. The opening piano is moving and builds into a huge theatrical song layered with passion. The solos are brilliant and the song just reeks of compassion. A fitting tribute to the great Chriss Oliva and my favourite song here.

There is also an instrumental piece "Visions" which is an extended version of the orchestral/guitar breakdowns from "Chance".

It took me a while to warm up to this album, but now it's one of my Savatage go to albums when I'm having a hankering for them. It's sombre reflection is haunting and yet at times comforting. A highly under-rated album.

Up next is probably my favourite Savatage album. "Dead Winter Dead".


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