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I was really wary of this when it was first released, for although Savatage is one of my favortie bands of all time, I figured that this was mostly a collection of Chris' ideas for a Savatage album that were deemed "not good enough" to be on an actual Savatage album. My skepticism only increased after hearing "Pisses Me Off" on the radio; this song gave me the impression that this was a collection of guitar-sololess, stereotypical nu-metal songs. For some reason, possibly the idea of getting two CD's, nearly 2 hours of music, for such a low price, I purchased this album anyway. For the first few listens, I thought I had wasted my money, but then something happened, but first let me give you a background for the album.
Chris Caffery was only twenty when he joined Savatage as a rhythm guitarist on the "Hall of the Mountain King" tour in 1987. He then played on "Gutter Ballet," but was released from the band. He rejoined them as a rhythm guitarist for "Dead Winter Dead" and became their only guitarist in 2001 after Al Pitrelli joined Megadeth. Chris Caffery also plays with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Doctor Butcher.
Caffery does all of the guitar and vocal parts himself. Joining him are Dave Z (TSO) on bass, Jeff Plate (TSO, Savatage) on drums, and Paul Morris on keyboards.
The sound of the album is similar mostly to Doctor Butcher, although there are hints of Savatage (of course), Alice in Chains, and even a (very) slight hint of Dream Theater.
Okay, now for the album itself. After several forced listens, it just sort of clicked. I was initially turned off by how much Caffery sounded like Jon Oliva at times, but eventually I learned to appreciate that he is actually a very good singer in his own right. "Faces" is the best song on the album, with a fantastic two-part guitar solo in the middle. Although I bashed "Pisses Me Off" earlier, I actually grew to like that one as well. Even though the lyrics are humorous, the musicianship is as good as anything else on the album, with Chris utilizing an uber-heavy guitar sound. I find this song excellent to sing (yell) along with after a tough day. "The Mold" is almost as angry as "PMO," and has a similar "good song after a tough day" quality to it. "Never" is the ballad of the album; it is surprisingly touching with great guitar work, although some might find it overlong at the end. When was the last time a metal album, much less one on a solo album of a bandmember, was any good? "Music Man" is an acoustic song where Chris sounds surprisingly similar to Jon Bon Jovi. Other notable songs include "Fade Into the X," "Life, Crazy Life!!!," and "Remember."
Although there are quite a few weak spots on the first disc, it is almost made up for in quantity instead of quality. Also helping it is that the songs live up to Chris' title of "Faces." The songs display many different emotions (or faces) throughout; from anger, rage, and doubt to confusion, elation, and heartbreak. The second disc also has a theme: the war in Iraq (duh). Chris speaks out his thoughts on the entire thing, for while he doesn't make any incredibly intelligent points, it's nice to hear something other than "peace is the only way" which is really popular in the media, Hollywood, etc., but also isn't "bomb all our enemies to Hell!" The second disc isn't as good as the first, but the quantity of songs makes up for the rest of the songs' lack of quality. In fact, "Goddamn War" was expanded into the full length album "W.A.R.P.E.D." featuring some of the songs from "GW" and some new songs to create a semi-conecpt album about the war in Iraq.
It disappoints me how so many formerly great metal bands (Queensryche, Fates Warning, Metallica) have been releasing terrible albums, and how Savatage's solo projects like Circle II Circle have no guitar solos. The lineup that Savatage had during "Dead Winter Dead" and "Wake of Magellan" was perfect and they seemed unstoppable, but with Jon Oliva spending his time with his solo band, another Savatage album seems unlikely. If there is to be another Savatage album it won't be out for several more years so until then, sit back and enjoy "Faces," because this is the best thing from any Savatage member (former or current) since "Poets and Madmen."