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Savatage is still one of the very best yet most underrated metal bands and it’s a shame and there is no valid excuse that this band went on hiatus after all the things the formation went through. The band’s early albums like “Sirens” and “Hall of the Mountain King” had already been dynamical, energizing and epic milestones for both heavy and American power metal genres. The band went one step further when “Gutter Ballet” was released. Perfectly executed heavy and power metal met influences taken from classical music with emotional piano leads and soothing orchestrations. This fusion of genres never sounded overambitious, progressive or sophisticated if compared to dozens of other bands who tried this experiment out after Savatage was one of the first groups to pioneer this genre. Savatage’s new style always sounded honest, natural and powerful. If I had to describe their style accurately, I would call Savatage’s efforts in the metal genre the equivalent of Queen’s outputs in the rock genre. This band had the potential to revive an entire genre and take the leadership of a whole new musical movement. Sadly, things turned out differently. First of all, the unique and perfectly imperfect vocalist and mastermind Jon Oliva stepped down as lead singer for the band after the great conceptual release “Streets: A Rock Opera”. He was replaced by the gifted Zachary Stevens of the unknown heavy metal band Wicked Witch and even though he was technically better than Jon Oliva and did a great job on this album, he simply didn’t have his predecessor’s unique charisma. “Edge of Thorns” can be seen as a transitional album since it continues Savatage’s new genre mixture but also introduces this major line-up change. Sadly, this wouldn’t be the last line-up change over the next years. Guitarist Criss Oliva died half a year after the release of this album and the band never really recovered from that tragedy. Several line-up changes, a decrease in interest for metal music in general and less convincing releases slowly let the band die. From that point of view, “Edge of Thorns” can be seen as the beginning of the end for the band even though it’s an absolutely great record.
The guiding line of the album is a smoothly dark and melancholic yet hopeful and powerful tone that characterizes the well written mid-tempo tracks. Just as on “Gutter Ballet”, several songs of the album are also hold together by short transitional instrumental sections or entire songs without any vocals that are beautiful in their simplicity and give the album and the listeners a harmonious break. The opening title track “Edge of Thorns” represents this album perfectly. Simple yet efficient longing piano melodies meet dark and low riffs as well as a gloomy bass guitar patterns in the verses that are contrasted by melodic guitar leads that lift the track out of its melancholy and an outstanding chorus with emotionally driven raspy vocals that make you believe that Jon Oliva is still singing on here. The title track is an instant success and one of Savatage’s finest compositions. The band couldn’t have chosen a better track to introduce the new singer and reassure the fans that the band picks them up where they were left at the end of “Streets: A Rock Opera”. It’s also a truly catchy song, just like “Conversation Piece” that mixes melancholic verses with an explosive chorus that won’t get out of your mind. “Follow Me” is another standout song that convinces with a mixture of laid back instrumental parts and smooth vocals on one side and more explosive and louder passages with heavy riffs, powerful drumming and unchained vocals on the other side. The most outstanding thing about this track is the diversified, emotional and technically stunning guitar play that adds a lot of deep dynamics to the tune. It feels soothing in the beginning, is then characterized by angry outbursts before it gets hypnotizing in the bridge and ends on a dramatically uprising tone. If you needed a definite example for Criss Oliva’s shining talent, go listen to and share this song. “Degrees of Sanity” has a similar approach with softer and harsher parts dominated by versatile vocals and an incredibly flexible guitar play. The decent use of sitars even adds a new dimension to this instant classic.
The record also includes a respectable number of tearjerking piano ballads with moving guitar parts and soothing vocals. “All That I Bleed” sounds like the little brother of “When The Crowds Are Gone” and the vocals in the more dynamical second half of the song really remind me of Queen. If this track had been released about ten years earlier and had had some serious radio airplay, it would definitely have hit the charts all around the world. Album closer “Sleep” focuses on acoustic guitars and has a slight country touch. It’s a perfect ballad to be played around a campfire and ends the album on its most harmonious tone.
The band also includes a couple of outstanding heavier tracks on the record that don’t feature any orchestral elements or exotic instruments and still manage to sound diversified, epic and powerful. Bonus tracks “Forever After” and “Shotgun Innocence” should have been included on the regular version since these tracks feature some interesting song writing with versatile vocals, smooth changes of pace, extremely gripping riffs and catchy sing-along parts in somewhat simplistic yet efficient choruses with powerful backing vocals that would make any arena rock group like Bon Jovi go green with envy. These two tunes really rate this album up even though they are rarely mentioned in reviews, so make sure to find the Japanese version of this release which includes all fifteen new tracks.
In the end, “Edge of Thorns” lives up to the high quality predecessors “Gutter Ballet” and “Streets: A Rock Opera”. This great record completes what is easily the greatest rock meets classical music album trilogy. For far over sixty profound minutes if you include the essential bonus tracks, passionate rock and metal music meet soft experimental sounds driven by classical instruments such as piano and violins but also acoustic guitars and sitars. It’s hard to imagine a rock or metal fan that doesn’t at least like this album and that’s why I highly recommend you to add this forgotten genre milestone to your collection at all costs.
At first glance, the Edge of Thorns album will completely leave fans wondering why John Oliva was not singing on these tunes, but after a good and careful listen you will figure out. This album was way too progressive and ambitious for John's screech and squeals. The album also features some of the best guitar work ever by Mr. Criss Oliva and would cement his legacy as a criminally underrated guitar player/shredder in an era where alternative/grunge had forsaken great solos.
Zakk Stevens proved to be a great addition to this band as his vocals not only sound mature and to the point, but give the music a more contemporary '90s feel. Tracks like "He Carves his Stone", "Degrees of Sanity", "Skraggy's Tomb", and "Edge of Thorns" expose the dynamics of Mr. Stevens' vocals and how the band sounded much like classic Savatage, but in a different and more professional level musically.
Fans of old Savatage will probably still feel a bit of hesitation calling this album "Savatage's best", but it's undeniable that this band was looked at differently after this album came out, like I mentioned before, in an era that metal was almost an afterthought. This album proved to be a true gem musically and sadly historically with the passing of Criss Oliva. One can only wonder where this line-up would had taken Savatage had it recorded another album and how Savatage would had survived the '90s and became the flag bearer for metal.
Being that Edge of Thorns marked an enormous transition for the band, Jon Oliva departing from his frontal duties to serve more as a 'creative' consultant, I might somewhat forgive it for some degree of shakiness. After all, Jon's voice is approximately 50% of why I listened to the group, the other half provided by Criss' guitar techniques. However, my early reaction to the Streets followup was one of utter revulsion, and at no point in the ensuing 20 years have I ever gone back to this and been able to reverse my judgement. Each exposure to Edge of Thorns is like another smack to the gob, a kick to the knickers, and ultimately this has proven one of my least favorite efforts of their career, and I was even more disappointed than on the overly dramatic Streets.
The first (and not the only) problem I have with this album is in the choice of vocalist Zak Stevens, who, through no real fault of his own, manages to soil the entire experience of what might otherwise be a mediocre selection of mid-paced, generally boring riffs that completely fail to evoke the same marvels as the band created during their peak (1983-1989, excepting Fight for the Rock). Gone are Jon Oliva's feral ravings and fragile undercurrents. Stevens sounds like an early round reject for American Idol, or someone who escaped a Skid Row cover band (though even Sebastian Bach has more acid in his inflection). Don't get me wrong, he's far from the shittiest singer I've heard step into a major metal outlet. Everything I've read or heard of Zak seems like a standup, enthusiastic fellow. He has the technical proficiency required to sing in key, and he doesn't shy away from attempting to implement a bit of Oliva's hard fought aggression. He can do delicate, and when he hits his swarthy lower range he reminds me of Daphne Zuniga (as Princess Vespa) in Spaceballs, singing the old spiritual "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen".
It's not so much a case of 'Ripper' Owens, where you've guy singing in a comparable style and range to his predecessor that somehow always feels forced or fake. No, Zak just sounds fake all the time here. His voice has always seemed to feel 'separate' from the music here, even after decades of getting used to him on this and the later records. Take "Degrees of Sanity", for instance, which might have been a decent atmospheric crawler of a track if not for Stevens' brooding timbre sounding anti-climactic and, frankly, awful, especially when he tosses a bit of 'edge' or grit to his tone. But the lows are not low enough. The hardness does not bite enough. All of that manic anger and passion that once defined this band has been leeched away, supplanted by somnolent, predictable and overbearing smoothness that gimps all of the tormented emotions that attracted me to Savatage. He makes about half the songs on this album, including the title track, sound like Survivor wrote them. Lots of needless rock refrains and dated, insincere chutzpah. I won't even get into how laughable the guy sounds in the ballads like "All That I Bleed", which makes even the wussiest Streets material seem like titanium alloy by comparison...
Which leads me to my next issue with Edge of Thorns: it's more or less a rehash of the two albums before it. Perhaps mildly more 'metal' in overall content than Streets, but just as privy to failed mainstreaming rock ballads and hammy theatrics. In attempting to build the same mood and drama as Gutter Ballet or Streets, we end up with a bevy of dried out, antiquated middle of the road riffing sequences. Criss still shines in his lead expositions, wailing and shredding up to his reputation within the verse/chorus confinements he himself helped create, but much of the record lacks balls, it's like cheap radio AOR branded with the Savatage logo. The Floridians were never strangers to groovy hard rock dynamics, but fuck, "Lights Out" might have well just been on a Skid Row or Dangerous Toys record. All it's missing are the star-starved, fishnet-stocking skanks. "Skraggy's Tomb" sounds like something Jackyl would write.Vapid, escalating Zippo waving pap like "Miles Away" or the Floyd-ish "Follow Me" is just as uninspired and pathetic as anything you'd find off Fight for the Rock...
Once again, there are TOO MANY ballads, and we're not talking anything with "Silent Lucidity" potential here, but a handful of safely coifed album fillers like the all-too-aptly-titled finale "Sleep". Stripped down, boring acoustic guitars, no real atmosphere to speak of, and vocal lines that might has well been written by any Top 40 surrogate. Though the bass has a decent, loud tone, and the rhythm guitar a bit of processed punch that rendered it more modern than the prior albums, these instruments and the drums might as well have been phoned in by session musicians. There is no distinction. No personality to the performances. Apart from the gracious glaze of lead in "Labyrinths", the two instrumentals on this album are dry of ideas and useless; compare them to "Silk and Steel" or "Temptation Revelation" or "Prelude to Madness" and feel just how lazy and needless they are. Even where Savatage tries to build a decent emotional climax to a track, like in "Conversation Piece" the payoff is puked upon by garbage lyrics:
'Like pieces of myself/cut off in desperation
As offerings to thee/I keep them on a shelf
They're good for conversation/Over a cup of tea, yeah, cup of tea'
Really? Ooooh yeah. Pure me a Tetley, and then fuck off!
Perhaps the greatest tragedy, though, is that this was not only Criss Oliva's studio swan song with the band, but the end of his musical career, taken in a fateful car accident the October of the same year. I've explained in other Savatage reviews what an influence this guy had on my own development as a teen learning the instrument, and thus its doubly bittersweet that he would leave us on such a stagnant note. To tally up the number of interesting guitar licks on this album, I would have to cut off all the fingers on my left hand, and two from the right. It is truly that empty and uninspired, poppy and production-nullified metal with a selection of cheap choruses and bland rock & roll hooks that fucking Foreigner would have left on the cutting room floor. Normally, if the music was decent, and the vocals were something I could remember 5 minutes after listening, I wouldn't mind this approach. There have been commercial hard rock and wimp-metal albums I've enjoyed, but Edge of Thorns is just an overpolished, overhyped, rose scented toilet bowl ready for a good dump to remind it of its true purpose.
To be honest with you I have to write that this band called Savatage I met after reading some news in Polish Metal Hammer (1993), you know, they called them ‘good heavy metal band’. So I decided to check this out. I bought a tape (not original with wrong order of the tracks, but believe me, it wasn’t handicap), and after first listening to this album I… loved the band forever. In those days I knew nothing about the colossal past of the band, but also about hard times (e.g. “Fight For The Rock” moments, drugs…). Then terrific message about Criss unexpected death came to my mind. Everything happened so fast, from exultancy to entire low spirits. But one thing was (and still is!) obvious for me, I hope you can understand it. Just read the words below.
“Edge Of Thorns” is a decisive album, also I can use here the term ‘decisive victory’. Why? I will try to explain it. So I have to back in time and tell something about “Streets” album (91). After promoting tour of this album, Jon decided to resign his singing. The band had to find another vocalist. They chose Zachary Stevens from Wicked Witch band. I can imagine that there were grave apprehensions. Everybody knew Jon was the best vocalist for the band, but fortunately Zak showed he deserved to be a member of this band. At the beginning I want to write something about front cover (Gary Smith as the author). When I saw it for the first time, I was in raptures. Now, after all these years of being Savatage fan, I consider this picture not only as the best front cover in Savatage career, but also as the thought-provoking thing. Namely there is a young dressed lightly woman which holds the rose and licks it. I think this painting is taken from fantasy world, but the most important thing is overhead. This is the effigy of some horrid demon. And here one question attacks my mind: is it some kind of divination? Some kind of bad omen? Did this demon become a herald of death? The death of Criss Oliva??? Still I have no answers for all these questions.
As I mentioned above this album completely differs than the great predecessor. The first and the most important thing: the style of the band. Here I can find elements of heavy and even power mixed with some progressive tunes as well. The production of Paul O’Neill (and co-production by Oliva brothers) is just crushing, everything is audible, tunes are crystal, there is no sterility so common nowadays. Indirectly by such production the band got bigger two words describing the music: epic and monumental. Just listen to the first song and you will understand what I am writing about. Opening title track is one of the best heavy metal anthem ever created by human being. This characteristic piano melody played by Jon is like a gate to another secret kingdom. Let the feast begin! Pounding, powerful guitar riffs become a mid-tempo song with eminent, majestic Zak vocals (here something about it: vocals of Zak completely differ, he has cleaner tone of voice). After about 2:45 the song starts to change its nature, when Criss shows his remarkable talent (outstanding solo lead), after 3:25 Criss plays solo again at the start by himself… This is his song definitely… The second is also excellent, but it is opened by calm guitar introduction, singing, rhythmical section and when we reach 47th second, the heavy metal hell is unleashed. The furious riff splits the sky, here I can find boundless energy, passion and another change of tempo in the half of the song with Criss solo (I do not know what adjective to use to describe his beautiful performance; as always anyway…), “He Carves His Stone” speeds up with demonic screams of Zak. The third song “Lights Out” is, from the very beginning, very high-spirited shot between the eyes. It definitely amazes. Why? Listen to the guitar work! Criss and his guitar is a synonym of harmony and unity for me. The next song “Skraggy’s Tomb” is the first representant of the special group of tracks where I can find mid-tempo, hard heavy riffs, excellent melodious chorus, about 2:40 the band slows down in very mysterious way with transformed Zak vocals, when after few seconds everything explodes into my senses. And the next guitar lead enslaves my thirsty mind…
Emotions are still dancing on the stage, when Savatage proposes instrumental “Labyrinths”, only one and a half minute miniature (with subtle piano opening, solo lead heavy tunes on the end) which is in fact introduction to colossal “Follow Me”. I wrote ‘colossal’ because this word really depicts the potency of this song, it provides most beautiful emotions to me, tunes and tones change ceaselessly. Acoustic fragments alternate with eruption of heavy metal symphony, sensual vocals of Zak become complete with almost powerful screams, and the great guitar Criss performances dominate over all. When there is only one minute to the end, the band carries me into another dimension… The next “Exit Music” is totally different. It is like a calm after violent storm, it is played only by Jon. Our ship survived to hear following excellent tunes given by the next “Degrees Of Sanity”. This song belongs to the group I wrote earlier, I find here some similarity to “Skraggy’s Tomb”, but this one has heavier riffs, the rest is the same: great vocals, fascinating Criss and this beautiful chorus, solo lead arouses admiration once again, I have impression that this kind of music is able to irrigate some desert land and make flora grow up. This is amazing indeed… Yes, let’s return to another song “Conversation Piece” which also belongs to the group. It is characterized by hard guitar riffs reminding the song before. And what can I write here: again I am in contact with eternal masterpiece, the heaviest riffs here with some mystery in guitar work, and again excellent melodic structures of chorus (both vocals and guitars), generally the basic of the song is restless and turbulent but the solo lead is like a crystal in congealed lava.
After these two perfect metal impacts, “All That I Bleed” comes as a ballad and this is the weakest effort on the album. Even it has some harder moments (and that is very good by the way), the song doesn’t convince me, maybe because of uninterested beginning? Only the marvelous guitar lead saves the song. Fortunately the next “Damien” rapidly kills this really temporary unfavourable impression and takes the album on the masterly level again. Almost four minutes go by very fast and the next track started to show its beauty. The first opening seconds remind “All That I Bleed” a bit (guitar here, not the piano), but yes, it is not the same when about 1:20 I can hear this mighty guitar and wall crushing drums and bass. Generally “Miles Away” is rather very optimistic due to the sounds, I think Savatage member have a boundless joy to play such specific music. I consciously wrote ‘specific’ for one reason: great talent and genius. The album is closed by “Sleep” (good title by the way), which is in fact a kind of ballad (much, much better than All That I Bleed), but here Savatage avoids stereotypes and proposes own vision of a ‘ballad’. I can admire what kind of magic is here, when Criss and Zak give these wonderful tunes to the listener. And writing definitely on the end of this “Edge Of Thorns” MUSIC I have to say that in the title of the last song I find next (and final) prophecy, the sign the tragic days will come very soon… But then I didn’t even think about it… Only music was ruling my mind.
This album is the end of Criss era and the beginning of something new in Savatage career at a time. The musicians started to mix heavy metal elements with progressive and symphonic sounds. Is it correct in my opinion? I am unconvinced if it is good choice for the band, but do not get me wrong, Savatage will record one masterpiece (with the highest mark), each album without Criss has a special place on my metal shelf (and heart). But I am sure as shooting, the band doesn’t stand rooted to the ground, they knowingly develop his music. Unfortunately nobody could replace such a guitarist as Criss. The future solo leads and guitar works are very good (e.g. Caffery/Pitrelli duo), but I cannot say about it as ‘genius’. I know I wrote almost eulogy, but “Edge Of Thorns” is coronation all the things Criss did or recorded. Is this guitar last effort the best? I don’t know. Writing such words about it, I also can add I really appreciate the rest of Savatage members, especially Jon Oliva and Paul O’Neill (I still remember his enormous contribution in times before releasing of “Hall Of The Mountain King”). In my opinion the mark of this album is obvious and as clear as crystal. The album which is in fact the copestone of the Big Four consisting of mentioned above “Hall Of The Mountain King”, “Gutter Ballet” (where pure heavy metal dominates), “Streets – A Rock Opera” (this title says it all) and “Edge Of Thorns”.
The final album of the mighty Big Four is a brilliant example how musicians should play heavy metal. For 99,9% metal musicians this level is out of the reach. But here I am not surprised. There are many weak bands, good, or even very good bands, but it is hard to jump on the shelf with title: “unique”. Savatage has two genius persons (supported by O’Neill), so it is much easier to create genius metal offerings. And if Criss had been alive, he would have created next heavy metal masterpieces undoubtedly. For sure “Handful Of Rain” wouldn’t see the light of day, for sure next excellent metal story would be painted, for sure the band would have more albums, here I can remember that the last “Poets And Madmen” (with Jon vocals once again!) was recorded in 2001, so there are ten years of annoying silence. Yes, many words of wisdom about “Edge Of Thorns” has been written, now it’s time for ship’s arrival. The haven when the best music and art dominate amidst greyness, dullness and no hope.
(to the memory of Christopher Michael Oliva)
Many metal fans argue on whether Savatage did well when they changed their music style from pure heavy/power metal to something more melodic. Indeed, “Streets” was a strange album that had nothing to do with their past and LPs like “Sirens” or the epic “Hall of The Mountain King”. I, myself felt also a bit disappointed about this. But Savatage had one more word to say. And that was “Edge of Thorns”!
Starting from its wonderful cover, you can say that it is not just a normal album. “Edge of Thorns is away ahead from Streets”. The first thing I was anxious to see was how the singer’s change had affected them. Jon Oliva decided it was time to step in the shadows and gave his place to Zachary Stevens, keeping for himself the role of the keyboards player. And Stevens delivers perfectly. His presence is a vital injection to the band. His vocals are strong, melodic and warm. He feels very confident in his singing skills and he does well. Otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to stand up to his duty, which is to keep the exquisite compositions in a high level.
On the other hand, his predecessor, who as I said has taken over the keyboards, manages to give an awesome feeling to the whole epic scenic. All these are combined with his brother’s amazing guitar themes, his overwhelmed riffs and his paranoid solos. The rest of the rhythm section has remained unchanged, giving the band a bigger leverage.
“Edge of Thorns” is an awesome metal masterpiece. It is melodic and gentle, though without losing his epic character. The self-titled song is the basis for the whole album. It begins with a fantastic piano introduction, familiar now to everyone. Soon Criss enters the scene and his majestic guitar playing is traveling us into another world. Stevens’ harsh vocal lines make a statement that he is here to lead Savatage ahead. A fast break in the middle makes things even better. Just magnificent!
Other songs like “He Carves His Stone”, “Conversation Piece” and “Damien” are not written everyday by just any common band. Most of the songs in here don’t stick to a monotonous structure but have continuous and brilliant changes. How on earth they managed to sound so melodic and heavy at the same time? Compositions like “Lights Out” and “Skraggy’s Tomb” can only be characterized as heavenly made heavy metal. The guitars, the drums, the bass, everything is metal!
The rest of the songs don’t fall back either. Without being too heavy or fast, they create a mysterious and majestic atmosphere. Notice the melancholy that flows from the two instrumentals, “Labyrinths” and “Exit Music” as you let yourself fall deep into their wonderful sensation. Simply beautiful!
With its flawless production and its divine melodies, “Edge of Thorns” is definitely Savatage’s second best album and a kiss of life for a band that had lost many of what their fans loved about them. And also the final curtain call for a colossal guitarist and great character… “I have seen you on the edge of thorns…”
While at the record store a couple of weeks ago, I saw Edge of Thorns in the used section for a reasonable price and I remembered that someone on the forums had recommended this album to me, so I decided to pick it up. It was the first and only Savatage album that I currently have and, being a fan of Trans-Siberian Orchestra, I figured it should be okay, and it came very highly recommended from a helpful person on the forums Once I got home, I put it in and listened to it expecting a decent album, which is what I thought of it upon first listening to it. After a few more listens the next couple of days, I enjoyed it but didn't think that much of it. However, when I went to listen to it again a couple of days ago, instead of listening to it while doing something else, I decided to just sit down and just listen to the album, and I was completely blown away. Immediately after listening once I listened to it again, and it was just as good!
One of the great things about Edge of Thorns is the variety of different styles of songs played on the album. It has everything from the heavy guitar riffage of Damien, to rockers like lights out, to great ballads like the title track, a great acoustic song, and even a great piano interlude.
Edge of Thorns starts out with the amazing Title track, which features some great piano work and a great instrumental part followed by an outstanding, emotional, guitar solo in the middle of the song. The highlight of this track is definitely the great chorus, which is impossible to not sing along to. Following this is He Carves His Stone, which at the end show just how great of a singer Zak Stevens is. The verse at the end features him hitting high notes worthy of being mentioned among Halford and Dickenson (Maybe not that good but it is some incredible singing). After this comes Lights Out, which adds some variety to the album, being a fast rocker rather than the more progressive nature of most of the rest of the album. This song also has some really cool gang vocals which are great to yell out along with the song. Next is Skraggy's Tomb, which, although far from a bad song, is in my opinion the weakest song on the album. I just don't really like the lyrics on the song. The instruments are very good though. After the interlude Labyrinths comes Follow Me which is one my favorite songs on the album. Follow Me is one of the most progressive songs on the album, which starts out somewhat calm, gets somewhat heavy and then breaks into a more mellow part. This leads into another verse, which then leads into Criss Oliva shredding with all his heart, playing one of the best solos that I have ever heard! Following this is another great piano interlude, which is followed by Degrees of Sanity, a great, heavier song which features a great heavy guitar riff. Conversation piece follows this song which is a song that has probably the catchiest chorus on the album. It is just a fun, soaring chorus that is great to sing along to.
The next song is a great ballad called All That I Bleed. The beginning of the song is just piano and soft vocals from Zak Stevens, featuring some great lyrics. Once the drums and guitar join in, Zak belts out an amazing, emotional chorus with some outstanding vocals, possibly his best on the album. All That I Bleed is followed by the pounding song Damien, which has one of the best and heaviest riffs on the album. Surprisingly, although it is the heaviest song on the album, it features some great piano work on the song. The last two tracks are Miles Away and Sleep, with the highlight of the former being the vocals and the latter a beautiful acoustic song, which I love the acoustic guitar work on.
As my first Savatage album I had ever heard I was completely blown away. Everything about the album, from the guitar riffs and solos, to the great vocals, the soaring choruses, and the great keyboard and piano work makes this album a heavy metal classic, which I recommend to everyone that is a fan of heavy metal or rock music, not just fans of progressive rock or Progressive metal.
I've had this album lying around for about 8 or 9 months now and I don't think I ever quite gave it the attention it deserved; always putting it aside after two or three listens to listen to something else instead. I'm actually very ashamed of this now, as coming back to it after a while, I realized that Savatage on this album had crafted (no exaggerations here) one of the best heavy metal albums I have ever had the pleasure of hearing.
Savatage was already a very prolific band even at this stage of their career, having existed for a good ten years or so and having changed their sound from a primitive, pugilistic heavy metal sound from their earliest releases to the more classy, sophisticated, piano-driven sound from Gutter Ballet, and here they underwent another change, which is just about the best they ever fucking had. Here, the band played a very guitar driven, slightly bluesy style of heavy metal with faint traces of the theatrical influences that had overtaken their previous two albums. The riffs are heavy, driving, and powerful, and the choruses are catchy and addictive, placing this firmly back in the traditional metal roots where the band came from. This was also the album that marked the stepping down of Jon Oliva from vocal duties and the debut performance of the band's newest member, Zak Stevens. He has a clear, muscular, deep voice that changes from a powerful, metallic shout to a smooth, sleek croon with seemingly no effort at all. He never wears out or tires, never loses an ounce of his tremendous range and energy, and there is not one second on this disc that he doesn't perform to 110%. The rest of the band as well does a fabulous job, from Jon Oliva's romantically tinged piano work to Doc Wacholz's drum mastery, and the crunching basslines from Johnny Lee Middleton. This is a complete work of art, every member of the band was performing to their best abilities here.
Obviously worthy of mention here is the fabulous Criss Oliva (R.I.P.), whose guitar playing skills were never more fully realized than they were right here on this album. Sure, every Savatage album up to this point was packed with absolutely killer riffs and some fantastic solos, but never before was a Savatage album so solely focused on exploiting Criss Oliva's guitar wizardry than Edge of Thorns was. Criss was one of the most tragically underrated guitarists the metal world had ever seen, and his death was truly a great loss. It was bitterly and beautifully ironic that his last album with Savatage was a guitar driven record, and you'll feel the magnitude of the band's loss when you listen to the pounding, rhythmic grooves of the title track and "Degrees of Sanity"; to the fast, thrashy semblances of "He Carves His Stone", the heavy, crushing opening riffs of "Skraggy's Tomb", and the touching balladry of the magnificant "All That I Bleed." May he rest in peace.
I honestly can't find anything wrong with this record, aside from the fact that the last track "Sleep" is rather soft and ends the album with a whimper rather than a bang. But it's a nice little ballad anyway, so I can't complain. Savatage have crafted an extremely memorable, serious, and long-lasting work of art that still sounds as good today as I imagine it did back in 1993 when it was first released. There is not one note out of place and not one filler or weak track to be found. This is heavy metal at it's best. Edge of Thorns stands as an immortal monument to the Golden Age of Savatage's career and more importantly, to the late Criss Oliva. If you don't have this album in your collection, then I urge you to rectify that terrible mistake and go buy it immediately. My highest recommendation.
Savatage is known for three different eras, the first being their melodic heavily-orchestrated metal from 1987 to 1993, the second being their thrash death-metal style from 1980 to 1985, with 1986 showing them falling into the cracks of neither with the mediocre Fight For The Rock. The two different eras are noted two facts, the first being how they progressed with each album and the second being how they sounded like a completely different band.
But three events happened in 1993 that forever changed the course of Savatage's career, the first was the release of this album, Edge Of Thorns. A record that saw the band finally being able to mix the two different styles and sounds of each era into one fifty-three minute, thirteen track, album full of passionate cuts and hooks. The second event was the first different vocalist since the bands inception, with the departure of Jon Oliva and the addition of Zachary Stevens.
While the two previous albums were heavily saturated in ballads and orchestrated anthems, which focused wholly on keyboards, the band took a step back and saw that they needed an album that proved they still had the power to hang with other 'metal' bands on the scene. The result was this album, that had at least one element suited for every possible person and proved to be a great introduction to the band in regards to a brand new listener. If you liked ballads then you received it, if you like trash then you received it, if you like powerful choruses, great solos and riffs then you definitely receive it, and each of these things were done in top-notch and conviction.
All songs are great deserve attention but two songs stand out the most: Follow Me and All That I Bleed.
The former goes through so many tempo changes but never loses emotion, starting with just an acoustic guitar full of reverb and Zach's smooth vocals, leading directly up to......disaster. Not in songwriting, but rather in the wretched fate of a shattered dream of a low-life, simple, solid rejection to what was an expressive illusion. The middle section is one of the all-time greatest mellow pieces ever laid to music and is bound to rip out the frailest of hearts, beginning after the second chorus, with the title being repeated. Each time with so much emotion and aggression before the listener is gradually inebriated in a buzz-like condition of calmness, falling comfortably numb from reality and completely enthralled in smooth spheres of lingering guitar notes, each of which are softer and more tearful than the last. Then comes Criss and that majestic guitar solo, which is, in the end, almost two minutes of strenuously eloquent rising action resulted in a cosmic combustion of catastrophic proportions.
All That I Bleed is hands down the best Metal ballad ever written. Those who question whether or not it falls within the genre are silenced when braced with Criss’s awe-inspiring solo, just one of the many features that validate this song as the benchmark of its class. Zack is exceptionally divine, portraying his most earth shattering heartbreak by taking off vocally, supported all the way up by a haze of delicate piano notes…
Incredible, emotional, beautiful, brilliant and a masterpiece, a song everyone can relate to. Someone, in this case a girl, is trying to hide feelings of a former loved one, which uses the 'best disguise'. Everyone goes through this phase after a heartbreak, and we do our best to hide the hurt inside, but no matter how well we do, our heart will always tell the truth. This is the most difficult emotion to capture, but Savatage does so perfectly. There is also an incredibly emotional guitar solo, which sums the whole thing up as Zak repeats the last part of the song and all fades to the piano again, where he spills out the fluids of very life, "I Bleed".
But what of that third event I spoke of earlier?
Well it was lethal injection that forever cursed the band from the respect they so greatly deserve, an event that took place in the morning of October 17th, when one of the world's greatest guitar players was stolen from us. Criss Oliva, a true phenomenon, a man, whom like his band, never received the respect he deserved, a powerful guitar player that redefined emotional melodic playing in metal, and helped give birth to so many guitar players in his wake.
This album was meant to prove to the world that Criss is one of the best guitar players out there, it unfortunately proved to be his swan song, or requiem, a testament to a career full of awe and wonder. Criss Oliva was a true guitar hero, and may his memory live on forever.
Edge Of Thorns is a huge turning point for Savatage in so many ways. What was initially meant to be a record of new beginnings later became the record of one big ending. The ending in the form of the last record of one of the best guitarists of our time, Mr. Criss Oliva, who passed away soon after Savatage finished the tour for this album. This record is Criss' swan song and a great epitaph to one of the greatest musicians who ever walked the earth.
Well, I mentioned before, that this record has a handful of new beginnings. The most significant one is that Mountain King handed his vocal duties to Zachary Stevens. I was a little bit sceptic about the thing at the start, since Jon is such a great singer, but hell, Zakk grew on me in no time. His voice isn't as powerful as Jon's and he sounds a bit softer than him, but he really puts all of his emotions in his singing and he has a great voice color.
And like as they would knew that ''Edge'' would be Criss' last record, Savatage decided to make a guitar based record, different from orchestra/piano based Gutter Ballet and especially Streets. You couldn't say that Edge Of Thorns is a ''back to the roots'' record, though. It's somewhere between their early works and their later works with Stevens.
Nevertheless, this record has a fair share of everything: slow piano intros and ballads, powerful choruses, great solos and riffs and even some occassional thrashy moments (just check the break in He Carves His Stone). The production is great, but then again, I've never heard a Savatage album with bad production.
Criss' playing has again evolved a lot on this album. His riff ideas are still catchy as hell, and his solos and leads are better than ever on here. There is actually quite a lot of reverb used on here, but it suits awkwardly awesome into the music. The intros are usually Jon's piano parts, but he also plays along with Criss' chords most of the time, which gives the music some sort of depth and melody. Doc and Johnny make a good rhythm section, especially Wacholz puts on a great drum performance, with lots of fills and great beats.
The overall feel of the record is great. It is an expirience, not just a record! There are some beaufitul and touching moment and there are some total power monsters.
Highligts? Huh, all of them. But the most memorable stuff is: the powerful choruses of Edge Of Thorns and Follow Me, touching balladry of All That I Bleed (they usually play this one live for Criss) and Sleep and the pure punch of Damien!
This is definitely an extraordinary record from the greatest band of all time and a great purchase in every way.
With Edge of Thorns comes new singer Zakk Stevens to replace the departed Jon Oliva (due to losing his voice) and the change couldn't be more pleasing (not to say that Jon was a bad singer). Zakk Stevens is my pick for one of the best singers metal ever had. Unfortunatly after Edge of Thorns had been released their guitar god Criss Oliva died in a car accident due to a drunk driver hitting him and his wife dawn in a car. This cd displays Criss raw pure fucking talent at his best. This cd brings back plenty of great memories, and im sure if you all listen to Edge of Thorns this album will soon become very close to your heart and it shall no leave your cd player. The production is pretty good actually on this one, as every instrument is in the open. WOW! Check out 3:24 of "He Carves His Stone" and on, wholy fuck can Zakk sing! I've been a Savatage fan for some time now and they have yet to dissapoint me with any release, you sure know what your getting with these guys. This album has plenty of diversity and they always keep it exciting for the listener with fresh new lush riffs that are bound to have you banging your head and bobbing around the room getting goofy. There are sing along songs on here as well which are so memorable it's had to take your mind of them. Example of this are : Edge of Thorns, Lights Out, Follow Me, Degrees of Sanity etc. Every track on Edge of Thorns deserves a mention in my book although i could be reviewing how simply brilliant this cd is for centuries. EOT has the Streets: A Rock Opera line-up with the exclution of Jon Oliva. I love both the voice of Jon and Zakk, so either way you have it your getting quality fucking singing. Jon has one of the most unique voice ever thats almost raspy yet very tasty with plenty of melody. Zakk is a very talented clean singer that can belt out the high and low notes with ease. Not a complaint about this one. The guitar with is flashy at time but then again so is everything else. This is one memorable disc! Hail Savatage and R.I.P. Criss brother your Soul will always be with us. Your music shall shine on forever.
Best Tracks: Edge of Thorns, Lights Out, He Carves His Stone, Follow Me, Degrees of Sanity, Conversation Piece, All That I Bleed, Damien, Miles Away, Sleep