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I must say it: attempting to follow up a mighty masterwork like Hall of the Mountain King would be a daunting prospect for even the most practiced composers, so it's a great credit to Savatage that they managed to eke out what has since become my second favorite disc in their catalog. Gutter Ballet is a bigger budget album with slightly more polished tones, and it's a work of greater contrasts than its predecessor, as the band alternates its heavier, metallic elements with an exploration of theatrical, piano-heavy ballads that had been present through parts of Fight with the Rock. Part Queen, part The Who, part "Eye of the Tiger" and part Savatage, to call this album sentimental would be an understatement, but the drama really works thanks to some fantastic songwriting from the Olivas.
There are some who absolutely loathe the rock opera-styled tearjerkers coursing through this album, but where its successor Streets tossed us a lot of really forgettable tunes that ran on together due to their redundancy, cuts like "When the Crowds Are Gone" or "Gutter Ballet" actually feel genuine and stirring. One can just envision the theater after hours, a sad and unsuccessful power metal balladeer stepping onto an empty, dimly lit stage and singing and playing his heart out, while in the alley out back, a street band hears his plight and adds some accompaniment. Of course, this is an aesthetic Savatage would later take too far, quashing many of the harder edged, metallic elements that made the band so distinct in the first place, but on Gutter Ballet it was a welcome departure. The songs spoke to me, and despite the obvious nudge forward in accessibility, it didn't at all feel like a 'sellout', since the band does in fact get heavy. It also feels like a very natural 'extension' from its predecessor, a refined metamorphosis.
Where the band most experiments, like the airy classical/folk guitar interlude "Silk and Steel" or the grand, operatic instrumental "Temptation Relevation", they come up with successful results, catchy tracks that offer us a brief and welcome respite from the heavier compositions. I do feel partial to the thundering step of opener "Of Rage and War", or the swaggering "Hounds", which most reflect the mindset the band was in when they wrote Hall of the Mountain King, but there are other divergent thrills like "She's In Love", the sexy speed metal hearkening back to the Power of the Night aesthetic, only adding a little further hustle to the guitars (love those damned squeals in the setup). At times, Gutter Ballet is admittedly a 'piano album', but let's not forget that this is also Criss Oliva's puppy, and he is all over this fucking thing, with a pristine, clear tone that sends each hook catapulting into the vaults of memory. The bass and drums also stand out on this album more than ever before, with more lower/higher end distinctions. Middleton is pretty amazing.
I honestly worship the first nine songs on this record; after that, the quality dips a fraction with "Summers Rain", another dreary power ballad which just doesn't have the same staying potential. The lurching, angry "Thorazine Shuffle" does a great job of ramping the tension back up, but it's also not as immediate as those heavier cuts before it like "Mentally Yours" or "The Unholy", and I really only love the chorus for its exotic, Eastern desert aesthetic. Once again, the band uses Robert Kinkel for keys, and he does a standup job of providing that extra, atmospheric texture without ever standing in the way of the core instruments. The mix of everything on this album is just smashing, radio-ready and multi-layered so that, with the exception of a few piano/vocal only moments, you're ears are always being siphoned off in numerous directions. The leads are a mixed bag, some of the runs among Criss's finest, others just don't seem so memorable.
Ultimately, Gutter Ballet might not have gifted me that same level of thrill that Hall of the Mountain King manifest, but it was still an impressive record for its time, and also well AHEAD of its time. Of the 52 minutes (including CD bonus "Thorazine Shuffle"), I'd say about 42-44 were brilliant, and it trails off nearer the end, but otherwise I cannot find any fault in it. This is largely fantastic and emotionally resonant music. I only wish Savatage's operatic ambitions ended here, because this record makes its followup feel like an also-ran. After 1989, it felt to me that nearly every album this band was releasing was 'more of the same', even with the revolving door of musicians and the various concepts that they pursued. The last of the essentials, as far as I'm concerned, but if you're entirely turned off by the band's calmer moments, stick to Sirens and Hall of the Mountain King.
A long time before bands such as Therion or Apocalyptica made their groundbreaking symphonic or opera metal masterpieces, a long time before symphonic gothic metal bands such as Nightwish got into mainstream, a long time before bands such as Metallica would try to collaborate with big orchestras and a long time before epic metal all star bands such as Aina, Ayreon or Avantasia made their appearances, there was a young American band that decided to get away from their power and thrash metal roots and chose the hard path to follow instead of recreating an album in the key of their infamous "Hall of the Mountain King" record that got amazing critics and is considered nowadays as a cult album. The mentioned bands are all something like the intellectual babies of Savatage in one way or the other. This young band decided to try the courageous attempt to fusion heavy metal music with symphonic approaches. They didn't take the radical step to create an entire symphonic metal album and also put a few more traditional American power metal tracks on the record, but the most important and longest tracks on the record went into a rather new direction. It's somewhat a transitional album as the band headed for more operatic sounds on the later records and later founded the infamous Trans-Siberian Orchestra to conquer the world with their new interpretation of classical music.
It all started here when Savatage released "Gutter ballet" which is one of the band's strongest or even their best record but without a doubt their most important concerning their maturity and climax of creativity. The album starts with a very atmospheric and angry power metal song called "Of rage and war" that leads us on a wrong path and let us expect another strong heavy power metal record. There are a few more songs of that kind on the record like the powerful "She's in love" for example.
But the title track already leaves us stunning. A beautifully emotional and yet peaceful piano interlude let us guess and expect what might come after the first minute of the song. Finally, we realize in the most stunning way that piano melodies, decent violins, melodic guitars, powerful drums and pumping bass guitars got into a pumping fusion in this unique and experimental track. Over all those instruments thrones the powerful and perfectly imperfect voice of Jon Oliva. There is nothing kitsch or artificial about this track as there are no backing choirs, no female guest singers, no national state orchestra with one hundred musicians and more. This song is about true emotions and is overwhelming in emotions without being overwhelming in instruments. The ballad "When the crowds are gone" goes even further and the sound is mostly reduced to a haunting piano melody and Oliva's unique voice before some melodic guitars finally get in and dominate the song. There is so much power and true emotion in this quiet track that it might honestly make cry any one that has a weakness for great rock ballads. "Summer's rain" and the bonus track "Thorazine shuffle" slightly go in the same direction and has very honest and interesting lyrics why the music is a little bit less memorable. The soft and touching instrumentals underline softly the symphonic direction of this album.
The band is already able to vary with its symphonic influences. "Hounds" and "The unholy" sounds very dark and atmospheric and have something truly majestic in their sound. Another true highlight is the fairly underrated "Mentally yours" that combines the anger and power of the band's older works with the intellectual majesty on the new horizon. The band only uses the instrumental efforts to underline the atmosphere of an epic story while the powerful vocals and sharp riffs don't lose any of their power.
This diversified and highly professional and intellectual album is more than an experiment; it's the birth of a new genre or at least a major milestone and influence for the future of metal music. With their first try, Savatage are already able to create ten or eleven mesmerizing and unforgettable anthems. There's not a single weak song on this record, not a single filler and even though every song sounds different and concentrates on a different feeling, story or musical expression, there is a clear guiding line on this epic record and the high quality of every song makes this album sound very coherent instead of just being a collection of great tracks. Back then, this record was easily the record of the year and while other metal bands disappointed towards the end of the last millennium, Savatage emerged and showed how one could be able to change and prosper without getting unfaithful towards its own past. It's a pity that this band has never truly gained further attention as this album might easily please to rock music maniacs and fans of classical music. This record is a great milestone in the still young history of metal music and it happens quite often that I listen intensively to this inspiring record from time to time that has not lost anything of its initial magic.
Pure fucking greatness. That’s how I would define this record. Now, let’s explain why.
At the end of the 80’s and early 90’s Savatage was at the climax of their career, they had their most classic line up- Jon and Criss Oliva, Johnny Lee Middleton and Steve “Dr Killdrums” Wacholz, they had released such a powerful record a few years before (“Hall of the Mountain King”), and certainly they were one of the greatest metal bands out there at the time of the release of Gutter Ballet.
Gutter Ballet, their fifth album, is in my opinion and the opinion of many of the Sava Legions, the pinnacle of the Savatage discography, and that’s a lot to say about a band which has released so many masterpieces (since HOTMK until their latest album to date “Poets and Madmen”). Everything in Gutter Ballet is tasteful, starting with the magnificent front cover art courtesy of Gary Smith. Never has an album cover been more appropriate for the actual music on the album. The greatness of the interior of a beautiful baroque theatre, the presence of both piano and guitar in the centre of the hall, the mystery of the ghost ballet dancer and the phantoms of the background, the gargoyle…even the back cover has its important significance here, with the rubbish bin surrounded by a couple of nosy rats, one of them climbing up the guitar neck of a smelly and dark street from an alleyway of a big city (it’s like if the cover concept wanted to reflect the two sides of the society in one, a luxurious theatre and a dark rough street). This conjunction of extremes is an important fact of the content of the actual album as we’ll see later.
Gutter Ballet is also probably the beginning (with the exception of “Prelude to Madness”, the awesome instrumental track included in HOTMK) of what we could call Savatage sound. Yes, a band with a unique sound. Savatage sounds like Savatage. Different from what has done before or since, because in fact how can we define the sound and style of Gutter Ballet? Is it US Power Metal? No it isn’t. Is it Progressive Metal? Well, maybe. Is it symphonic metal? Don’t think so, at least not the symphonic metal that would later on be popularized by bands like Therion, Nightwish and many other acts. So what do we have here?. Well, we have an extraordinary combination of elements: First and the most important of all of them, we’ve got the talent of the Oliva Brothers at its finest, and that obviously means that the songwriting of the entire album is nothing but amazing. The influence of each of them is the result on the sound of the actual music on Gutter Ballet, so on one side Jon brings his passion and musical poetry of the piano while on the other side Criss exploits his guitar capabilities to an unimaginable level. Guitar and piano (like in the cover of the album, remember?) represented by each of the Oliva Brothers is the best and most well kept secret of this album. The combination of the theatrical and operatic style of Jon’s songwriting (really into the Broadway and rock operas at the time) and the metallic yet captivating guitar sound derived from Criss’ gifted hands, bringing with him the sound of the heavier Savatage early works is what makes this album so special.
The reminiscences of the power metal past are well represented here with tracks like “Of Rage and War”, the kickass start song of the album which contains good riffage courtesy of Criss and Jon’s powerful voice. Those are also the basics ingredients of “She is in Love” (which has an ultra fast guitar solo in the middle of the song), maybe the least inspired song of the record.
One of the best moments of the album is the pair of songs formed by “Hounds” and “The Unholy”, both strongly based on incredible guitar performances. Even the track listing suits both songs perfectly, as the speedy end of Hounds works excellently with the beginning of The Unholy. While Hounds is slow and dense, The Unholy is more furious and thrashy, but even though both are quite guitar-driven songs with fabulous guitar riffs, certainly the touch of the keys in the background gives the songs a theatrical and intense atmosphere that makes you enjoy every second of them. The guitar solo and leads on Hounds are just insane (even improved on the live performances of the band - see “Ghost in the Ruins”) and Johnny and Steve also do very well on their duties. Both songs, especially The Unholy, are on the list of my favourite Savatage tracks.
But without doubts, the unquestionable highlights of Gutter Ballet are the trilogy formed of “Gutter Ballet”, “When the Crowds are Gone” and “Summer Rain”, all of them gems that deserve special mention:
Gutter Ballet is majesty made into song. The more than 6 minute song is one of the most inspired moments that the band has ever had. Honestly the song’s got potential for being one of the classics on the metal community. I guess at the time, the piano intro of the song might have confused many listeners after the power showed by the band in HOTMK a couple of years earlier, but as I said before, nobody like Savatage has ever combined so well the piano with metal. The piano is the guide of the song with the beautiful but aggressive voice of Jon being another plus for this great song, which by the way contains another stunning Criss solo on it. In conclusion, this song is the perfect definition of the newer operatic Savatage sound that I was explaining before and the beginning of a new direction that the band would take later on.
Between the two giants Gutter Ballet and When the Crowds are Gone, the band very intelligently allocated a transition track with the lovely instrumental “Temptation Revelation”, which is in fact the perfect introduction for the upcoming track (as we would later see on the live album Ghost in the Ruins). This name was also originally suggested for the album title until they decided to change it to the definitive Gutter Ballet. When the Crowds are Gone is my all time favourite song, and it has been since the first time I had the pleasure to listen to it back in 1997. The intro, the outro, the voice of Jon filled with dramatism, the various guitar rhythms (especially in the chorus), the solo, but most of all the whole concept and poetic lyrics, make this song an incomparable piece of art and one that causes such an impact for the listener the very first time they hear it.
Summer Rain is probably the best ballad the band has ever recorded (even though they have written many of them, especially for the Streets album in an operatic vain). It is such an emotional song, from the beginning to the end, where you can hear Jon forcing his voice up to the limit in the chorus. This song also keeps a real treasure inside - the best guitar solo that, in my opinion, Criss ever played and the best I have ever listened to so far. It’s now time to speak about Criss Oliva, one of the best guitarists that ever walked on the cosmos. Only in the case of Criss you can find a guitar player with such a mixture of virtuosism and soul. Every note played is pure beauty and the technique of this man manifests itself in the clean sound of his guitar. Criss also dares in this album with an unusual piece calls ”Silk and Steel”, where he shows his classical and acoustic abilities. Back to Summer Rain, after the impressive solo the song finishes with a tremendous finale.
On the way we forgot to talk about other tacks like “Mentally Yours” and the last track of the album “Thorazine Shuffle” (the bonus-track in the cassette version), which don’t make the album fall down but the opposite, especially this last one which has plenty of orchestral influences and creates the perfect end for the album.
I would highly recommend this album to every metal fan and I would welcome them to the Sava family, those people like me that really love this amazing band. I really wish them to reunite and record another new album soon.
This modest review serves as my tribute to Christopher Michael Oliva…still nowadays a practically unknown genius.
The story’s over when the crowds are gone…
Avatar, Savatage's previous name was also the name of a European outfit back in the early 1980's. That band was originally going to sue Jon and his late brother Criss Oliva if they didn't change their title. So instead of pursuing the name of Avatar in order to avoid being sued, they managed to change it interesting enough to Savatage. Jon and Criss were very engaged in music since their adolescence especially because their father avidly played the piano. They took several turns during their earlier musical endeavors. It wasn't until 1983 that they decided to come together seriously to form Savatage.
"Gutter Ballet" was their 4th full-length release that gained much popularity amongst their fans as a heavy/power metal outfit. The music on this album was melodic, melancholic, dramatic and innovative. Other people can challenge this notion. The fact of the matter here was that it's fair to come to this conclusion because the pieces are filled with such unique songwriting. Criticizing the album and not giving it much thought wasn't fair to the astronomical amounts of musicianship. Unfortunately, "Gutter Ballet" was the only release that I've heard from the band out of their entire discography.
The opening track entitled "Of Rage & War" features a bass guitar intro with duties from Johnny Lee Middleton accompanied by cymbals/drums by Steve Wacholz. This song segues into a heavier yet catchy riff structure. It isn't the only song that features intriguing metal. It occurs throughout the entire release. Jon Oliva on piano/vocals came up with some of the most memorable songs with the help from Criss on guitar duties. Their other member Chris Caffery was on guitars/keyboards. The entire album was filled with much melancholic emotion. They assumed that their aim was to flock together interested listeners which in turn made it into a reality.
Instrumental acoustic/electric guitar songs were found on "Temptation Revolution" and "Silk And Steel." Their guitarists also came up with some lead guitar work on these tracks. All songs including the bonus track "Thorazine Shuffle" were simply incredible compositions. Criss Oliva was such a talented guitarist that will forever shine in the metal world. He was a fond musician/guitarist that died at such a young age. Jon's feelings on the matter was such that when Criss died he felt so did Savatage. His words in an interview on Metal-Temple.com reflects his viewpoint on the matter. Even though Jon continued his involvement in Savatage after Criss's passing, he merely assisted Zak Stevens on vocal duties who would record future albums with the band.
Their previous recordings that were released as Jon on vocals/piano and Criss on guitars I've never heard before. So there's really no comparison that I can fully make of them since "Gutter Ballet" was the only release as previously claimed to have heard from the band. However, I'm keen on purchasing their earlier works since "Gutter Ballet" impressed me in such a great way. The main reason was because of the solely captivating songwriting. It's pretty easy to make out what Jon is saying during his vocal outputs. Criss's leads were amazing. They were filled with arpeggios and tremolo picking gallore that was just incomprehensible. He demonstrated how technical his playing was.
The whole of the songs showed melodies that were grim with despair but all entirely monumental as a metal act. Just check out the title-track, "When The Crowds Are Gone" and "Summer's Rain." If this isn't enough to get a gist as to what I'm talking about then it's your loss. These tracks are the most memorable pieces from the album. Though overall, "Gutter Ballet" showed quite a bit of classical influence to it. That may be since Jon and Criss grew up with hearing songs composed on the piano. Jon as well as Criss implemented some of that musical influence well through the songs on "Gutter Ballet."
Since it was 1989 when this album was recorded, the production sound wasn't entirely impressive. Though it was well mixed in terms of the vocals, guitars, keyboards and drums "Gutter Ballet" fell a bit short of suburb quality in the session recording. It's understandable since they didn't have access to all that's available nowadays in the studio. I'm not saying that musicians lacked in talent on any respect. It just flowed within them through years of playing with other numerous outfits.
The lyrics dealt with humanity, spirituality and fantasy. Jon wrote some of the lyric writing when he was in drug rehab. "Thorazine Shuffle" and "Mentally Yours" were written during his time there. From an overall lyrical standpoint, they were very intelligent and memorable. They seemed to reflect on Jon's outlook on life and issues throughout his life itself. There was no need to have covers on here since all of the tracks reflected Jon's past life experiences. Covering other songs such as KISS among others in his earlier days with Criss were no more. To this day however, he continues with his band Jon Oliva's Pain though Savatage showed his main achievements as a vocalist, pianist and songwriter.
Savatage's status as a band is on hold for the time I suppose until something significant happens to change this. "Gutter Ballet" was an extravagant piece of work that reflected their rise within the metal community. It will never be left forgotten as a part of their discography even though Criss's passing back in 1993 was such a tragedy. My hope is such that they eventually will return from being on a hold and will once again relive the days where they once were as a band despite the tragedy. If you're a fan of heavy/power metal, then "Gutter Ballet" is an album that should be heard which won't dissatisfy you as a listener.
Surely Savatage can not be tagged as a progressive metal band. This title goes to bands like Dream Theater or the later Fates Warning. However in this case, Gutter Ballet, their attitude and mood is enough to call them as such. Gutter Ballet is the example of perfect co-existence between piano and electric guitar. A second guitarist Chris Caffery has joined in, giving Criss Oliva the freedom and space he needs to show all his virtues and skills at full scale, plus that it makes them sound pompier than before. Jon Oliva’s love for piano surfaces and his melancholic or furious at times melodies, fit just fine with the unique guitar riffs.
The atmosphere that Gutter Ballet creates is unrepeatable and the feelings it lets out are variable, reflecting to the soul. It’s the thing they failed to do with Streets, when they tried to take it one step further. The songs are heavy and the riffs and breaks are brilliant. Jon Oliva as usual, is giving us some shocking performances.
By the first notes of the opening Of Rage and War you know that this not a typical power metal Savatage release. The riff is more complicated and technical. Sometimes it seems as if Criss is improvising. The piano theme that follows prepares the path for the epical self-titled. The lyricism and absolute passion in Gutter Ballet place it among their all-classic songs. Criss’ solo is simply superb. And what an amazing finale for this song!
Do you remember the Prelude to Madness instrumental? Well it is nothing compare to the majesty and endless inspiration of Temptation Revelation. I am not so fond of instrumental themes but this one is divine and drove me in ecstasy. Silk and Steel is the second instrumental and it is nice to listen to but only…
…When the Crowds are Gone! My God, is this a masterpiece or what? I can only describe it as a music painting, colored by the fantastic piano lines Jon plays. Words are not enough; you have to listen to realize the size of this song. Summer’s Rain is more of a love ballad but not a cheesy one for chicks and posers. Criss has put his best solo in here and generally his playing throughout the whole album is incredible.
The other long track, lasts six minutes, is Hounds. It is mid-tempo with many changes but it is heavy as fuck and features pounding, bombastic drums. The song that closes the album, Thorazine Shuffle has a strange riff that sticks to your mind. The lyrics fit the mystical atmosphere and they speak of a man locked in a mental institution getting his everyday medication which I think makes him crazier instead of curing his Savatage madness.
The songs that bear the power metal elements of Savatage are She’s in Love and The Unholy. They are fast, heavy and put you in motion. The solid heavy riffs prevail over the more calm ones of the disc. Certainly they are worth of being in this album. The only moment that keeps Gutter Ballet from reaching perfection is Mentally Yours. It is not bad, just a bit out of balance, kind of filler track.
Savatage entered the 90’s with an album that made musicians, listeners and critics to review their thinking. They proved that heavy metal could escape clichés without being bought and sold. Sometimes, it is not enough just to play progressive. You have to BE progressive.
Dammit, Savatage had such great ideas on this album. On their previous effort, Hall of the Mountain King, they played a very straightforward and epic style of good old fashioned US power metal, and they had just about worn out that sound to the furthest it could go. So they chose to forage into completely new territory here, and it was a very good idea on their part. They switched to an overtly epic and piano-driven sound, much less muscular (production-wise as well) sound that was two parts classic heavy metal and one part theatrical/orchestral soundtrack music. Yes, that's right; Savatage was doing shit like this about 10 years before Nightwish, Rhapsody of Fire or Kamelot even picked up their instruments to record. And the worst part is, Savatage rarely ever receive credit for helping to pioneer such a sound!
I'd love to give this album a higher score, but it's really not the most consistant album out there; with half the tracklist being brilliant slabs of epic, pounding, classic heavy metal and the other half being tepid and rather un-inspired crap. It's really quite disheartening; as songs like the title track are amongst the best fucking Savatage songs there ever were, and songs like "Mentally Yours" are ones that you have to force yourself to sit through. "Of Rage and War", "Hounds" and "The Unholy" are all on-par, straightforward heavy metal tracks with catchy, pummeling riffs and sticky-sweet classic, traditional metal choruses that will stay with you long after this album finishes playing, with "The Unholy" being the best out of the three. That galloping Maidenish riff is fucking great, and the chorus just burns, rapes and pillages everything in it's path. Top-class song. And then we have the other half of the album, made up of booming, theatrically influenced epic cuts like the title cut, which I mentioned was one of the best songs they ever wrote, and I wasn't exaggerating. It's backed by another galloping Maidenesque riff, except this time we have pianos backing it, exerting a very sophisticated, classy air that other heavy metal bands in the 80s couldn't dream of mustering. And those riffs will NEVER get out of your head. The chorus is good, as are the lyrics, and overall it's an outstanding example of Savatage's musical prowess circa 1989. "Summer's Rain" and "When the Crowds are Gone" are both almost as good; somber, romantic songs that don't come off as sappy in the least. Marvelous work. I think it goes without saying that Criss Oliva's guitar-work here is captivating, stunning and completely awesome in every area, complimenting Jon Oliva's piano balladry well.
And on the other hand, the rest of the songs on Gutter Ballet do not live up to the sheer intensity and emotion of the aforementioned few tracks. "Mentally Yours" is the worst offender here, a midpaced rocker with one of the most annoying choruses I've ever heard. This is mostly due to Jon Oliva's voice, which was never the best voice in metal. It did work on previous albums, being a raspy half-shout that was a perfect fit for the dirty and rough heavy metal that the band was playing, but they changed their sound by now, and that required a different kind of voice. Unfortunately, Jon's voice just wasn't suited to this music on this album, and it really seems to lose steam on the second half of the disc, sounding more akin to a dying cat than to a menacing and evil heavy metal frontman as he had been before. "She's in Love" is decent, but nothing special, and "Thorazine Shuffle" is musically fun, yet lacking in the vocal department. "Summer's Rain" has quite terrible vocals as well, although that song rules, so it's excusable.
It's a shame; Savatage had all the pieces here for a world class album. If they had focused solely on their symphonic, theatrical sounds or solely on the heavy, straightforward cuts, this would've been a much more solid album, but there are a few tracks here that just don't cut it, and thus Gutter Ballet comes off as rather half baked. The good stuff here is very good, but not everything here is of quality. Recommended to Savatage purists. And go download the good tracks I mentioned.
A worthy follow up to HotMK, Gutter Ballet finds Savatage expanding their repertoire a bit by including some piano which adds a bit more melody to their gritty style. The opener, "Of Rage and War", sounds like it would have fit right in on HotMK, but as soon as the title track kicks in you find out that these boys are going a little soft (in a good way at this time). Don't let the pianos scare you away though, the two best songs on the album (title track and "When the Crowds Are Gone") are drenched in ivories and convey a higher emotion than was shown on previous albums. Speaking of "When the Crowds Are Gone", this is one sad song: "Where's the lights?/Turn em on again/One more night to believe and then/another note for my requiem/A memory to carry on/the story's over when the crowds are gone." You can just feel the emptiness of a burned out rocker on that track, it gets to me every time *sobs*. Man, I could go on and on about that damn song - the touching spoken word at the end, the manic shrieking of the outro, the moving bridge riff - but there are other songs on this album to talk about. Two instrumentals bookend "WtCAG" and both are awesome, the first being a tension-building gothic piece and the second an airy acoustic number with a Zeppelin feel to it. "She's in Love" is a great thrasher, something rarely seen on a Savatage album, with (surprise) yet another superb chorus. I'd write about the greatness of every song, but that'd get boring after a while since this album is so damn solid. I thought HotMK was my favorite until listening to them back to back right now and realizing that Gutter Ballet is just chock full of awesome songs, definitely a classic.
This album is a breaking point in Savatage's career. Gutter Ballet is quite different than their previous releases, which were US power/plain heavy metal. This is much more ''sofisticated'', there's much more piano used here, more ballads... It's even maybe slightly progressive for that time. You could say, that Gutter Ballet is a templar for all later Savatage albums, since they became more and more piano and orchestra orientated.
Jon Oliva, is, as always, great. From really great emotional singin, to some awesome screams, all good. He also really shows his writing talent on here. Some of the best lyrics ever. Just check Gutter Ballet or When The Crowds Are Gone... What to say about guitars? Criss Oliva is one of the most underrated guitarists in the world, and he also proves that with this record. Very nice riffs, leads and solos.
As said, there are really some fucking classic up here. Gutter Ballet is a great 6 minute power ballad. It starts off with a piano intro, then the guitars come in and make a really memorable atmosphere. Chorus is one of the best, it's really memorable and a great singalong. Temptation Revelation and Silk And Steel are both instrumentals, but they are one of the highlights of the album. Criss did a really great job here. When The Crowds Are Gone is a great ballad. It also contains some verses later heard in Believe from Streets. Also a very memorable song. Hound was written by Criss and it has sort of an doomy atmosphere to it. Great main riff!
The Unholy could be from any 80s Savatage album. It has that power vibe to it, Jon vocals are also very suitable. One of the hardest songs on the album.
Summer Rain is also a great ballad, nice guitar sound!
You couldn't say, that there is any bad songs on this one, there are just songs, that aren't as good as the others. That would be mostly harder songs, like Of Rage And War, Thorazine Shuffle and Mentally Yours. And again, by all means, these songs aren't bad.
If you like Savatage this is the right CD for you. And for all of you, who don't know the group: if you wan't to hear their softer side, buy this. If you want so hear real heavy metal with balls, buy some of their 80s releases, 'cause you won't get really hard songs here.
Well, here we go, watching Savatage begin their decent into ridiculous melodrama. I like a few of the things they've put out after this, but this really shows them losing their direction.
"Of Rage and War" is a good way to kick the album off, with a solid riff. The title track is great, with little runs that sound like Iron Maiden, and a good solo. They manage to mix the piano and guitars up pretty well, and it actually sounds powerful. Nothing like "Hall of the Mountain King," but it has good Criss Oliva riffs.
"Temptation Revelation" is a decent instrumental, slowly building up from a pretty mellow thing to some great soloing. "Silk and Steel" is a little acoustic piece, but doesn't really do anything for me. Oh well.
"When the Crowds Are Gone." Hmm...I actually kind of like this song. It is a ballad, and barely has any really metal elements in it, but the lyrics are great and it seems to work.
"She's In Love" is fucking weak. Savatage tries to throw in some fast, heavier sounding stuff, but you can tell that it's really run of the mill power metal with terrible lyrics about sex. Their hearts aren't into this, and it just sounds totally out of place on this album.
"Hounds" is cool. It goes through a lot of different moods, alternating between the light clean guitar stuff to some heavier crunchy riffing in the chorus. It's almost doomish, but at the end it picks up the pace, sounding a bit like "Scream Murder" from Sirens.
"The Unholy" fucking rocks! It sounds pretty majestic, and features great guitar work by Criss, as well as a fast tempo. It doesn't sound that out of place at all. The ending has a crunchy riff with gang chanting of "Unholy, unholy." Neat.
Next up is the weakest, stupidest fucking song on the whole album. "Mentally Yours" starts off with just an absolutely retarded piano piece with Jon singing about Little Timmy or something. I feel embarassed while listening to it! It does get heavy, but sounds really trite. Nothing that hasn't been done a million times better by Savatage ON THIS ALBUM.
I like "Summer's Rain." Yeah, it's a ballad, but it's got a good atmosphere. Criss provides a nice solo in it, which is always a good touch, and his playing on here is rather catchy, overall.
"Thorazine Shuffle" is not a very good song at all. It's almost as bad as "Mentally Yours," but luckily this is a bit doomier sounding. Still very weak.
So there you have it, some real duds with some real gems. I like Jon Oliva's vocals on here--very screechy, as if they could peel paint from a wall, but he pulls off the melodic singing rather well too. It's easily Criss' Randy Rhodes inspired shredding that makes this a great album, and if you can find this cheap, it's worth having for that.
I really want to like this CD, but alas, I cannot. The bloated nature of the balladry and the sad attempts at storytelling just don't work at this point in time for a band such as Savatage. As someone who adores the first two albums, this at times, seems almost like a completely different band. The hooks, the heft and the heavy all seem to be lost to pomp and melodrama. It's no wonder that this happened to be the last record to feature the vocals of Jon Oliva.
The songwriting is "good" in that non-catchy, bloated way. It shows off all sorts of talent, skill and grace though none of these things make for enjoyable listening at the end of the day. Some songs lash out and remind us that a metal band exists underneath all the morass but it seems as if Jon Oliva is losing his interest in pure metal and moving towards a more "broadway" oriented direction. (This, coming right before the dreadful "Streets" debacle which would see Jon being smart by backing well out of the band as they careened through crappy album after crappy album.)
I refuse to say that Savatage aren't talented, but at the same time this album shows a band in flux. They "rock" on command for a few tracks but this is hardly enough to justify my purchase of the record. They are talented, they are capable of composing a proper song, and they are lost as to what to do with these talents on this record.
Even so, I'll take this bloated, power-crap over anything they've shoved out to the public since.
and I'm willing to punch a wall in my frustration... what, you may ask led me to raise my expectations so? The first two songs... absolutely brilliant, godlike, amazing, these two songs could be the start of a complete fucking masterpiece. The Crimson Idol, Hanging in the Balance, etc... those are the kind of albums that are built on amazing songwriting such as this.
The two starting tracks are completely different... Of Rage and War is a stop-and-go number full of tension. A machine-gun delivery that you wouldn't really expect from Savatage, and it works completely well. Then, Gutter Ballet, is halfway to a ballad, with the prominent keyboard parts (including one awesomely catchy riff that, if it were for guitar, would bear the mark of Iommi), but throw in that main fast guitar riff which is half Hallowed Be Thy Name, and then of course the endless soloing, and the fact that the song is so ridiculously catchy. I declare this the greatest Savatage song ever, and a high-water mark for metal in general.
But then the album takes a precipitous, and most unfortunate decline. It isn't an instant death, it's more a Wile E. Coyote-like moment, where the next few songs are ALMOST as cool as the first two, and you think "oh, just a minute" and the moment will come back. Temptation Revelation is a nifty little guitar solo that gets really good when they throw in the keyboard parts, before fading again about halfway through. A bit goofy in the operatic vocals, but still, very good.
Next up, we have the "let's try the same trick twice" attempt of When the Crowds are Gone. This is not Gutter Ballet, Part II - unfortunately. It's not a bad song at all, but it is a ballad, and those are either completely dead on or just... missing something. This one is missing that someting, and therefore it is at best okay.
It's here when poor Coyote realises his predicament. Silk and Steel is yet ANOTHER three minute instrumental bit. Do you notice the repetition of trends? It's like they had the material for a great - nay, a legendary - EP but then chose to retread it. The song itself sounds a very small bit like Mephisto Waltz (WASP), but isn't quite as cool. Then again, hardly anything is quite as cool, given the overall amazingness of that band. This IS Criss Oliva at work, but he's dangerously close to Yngwiesturbation.
She's In Love... this is what would happen if you sped up Of Rage And War by about 40 per cent, making it into a standard power metal song. Unfortunately, the vocals are borderline irritating (Warriors, this is not), the riffage is pedestrian, and the song is rather repetitive. I forget who was the vocalist on this album (Jon Oliva himself?) but ... wow... it's hard to fuck up shrieky vocals, but this is one of them. The Ralf Scheepers school of over-the-top over-loud-in-the-mix vocals.
Now poor Wile E. is falling fast. The next song is almost completely without value... the small bit that has some value is the riff at around 1.17, which is interesting for about three seconds. Otherwise, the song is pointless. What the fuck is this wallowing, circular shit? This sounds like a Dream Theater song, with the complete lack of hooks, and the non-discernable chorus. Even the obligatory fast song at the end seems like an afterthought, lifted from the How to Write Songs pamphlet issued on the first day at A&R training camp. Horrible, absolutel worthless.
Unholy is a bit of a spark of triumph awash in this sea of mediocrity. The main riff is reminscent of a later Savatage song: Taunting Cobras, though of course it's a gallop that means "yes, we listened to Stained Class, just like every other band". The ending section is merely okay (unholy! unholy! unholy! - where is this cheese catalogue that you ordered from, I'd possibly like to purchase some for my own consumption), but the gang choruses are cool, and overall the song is pretty decent.
Back to the flop we go with the inexplicable Mentally Yours. I can't decide if this song is attempting to be a ballad, or what? The piano part sounds cheesy and forced, as opposed to the brilliance of Gutter Ballet. The intro has that horrendous "Tourrette's syndrome" vocal delivery where some of the lines are spoken off the pace of the underlying music (see "why did they send him away", especially the first few words, which come in a bit too late compared to the music). Awful. The whole thing sounds like Billy Joel, and the vocals sound like they're not quite the right key. Then throw in the first riff, which is an inside-out version of Warriors - imagine Warriors being played by untuned instruments. There's a nifty power-metal break, but again, it's Warriors, maybe a bit of Of Rage and War, and the whole note sequence is parodically out of tune. It's horrible when I hear a song that sounds similar to another in the general pace, but the notes are subtly distorted - it sounds like that horrendous "cover" of Run to the Hills by Ulrich on that Garage Days '87 EP. You know the one. Where the riffage is just a laugh riot. Imagine that as a serious song. Oh of course by this point the vocals are completely on my nerves.
Summer's Rain. Completely fecal. Yet another ballad. Look, you guys met your ballad quota with the second track, so quit milking it. Especially when you can't capture the magic on the rest of the album. Repetitive chorus, and by this point Olive sounds like he's being skinned alive, with his shrieks getting more and more pitiful. They do not match the vocals at all. The only thing that raises this song above the sickest depths of mediocrity is Criss Oliva's brilliant soloing. Like those Ozzy LP's with Randy, one cannot fault the lead guitar, just the vocals and the songwriting.
Then the last song, another rehash attempt. The off-kilter riffage of Of Rage and War comes back again, except in a not nearly as effective fashion in the verses of Thorazine Shuffle. The chorus would be a lot better, given the more standard on-kilter riff, except the vocals are terrifying by now. Coyote's a smoldering ruin.
Man, if it weren't for the first few songs, I'd give an album about a terrifyingly low rating. Cut off the first four, slap it on an EP, that would get an easy 85, and the rest... oh about a 30. It sounds like that horrendous Crimson Glory "comeback" LP with the over-the-top vocals and the lack of quality riffage. But, man oh man, the first two songs are stupendously brilliant. Download those two. Maybe the next two. Avoid the rest.
These guys have yet to release a bad album in my books. Gutter Ballet is quite a weird and ominous album title for such a band as Savatage. Gutter Ballet released in 1989 two years after their successful Hall of the Mountain King album took Savatage to the next level in craftsmanship and writing. Focusing this time on some unique, interesting orchestral, and piano parts more than ever before, this album molds both their heavy side and their new found almost classical side. Criss Oliva is an absolute genious on this album like all of the rest, creating plenty of blazing riffs and shredding solos that are bound to make you cream your pants. There are a few instrumentals on here, them being Temptation Revelation, The Unholy and Silk and Steel. Temptation Revelation is fucking amazing with awesome guitar solos from criss and some eerie piano and orchestra parts. All of the songs on here deserve a mention or five. What can I say...this album is fucking mint! Jon Oliva's legendary vocals really shine on this one as he fuses his old vocal style but also comes up with some surprises (see When the Crowds are Gone). When the crowds are gone has some of the best lyrics ever written and is also one of the best tracks any band could have conceived. Savatage kept evolving album after album and I think that is why they are still around. They stuck to their guns and what they believed in writing, which was true no-bullshit music weather you want to call it Metal or Rock, truely I'd rather not define such a band as this. They are Savatave and don't deserve any limiting catagory. Songs like Gutter Ballet, and When the Crowds are Gone are still live favorites by all fans. This is a timeless album, and quite underated by most Sava fans. If you want heavy fucking thrash thats going a million miles an hours constantly this is not the band for you. But if you like heartfelt music that is very tasty and true this is definatly something your going to want in your collection. Check out Criss Oliva classical guitar solo on Silk and Steel, its very soothing to my ears. She's In Love is one heavy motherfucker, that'll have you banging your head the instant you hear the opening riff. Hounds is also a fucking amazing track from begginning to end and im not going to ruin any more of this for you guys and gals. You Need this album theres no if's and or but's in this, go get it!
Best Tracks: Of Rage and War, Gutter Ballet, Temptation Revelation, When the Crowds are Gone, She's In Love, Hounds, The Unholy, Summer's Rain