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In all honesty, Handful of Rain would have had to commit identity theft on me, clean out my bank account, post compromising pictures of me all over the internet, run my pets over with a car, punch my mother, and steal my girlfriend for me to have liked it any less than Edge of Thorns. And yet, somehow, miraculously, it manages to commit all these acts of hatred upon me and then some. Depending on which way the wind was blowing on any given day, I'd have a difficult time deciding for myself whether this or Edge of Thorns, was the worst of Savatage's studio outings, but I think for now I'll accept that this was their career nadir; here is nearly no saving grace whatsoever for its miserable hide.
I won't even launch into the 'too soon, bro' argument, because even though Handful of Rain was released less than a year after Criss' car accident, I have the feeling he'd have wanted the band to forge ahead and make what they could out of themselves. Needless to say, one only has to suffer through the 49 minutes of this album to see just how undeveloped and uninspired the music is. Savatage brought over Alek Skolnick, who had recently departed from Testament, which was sort of a strange, unexpected move. Granted, there was the Atlantic Records connection, and if you're going to replace one guitar god, why not use another, but even Alex himself has admitted he always felt a disconnect with the Floridians. Ironically, his spurious leads, written very much in the vein of his alma mater, provide a few of the only interesting moments throughout, because he doesn't seek to emulate his predecessor so much as give of himself. Unfortunately, the rhythm guitar patterns, and the songwriting itself, is so exhaustingly dull that there's no real impetus to pursue them.
Once AGAIN, the overabundance of crappy AOR/prog-rock ballads dilutes the potential of a Savatage record. "Handful of Rain"? "Stare Into the Sun?" "Alone You Breathe"? Parts of three other songs? All shit, with no catchy choruses, just acoustic guitars morphing into bland chord progressions, pianos for dramatic effect, and lots of Zak Stevens attempting to add a fraction more bite to his timbre. Even where the album gets 'heavy', like the boring, hammering sleeze/groove-thrash of "Taunting Cobras", the guy sounds like he's attempting to ape hard rock singers like Sebastian Bach. I will say that Stevens gets a little more comfortable in his role, and I found him less grating overall than on Edge of Thorns, but apart from a few ambitions like his multi-tracked Freddy Mercury countervocal sequences in "Chance", he's just not the singer I want to hear in this band. Then again, I doubt Jon's presence would have made much of a difference over crappy Ozzy meets Black Label Society grooves like "Nothings Going On" or "Taunting Cobras" (which is a waste of a decent song title, if you ask me).
Production here is admittedly a little less sterile and billowy than the previous album, forcing the guitars to come across with more savagery, and I think a better mix of the vocals with the music. I no longer feel like I'm sitting in the studio booth next to some nervous guy trying out for a Broadway rock opera. The skins get hit pretty hard, and I've got no real problem with the rhythm guitar tone or the bass.Skolnick's flighty leads on tunes like "Taunting Cobras" are pretty slick, but without a proper vessel to steer them they just seem like mercenary excess, a hired gun wanting to prove himself after leaving the group which made him a name in the first place. I've read that Jon Oliva actually recorded most of this record himself, which might explain why it feels so piecemeal compared to past works. Ultimately, Handful of Rain suffers from its ill-advised, lamentable compositions more than any other facet, to the point where it's not merely a forgettable Savatage album, but downright bad. They should have let this alone to begin with, or if they were insistent, attempted something more unique to pass the time (a full album of material like "Chance" would have at least been different). But no. The album just sucks. I appreciate the persistence, and really anything in tribute to a great, fallen musician, but this is one cluttered breach of confidence.
This album is a specific rise of the new age for the band. Thanks to Jon Oliva that these sounds of metal came to the waiting bangers finally. After all tragic events Oliva and Paul O’Neill decided that the bettermost monument he could build for his brother Criss, would be continuation of Savatage. So one year passed and “Handful Of Rain” saw the light of the day on 15th August 1994, I bought it on tape (and I have till today!). To be honest these tunes are very unusual and unprecedented for me. My first meeting with the band was the opportunity to listen to “Edge Of Thorns” album (93). The first sounds of this album caused I loved the band forever. Then I read about the death of Criss Oliva… Now I can write that I knew him from only one album, from only 13 songs (on tape with bad order of tracks!), but he remains in my metal heart as genius. Listening to this album, many questions cross my way. What kind of music is it without Criss? Is Jon able to create such great sounds and magic as they did on “Hall Of The Mountain King” and “Edge Of Thorns” for example? Is Savatage still hold the banner of true heavy metal???
When I look at the front cover, I start to realize the band wants to reach overall result by simple way – high-powered production perfectly fits to the guitar wall and acoustic, semi-balladic song tunes as well. These two elements become complete superbly during the album. The beauty of contrast is splendorous indeed. Beside “Handful Of Rain” is recorded by Jon himself (Alex Skolnick did some solo leads), I have an impression that Savatage is a ‘real’ band with top form. The first sounds of music inform that Jon screams: the band is still alive, can you hear me???? Criss, look at me! Listen to the new music!!! And in fact the first song “Taunting Cobras” blows me up, very energetic song, it wakes all the metal heads up, I can find here some similarities from “He Carves His Stone” from the last album because of heavy power, speed and Zak vocals. When three minutes go by, the title track appears suddenly with totally different aura. The structure from this song will be repeated in few songs later, I mean calm, slow beginning and stanza with hard, heavy chorus. Though this is some schema, the band doesn’t bring boredom of course, trying to solve musical ‘problems’ with masterly skills. When I reach the third song “Chance”, I can write I met something new here. Again peaceful beginning and then music starts to change with grand symphonic elements, proper Zak lyrics and hard riffs. But the main thing of this track is… yes, the five part harmonized counterpoint vocals which are used here for the first time by any rock/metal band. This courage of Jon and Paul in composing such fine music allows reaching another genius level, when no words can describe its beauty. The next two songs “Stare Into The Sun”, “Castles Burning” and the penultimate “Symmetry” are completely in the vein of the previous album and songs e.g. “Conversation Piece” and “Skraggy’s Tomb”. The same magic, outstanding melodic structures, captivating Zak vocal lines…
The next two tracks I want to write shortly: instrumental symphonic “Visions” (in future Savatage will continue writing such songs) and another fast “Nothing’s Going On” which devastates everything in sight, the same feeling when listening to “Taunting Cobras”. The last ones “Watching You Fall” and “Alone You Breathe” need some special explanations. The first song, as O’Neill said one day, is written after watching television and some uncensored news/pictures from the civil war in Yugoslavia and Sarajevo. There he saw a young, small girl standing on the street, when suddenly some man went out from the shop and just shot her. Nobody paid attention on the lying young body… This tragic event caused O’Neill wanted to write a song about it (the war in Yugoslavia is also the subject of “Dead Winter Dead” next album). “Watching You Fall” is opened by calm, subtle Zak singing with piano and light guitar. The chorus explodes with very hard guitars and excellent vocals.
The last song “Alone You Breathe” is in fact a finishing touch. It is built on the base of “Believe” song coming from “Streets” album and, to be honest, I can’t choose which one is better. Here this song is like an obeisance to the Master Criss Oliva. This is most beautiful song – semi-ballad played with this only stroke of genius of Savatage. The band can create specific atmosphere which I can describe most emphatically as an example of sham brilliance or imitation. Again I deal with calm opening melodic tunes, when marvellous tension is built by musicians from the very beginning of the song, there is no unimportant and inessential strains, emotions and feelings. Listening to this I immerse in perfect world of infinite beautifulness, when all problems are gone, when hope reigns forever, when spirit of the Guitarist is present in every elementary particle. Interesting is fact that structure of “Alone You Breathe” is similar to “Watching You Fall”, but here culminating point is incredible, with words perfectly sung by Zak “… And if this is all illusion/nothing more than pure delusion/clinging to a fading fantasy/like Icarus who heeds the calling/of a sun but now is falling/as the feathers of his life fall free/can you see/see…”, then Jon, Zak and Alex with absolutely long great solo leads (at last!) pay tribute to Criss once again…
When the last song ends the album, I know one thing. There is enormous void without Criss. Although “Alone You Breathe” is excellent song, I would prefer here another song (and album of course), with Criss and his magical guitar. I really appreciate Skolnick performance, but he didn’t give a soul to the Savatage music. The final conclusion is obvious: nobody can replace Criss. Somebody can be very good, but not unusual. Somebody can be gifted artisan, but not an artist…
“Handful Of Rain” is dedicated to Christopher Oliva, whose MUSIC will on in the hearts of Savatage fans everywhere. These words are written in the booklet and perfectly refer to all the reasons Jon decided to continue the band metal way.
… tomorrow and after, you tell me what am I to do, I stand here believing, that in the dark there is a clue…
Despite the tragic loss of their guitarist and founding member, Criss Oliva, Savatage picked up the pieces and decided to continue with the band. In this effort they recruited Alex Skolnick, ex-Testament. This was the first surprise. The other surprise was when I read, here in the Encyclopedia, that Jon Oliva played all the instruments except from the solos. I really didn’t know that! They had a difficult work ahead since their previous album Edge of Thorns, was truly a masterpiece. They have done quite well I should say.
Generally, the band’s sound is similar to that in Edge of Thorns. The production is very good and pushes the album forward. Skolnick has done a great job on the guitar solos and Oliva’s absence is obvious in only a few parts. There are many dynamic guitar breaks, beautiful melodies and orchestral compositions. The experiment of Stevens on the vocals had been very successful and once again he performs excellently. There is unfortunately one problem.
The songs cover a wide range, from pompy and epic to melancholic and peaceful. Unluckily not all of them are equally inspired. In Handful of Rain one can find exquisite tracks like Castles Burning with the beautiful changes and the impressive vocals. The self-titled is also a magnificent song, in the spirit of Savatage. Powerful singing and playing, it surely is the finest of the album.
Next to them stands proud the majestic, epic song called Chance. It will amaze and leave you speechless through all the way with its guitar themes and especially the part where the different choruses sound so operatic all together. It is very interesting how they managed to make some classical themes sound so heavy. They tried it before. I’m referring to Streets, but I don’t think they made it then. There is also the song dedicated to Criss Oliva, Alone You Breath. The most sentimental and emotional ballad they ever composed that sends shivers down your spine. Only Savatage could write such a wonderful ballad. I guess they have their way.
Still, for all the big effort they made, other songs are below average. The opener, Taunting Cobras and Nothing Going On, to me they sound completely out of place. Though they are heavy and fast, they don’t have much to contribute. Instead, they confused me on what exactly were the band’s mood and intentions. You might find it difficult too.
Handful Of Rain is far better than Streets. It may not be equal to the power metal diamonds they have gives us in the past but it is worthy of their name and history.
Oddly enough, if it weren't for the ballads on this album, Handful of Rain would suck. This was made after Criss Oliva died from an accident with a drunk driver, and Jon Oliva had just gotten clean after a long downhill spiral in the 80's, so there's definitely a curmudgeonly sober atmosphere to this. Real experiences make for powerful songs, and you will find some of Savatage's most poignant songs here, like Castles Burning and Chance, alongside gray, bluesy, and dusty laid back numbers like Stare Into The Sun or the title track. There is a definitely more spiritual angle to the music this time around, as well as a mournful pace to it. It's obvious from listening to Handful of Rain that the Oliva has had some sort of spiritual awakening, and it is that power of the spirit that buoys this beyond Savatage's previous efforts at being more melodic; there is an all-too-harsh realness to the most of the songs, whereas on Hall of the Mountain King Savatage was a troll crushing everything in its path, on Handful of Rain Savatage is a man rising from the ashes of his demise.
Not everything is good, as would be expected. The creative force behind Savatage had died, and it shows. The "fast" songs are, to put it bluntly, boring. This is symbolic, as the vitality of Savatage had just died. The strength of Handful of Rain lies in the slower numbers, so why they decided to open the album with Taunting Cobras, which is arguably the weakest song, is beyond me. At this stage, I'm not listening to Savatage for the pugilistic force, I'm listening to them for their sublime melody, and the faster songs (Taunting Cobras and Nothing's Going On) sound restrained and half-cocked. This reflects the "sobering up" of Savatage, where their strong point moves away from the blind aggression and towards focused understanding and wisdom.
All in all, Handful of Rain is a creative export that surpassed all expectations by a longshot. Sure, it has its weaknesses, in that the sobered up band can't quite do the fast tempo rockers like they used to, but the power and emotion behind these songs make up for it. The title says it all -- this is best listened to on a gray, rainy day when you are down in the dumps. However, don't expect to bang your head, because Savatage's days of partying are long gone.
This was my first Sava album, purchased mainly because I was a Testament fan. It introduced me to this killer band, and I have sentimental attachments to some of the songs on here, but as a Savatage album, it's not one of their greatest. As a tribute to fallen guitarist Criss Oliva, however, it is a wonderful tribute.
I guess Jon plays everything on here except for the leads and the vocals, but he pulls everything off rather well. I was especially stunned by his competent drum performance. Zak is great on vocals, and I've got to admit, I almost like him better than Jon on the later Sava albums. Jon can't really pull off the clean stuff, but Zak is awesome.
Skolnick is, well, Skolnick. If you know his work with Testament, he actually really shines here with the slower tempos and more colourful textures. He throws in little fills here and there which give the album a rather live feel. The only real gripe I can point out is that he is no replacement for Criss, whose solos felt somewhat dangerous and reckless, where as Skolnick is more calculated and precise.
"Taunting Cobras" starts things off heavier than anything they've done since Hall of the Mountain King, and maybe heavier than that yet. Shit, this is heavy as all hell! No slouching here! "Chance" starts off light, then gets heavy, before it ventures into opera territory, which I really don't dig. Actually, I think it sucks...there are parts that build up like some of the interludes of Gutter Ballet, but then you get those goofy vocal melodies at the end. They don't add anything to the song, and just sound bizarre.
The mood is really somber throughout the album. Despite "Taunting Cobras" being a really in your face assault, and "Nothing's Going On" hammering away, the songs all feel slower and rather bluesy. This is especially evident on "Stare Into the Sun," "Castles Burning," and the title track. Speaking of, I hear bits of Alice In Chains in the title track, and that's actually really not bad!
I've made it pretty clear that I don't care much for Savatage's ventures into pompous opera-like tracks, but the ending of "Alone You Breathe" is actually really powerful, even with the round singing. A lot of the ballad material on here, like "Watching You Fall" and the searing "Symmetry" comes across just as powerful as anything they did on Edge of Thorns or Gutter Ballet, sometimes even better.
Had Savatage ended on this note, it would have made an excellent end to the band, but they went on to make more albums, none of which really brought back the glory of their early material. This is a nearly vanquished army riding victoriously after suffering staggering losses. Sure, it's a good album, but without any satisfying feel to it, just mourning.
It's sad how Savatage went down. Criss Oliva died after the pinnacle of Savatage's career, the superlative and all-encompassing Edge of Thorns, and then the band just didn't seem to have it anymore, sinking deep into a cacophony of keyboard drenched and vocal-centered prog rock . This album still has a few echoes of the previous album's sound, but it's significantly weaker. It might not be the rock opera bore-athon of the next few albums, but it's definitely pretty weak in some aspects. This isn't really a headbanging type of album, no. It's almost bluesy at times, very mellow and midpaced, the kind of thing you'd want to listen to while watching the rain fall down on your window, watching the water run down and create exotic, wondrous patterns on the sleek, cold glass. It's the kind of thing you listen to when you want something intelligent, yet not aggressive or evil. Obviously a side effect of Criss's death, this is noticeably darker and much more bleak than anything the band had done previously.
Savatage are still brilliant songwriters, as is obvious in the fact that they created an album here made up of almost nothing but ballads and succeeded in not becoming tedious or dull. Only two songs here are fast paced and "metal", leaving the bulk of the album to wallow and soak in a wide basin of blues and theatrical rock influences. We have the epic, theatrical power of "Chance," which is by far the best song here, the pummeling, ominous "Castles Burning" and "Watching You Fall," the bluesy, touching ballad "Stare at the Sun" and the mellowed out, hazy title track, all stunning exercises in stretching the boundaries of the heavy metal genre. "Taunting Cobras" is an okay song, and the heaviest here, but it's not the same kind of heavy as the old Savatage was. Not even close, more of a "90's" heavy. However, the next two songs here are fairly weak. "Nothing Going On" has a name that suits the music contained within, and "Symmetry" is just decent, nothing else. While "Alone You Breathe" is touching and heartfelt, it's not quite as good as "All That I Bleed" or "When the Crowds are Gone" from previous albums. Still a fine closer though, and makes up for the previous two songs.
The biggest problem in evidence here, though, is that it simply lacks a lot of what the Criss-era Savatage had. Edge of Thorns no doubt had spectacular songwriting, but if you took away Criss's solos and his influence on the band, you'd get something like the sound on this album. There isn't much of a difference in the sounds otherwise. The songwriting here is good, too, but it just falls short of what the band had when they worked with Criss Oliva, as opposed to renegade guitarist Alex Skolnick. Edge of Thorns was a special album, one of those "once in a lifetime" things that you rarely ever see from any band again. Handful of Rain is the logical continuation from such an album, boasting a similar sound, yet lacking the innovative spark (and some of the rock influences) that made it's predecessor so damn cool. Recommended to Savatage purists and nobody else.
After the death of Criss Oliva by the hands of a drunk driver, it was indeed questionable who would be able to match such a masterful guitarist. Fortunately, Alex Skolnick had left Testament to focus on other things, and decided to record the album and do a tour with Savatage. Jon Oliva, overly distraught at the untimely death of his brother, did not sing on this album. But the highly able Zach Steven's did, and he did it justice.
This was the second Savatage album I had found. I bought Dead Winter Dead, and kind of liked it, so I decided to try something else out. I didn't even notice it had Alex Skolnick from my favorite thrash band Testament in it, so I went in expecting something like the other album. But as I've come to find with Savatage albums, even up to their latest release Poets and Madmen, they keep updating their sound.
I will rarely even point out guitar solos and lead work when I run over the songs, because all the songs have them and they are melodic and tastefully done. Alex Skolnick is very masterful at his guitar, and you can really tell he's shifting from metal to a more jazz feel when you listen to this album. He knows exactly when to cut in and cut out, and exactly what his solos should sound like.
This album starts out with a very fast song, Taunting Cobras. In fact, thanks to Alex's playing I almost thought this was a Testament song until the singing kicked in. After that is the title track, Handful of Rain. This freatures a great accoustic intro with singing over it, and then it goes into a heavy riff with more great singing, showing how Zach can shift from lower singing to this great yelling type of singing.
Next you get what is hailed by most people to be the best song off the album (best Savatage track ever besides Morphine Child, actually), Chance. This is like their one big rock opera ballad type song on this album, and they pull it off flawlessly. Skolnick plays a lead that fits so well here, it's sick. And he pulls off this pinch harmonic squeal coupled with a whammy bar that just dives right into the riff part of the song so well.
After this is my personal favorite song off the album, Stare into the Sun. It's this little track that starts out as some sort of bluesy or jazzy guitar sound with just a pace keeping drum beat. The guitar fills are short and sweet, and the rhythm part later is a wah pedal with muted strings - giving that good "chucka chucka" sound. Fits really well. And after that is another good track entitled Castles Burning, which features more great guitar and vocals, and some piano overlayed that really seals the deal. Then later it goes into an accoustic arpeggio that sounds really sweet with vocals over it.
Then you get to Visions, which is instrumental, and is pretty short and sweet. Then you get another decent ballad song called Watching You Fall. The lyrics are the real attention getter here. There's no snippet of text I can give you, you just need to read them all and listen to the song to understand.
Then comes a track that I like the first six seconds of because you hear them talking in the studio followed by Alex doing this awesome run followed by a pinch harmonic. Then I get bored with it quickly. It's heavy, but a bit mindlessly so in my opinion. There is an awesome guitar fade in part mid-song with the solo (hear the amp crank up, and guitar slide in... and random quick licks). Plus some shredding.
The rest of the album, featuring Symmetry and Alone you Breath, are just kind of mediocre. They're okay to listen to, but would be better tucked into the middle of the album. They seem to be more generic than anything. But they do have some decent piano and guitar work in them, and also vocals, but they seem like they just fit stuff into a formula.
So really, for an album that came about right after such a horrible tragedy and in a time of such uncertainty, it is quite amazing. And it is definitely worth a listen, because it is definitely a breath of fresh air for Savatage, as it contains more of a jazzy feel (thanks mostly to Alex Skolnick) than their earlier and later stuff, but it still sounds like the same old Savatage simultaneously.