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Post-TSO Savatage cranks up the volume a notch - 32%

Innersfree, April 26th, 2012

This is pretty depressing stuff. The content on this and the dominating overarching feeling you get of which band actually composed it while listening to it. Now Savatage weren't always the most consistent of bands. With the exception of a few very, very noteworthy albums - particularly my choice of the bunch, Edge of Thorns - the band's output has always been a hit and miss. That's not detracting from the sheer brilliance of some of their work, though. Gutter Ballet had that rather snooze-worthy second half, but the first half more than made up for it with the kind of resolve and songwriting credo that seemed almost poised to break and tear apart any effort at constraining pure artistic merit.

The bands always had a bit of a problem with harnessing that capacity for artistic brilliance and channeling it over a work of any significant length, and with the death of Criss, it lost the hand that actually brought that kind of sanity to the ever unfocused ramblings of his elder brother. The tragedy of the death, though, can simply not be stated enough. Criss was and always will be one of the most incredible shredders of the '80s, with the kind of fluidity that pretty much eludes more prevalent forms and more famous shredders of his day and today. Suffice to say, every guitarist today really needs to listen to Criss Oliva for his tone and the absolute finesse in his execution. But more to the point of the matter at hand, it seems Savatage itself were utterly destroyed with his passing.

There was, of course, a work of rather redeeming nature in Handful of Rain, just nowhere as brilliant and more geared towards being peaceful. Settled. With an odd sense of melancholy floating above. That pretty much typifies all of Savatage's later work. While this may obviously please those who are looking for just that, it occurs to me that where Savatage once had this capacity for doing the most incredibly emotive things, they now simply strain towards it. Gutter Ballet was symphonic enough in its extent without irreverently abusing the keyboard as an instrument, but almost every latter day album falls guilty of it.

This album, too, is pretty much cut of the same cloth, it's just that it has a lot more volume to drown out the rather obvious similarities. And sadly, it falls in the same range. Perhaps less even. There's a point where all the meandering staccato riffing really gets intolerable and the lines blur between every song. This work is spirited enough, for you have to be inspired to be churning out concept albums and songs which only literally have layers to them. But much like the work of Daniel Glidenglow in latter day Pain of Salvation, this just has its head too far up its own ass to have any objective sense of merit.

The sad part is that the potential is very much there. The opener isn't by any means incredible, but it is lively, which seems to be something Savatage have forgotten in their overwhelming gloom. And oh, you can be lively with a sense of gloom. It follows through with something that's sort of memorable as well, if only for that chorus. And then once again the lines begin to blur. Morphine Child is almost intolerable in its tortuous, grinding length. But still, the potential is very much there. Check out The Man In The Mirror...the tension at the beginning, the way it's built with Jon Oliva's ever-ascending manic vocals, for once in the right place, but it all falls apart when they come back to where they began; the tension is lost, and although the heavier parts tacked onto the end are fairly redeeming, on the whole there really could have been a lot more to it.

I guess the only explanation I can offer besides the ones stated already seems to be that the name Savatage itself conjures too much of a sense of responsibility in Jon. There's a need to be artistic, elongated, antique - and it doesn't seem to fit together really well because it all feels forced. Now I haven't heard much of Jon Oliva's Pain, but what I have heard, I can appraise as pretty well, or at least better than this. Jon would be a lot better off working unencumbered by the tag Savatage bears, and the only demise here really is the demise of the title. While this does hold a sentimental attachment for many, Jon Oliva's Pain, for all intents and purposes and besides the absolutely asinine name, is frankly the same thing. Get over it.