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If The Wake of Magellan sounds like you've heard it before, that's because you probably have. With the possible exception of seeming more guitar-driven than the prior Savatage album, Dead Winter Dead, it sets sail on a comparable conceptual voyage, with the same, bold production values and level of refined orchestration. Contrary to how it reads (and looks) on the cover, this isn't exactly an album about the Portuguese explorer, but a series of current events involving Romanian castaways, an Irish heroine, and an elderly Spaniard who decides to commit suicide at sea, but is thwarted at the last moment when he has to instead choose to save another. Seems convoluted, I'll admit, but it's handled intricately, and no one will be accusing Savatage of not having thought this through.
Where Dead Winter Dead integrated a lot of festive, wintry classical pieces into the original material, this album actively pursues a different aesthetic. The acoustics of "Morning Sun" reflect on an airy, bright European port city, and the piano melodies throughout seem more distinctly 'warm' than they were up in Sarajevo. The guitar tone is comparable, but perhaps even louder than it was, which make sense, since they seem to push the album forward a lot more often. There is also some degree of experimentation with vocal arrangements, especially in weirder numbers like "Complaint in the System" or "Blackjack Guillotine". But, apart from these nuances, the impact of the music is eerily similar to Dead Winter Dead, only I'm afraid it's just not as catchy. I like the ramping up of the potency to the rhythm guitars, but so many of the riffs here are throwaways, cheap and generic groove patterns as in "Another Way" or the boring, climactic chords in the key-laden "Underture". There are a lot of softer moments through the album, like everything else the band did from 1991 on, but I found the balladry to be sadly lacking in quality, and the rock opera elements still inferior to Gutter Ballet.
On top of that, I still don't like Zak Stevens. Like Dead Winter Dead, he's not a huge irritant this time around, but I can't help but feel that every song on this effort would sound superior with the diction of someone fresh, or Jon Oliva himself (who again only sings a few times). I can just envision that rabid rasp of his slicing through the brightness of some of the riffs, where Stevens still comes off too much like someone who is trying and not succeeding. That said, really the worst aspect of The Wake of Magellan is that I find it almost impossible to remember any of the tunes. Few are outright bad or embarrassing, but none of them achieve that memorable climax so common to Hall of the Mountain King or Gutter Ballet. The balance of the metal instruments and orchestration is incredibly flush, like the band were truly on the verge of grandeur had they pursued this space for one more full-length, but despite the cohesive nature I feel, and the truly interesting subject matter of the story, this one rarely leaves port for my listening rotation. Big, bold, and beautifully average.
„The Wake Of Magellan” is the third album recorded without Christopher Michael Oliva. And surely I can assure that this is the best one. Quite different than “Handful Of Rain” and something like the better version (with some new things) of “Dead Winter Dead”. The line-up is still the same from the last record, some changes get out of ideas in lyrics and music. Yes, I wrote this the best album in this trinity, but the main question goes into my mind: did “Magellan” become a classic album? Is this a masterpiece of metal music just like previous monuments “Hall Of The Mountain King”, “Streets” and “Edge Of Thorns”?
The production of the album seems to be the rawest comparing to the for example three earlier recordings. Of course, this sound ‘saving’ is not a fault, the band didn’t record an album with bad production, but take a look at the crystal “Edge Of Thorns” or even “Handful Of Rain”. The difference can be heard for sure. As I write above, music of Magellan is a natural evolution of “Dead Winter Dead”, and to be honest, this is masterly evolution. This album is like a thrilling novel with six heroes (and one in hiding). Writing about music content I have to mention about front cover, it is strictly connected with lyrics, I wonder about the way of realization of this picture. Yes, for me both cover and music are just plastic and artistic and these factors go hand in hand with something unexpected to hear, I mean there are many contrasts included in tunes and Zak vocals which make the album totally above the ordinary. Looking at the songs: they are rather mid-tempo or semi-ballads with specific power, aggression and speedups. The album starts with very calm one minute introduction, sea noise appears with piano, light guitar riff and drums. “The Ocean” turns to “Welcome”, this title says it all, with harder tunes, the musicians invite me to the performance I really want to go…
After two short tracks, Savatage shows “Turns To Me”. This is the most aggressive song on the album with some calm elements, guitar perfect shows (especially the last solo)… And yes, I have to admit that the guitar style of Caffery/Pitrelli is totally different than Criss masterworks. I do not see here these musical ‘ornaments’ and some kind of spontaneity and madness, but do not get me wrong, this guitar play perfectly fits to the actual style of the band! “Morning Sun” is opened by subtle sounds which explode after few seconds as song with very hard riffs and drum cannonade, everything is decorated by superb guitar solo on the end. In turn two songs “Another Way” and “Paragons Of Innocence” are sung by Jon Oliva, still the vocals are really demonic and sharp as a razor. “Paragons” seems to be heavier song with this special atmosphere created by the vocals. I have to write about one track between previous two Jon pearls, it is entitled “Blackjack Guillotine” with some great moments about third minute: first-rate speedup and guitar lead. Then the composition “Complaint In The System” with concrete and impetuous guitar work, piano in the background, perfect Zak vocals and interesting riff on the end. This passionate metal work turns into “Underture”, instrumental song with absolutely top-notch show of musicians (the second instrumental song “The Storm” is played in the same vein). The next song “Anymore” is nothing new for the band, semi ballad with sensitive vocals and some speedups. The last one on the album entitled “The Hourglass” is the longest track, some ideas are repeated here (subtle opener, heavy guitar and speedups, complex structures, beautiful divided vocals), about 6:40 the song starts (only vocals and piano) to reach the end… The journey is over here, the ship landed, I can disembark…
Yes… but wait a minute, where is the title track of the album??? Is it bad or something like that??? No. It is not. This is the best THING on the album. Probably one of the best Savatage compositions (for sure in first five). Writing about era without Criss, this is the song just like “Alone You Breathe” from “Handful Of Rain”. And again, slow and sensual introduction with rhythm section, piano and thrifty guitar without proper riffs. In chorus Savatage shows great riffs, just metal structures and circa 2:20 amazing guitar lead attacks my ears, it lasts about 50 seconds, Zak sings again chorus words (“I believe what the prophets said…”) and “Magellan” gets the most outstanding form of counterpoint vocals (3:40). After 85 miraculous seconds, the song ends after one minute of calm outro (similar to the opening tunes) with no vocals…
Magellan is the last studio record with Zak Stevens on the vocals. For sure the best one, his voice is deeper, fuller, theatrical sometimes. During the songs Zak is supported by Savatage members (excepting the drummer Jeff Plate). Jon Oliva, his vocals and keyboards are unreserved. Savatage is still his child, but there is no only Oliva and five unknown workers. The rhythm section is rather typical without bizarre ideas, it is important element in this puzzle. About guitarists I wrote earlier, so to put it briefly: there is no way to forget about Criss Oliva during albums recorded after “Edge Of Thorns”, but here Caffery and Pitrelli showed that “Magellan” guitar work fits to the entirety, though they have completely different style. The band composed the masterpiece of metal music again, the album with admirable atmosphere, which is the key to my unknown imagination. Listening to “Magellan” is to admire remarkable talents of all musicians (and one person behind the band: Paul O’Neill, producer and composer). Musicians or… sailors on the board of ship with Savatage logo. On the ship which is unsinkable and imperishable.
No doubt Savatage is the best heavy metal band for me. I know their last albums have some progressive and orchestral elements (records without Criss), but I can see here evolution in proper and under control direction. Definitely “The Wake Of Magellan” is confirmation of this (even there is no classic logo on the front cover for the first time). Yes, I remember the times I was listening to the album (on tape!), everything was very special to me (A), so this is the next strong point for the ultimate result. And last of all, this is not an usual album, this is not an usual listening. This is METAL.
After Criss Oliva's death, Savatage released "Handful of Rain" which was supposed to be the final chapter in Savatage's career. Thankfully, a year later, Jon Oliva brought back Savatage and brought in a new guitarist in Al Pitrelli, as well as bringing back guitarist Chris Caffery, and a new era of Savatage was born. Their new sound could pretty much be described as an evolution from what was heard on "Streets: A Rock Opera." "Dead Winter Dead" did have some really good songs on it, but some of them seemed like Broadway songs with some fancy lead guitar work. Some of it even sounded like something from a Disney movie soundtrack. In addition, most of it was very simple, giving the album very little lasting value.
Thankfully, that album's follow-up, "The Wake of Magellan," fixes all of the problems of the previous album, and tacks on a few surprises as well. The main difference is that many of the songs no longer feel like they were piano ballads with guitars tacked on. This is nowhere near thrash or even speed metal, but the riffs are more prominent and varied.
The songwriting is far stronger as well. There are more tempo changes and the songs themselves are far more varied as well. There are many little nuances that add a depth to songs like "Turns to Me" and the title track. This is once again a concept album, but this one is multi-tiered in that it is made of three different stories, two that are true and one that is fictional. Believe it or not this actually adds to the album's value, as does the fact that the lyrics are very well-written as well.
Another aspect that must be mentioned is the lead guitar work. Al Pitrelli is an incredibly underrated guitarist. His solo at the end of "Turns to Me" is phenominal! In addition, his extended melodic solo at the end of "Another Way" is nearly as impressive and shows that Pitrelli can shred up a storm and play leads dripping with emotion as well. He deserves kudos for his lead work in "Hourglass" also. Chris Caffery, although not as distinct as Pitrelli, has some good riffs and solos like in "Morning Sun" and "Blackjack Guillotine."
Zak Stevens was unbelievable on "Edge of Thorns," and while his performance here does not top it, it comes pretty damn close. He conveys emotion very effectively and gives an overall amazing performance. Jon Oliva sings on "Another Way" and "Paragons of Innocence;" he does a pretty good job on the former, while he ruins the latter with his rapping (a style that he would later perfect on "Commissar" on their following album).
One of the best aspects of "Wake of Magellan" is how fresh everything sounds. "Turns to Me" and "Morning Sun" are unlike anything the band has written before; despite their first recorded works coming out fifteen years prior. The two aforementioned songs are among the best the band has ever written, along with the title track. The apex of the album, however, is the closer "The Hourglass." It has a dramatic build-up and music that stirs the emotions in many different directions. It is the second song on the album to feature the multi-tracked vocals that have shown up on several different Savatage recordings (the other being the title track), and it is the second song on the album to do it with resounding success. Lyrically, it is also the climax of the album and brings the listener along on the perilous journey with the protagonist. This is one of the greatest metal songs written and certainly can make a case for the best song in Savatage's career, although it has some stiff competition.
"The Wake of Magellan," despite being an astounding album, still falls slightly short of "Edge of Thorns," mainly because of the throwaway "Complaint in the System," the rapping in "Paragons of Innocence," and the somewhat dull "Anymore;" also "Underture" should be at the beginning or the end of the album as opposed to the middle. However these are just small qualms when compared to the overall magnificence of the album. This is a must-have for anyone with a taste for melodic metal or prefers their metal to have a touch of class.
Ho hum, another late-era Savatage album. Is Wake of Magellan extremely well played and executed? Yes. Is it enjoyable? Not as much as it should be. Savatage had pretty much edged themselves into a neat little rut of boring, self indulgent rock opera excess by the time they churned out this album, with little hope of returning.
Instrumentally, this is definitely a towering monolith in the metal world, as Savatage are more "prog" here than they ever were. There are a few pop-rock semblances, such as the addictively catchy "Morning Sun" and the criminally infectious chorus of the title track, but overall this is pretty damn complex and challenging stuff. Winding orchestral synths and pianos are intertwined with heavy, mechanical rhythmic riff patterns and pounding, mountainous drum beats, with classically influenced arrangements and song structures, very much giving off the aura of a raging sea, sometimes calm and sometimes angry and violent. The actual songs here seem to follow somewhat of a pattern; starting off slower and almost poppy, with catchy choruses and layered vocals, but eventually building up into a monumental storm of melodious accomplishment, or perhaps a tirade of layered, orchestral chanting. There's no doubt that the band could still write songs like a motherfucker, but the question is, why is most of the stuff here so sterile and dull?
Vocally, this is one of Zak Stevens' finest performances to date, definitely beating out the bland Dead Winter Dead, although not touching the hem of Edge of Thorns' robe. His melodic crooning is in fine form, and fits the music like a well-tailored glove, with just the right touches of dramatic flair in the right places. Unfortunately, Jon Oliva felt the need to put his atrocious yowling over the music, therefore fucking up the album all over again. I've said time and time again that his voice doesn't work for this type of music, and nothing has changed here.
This is pleasant and easy to listen to, but it's got no fire to it overall, with only a few songs sticking out as enjoyable at all here. Savatage used to really fucking rage with classic Metal riffs and solos, and while I am not one to cry "sellout!" at a band looking to change their sound, I can't help but feel a wave of malicious spite every time I hear the synth-drenched prog rock headache of Savatage's later material. It's okay if you try to forget which band is playing this stuff, but then you remember that this is fucking Savatage, and you shake your head, sigh, and wonder why it doesn't rock like a beast. Not terrible, and there are some bright spots, but overall, avoid this one. Another painstaking chapter in the sad story of Savatage.
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com
This is the last album with Zak Stevens, Savatages vocalist who suited this epic metal/rock opera style adopted in later savatage albums better than Jon Oliva whos vocals where suited more for the heavy metal of thier 80's work. If was definatly a good move for this band to change singers for this album, and for several previous albums before this starting at Edge Of Thorns. Unfortunatly Zak Stevens left the band after this album.
The actualy story of this album isn't all that great, just the tale of a fisherman, pretty boring by metal standards, but the music is what counts. Well this album starts off with a useless track of ambient ocean sounds, followed by an over the top rock opera intro titled "Welcome", this song is just not metal enough, the chorus is way to over the top. But followed by this is one of the songs best tracks, Turns to Me. A longer track of about 6 minutes which starts off with a solid piano balled and builds up to an epic chourus of electric guitars and ends on the same epic note, excellent track, perhaps the best track of the album. The next track, Morning Sun, has a cathy acoustic guitar riff, which turns to an electric guitar later in the song during the powerful vocal chorus, then back to the acoustics. This is a very Powerful song, one of the better tracks on the album. After this track the album goes into a slump until track 10 with one exception, track 7 is good for reasons similiar to those of track 3 and 4. Also 8 has a nice rythym to is, the song flows well. The album hits its High note on track 10, The Wake Of Magellan. Its a very deep song, filled with power, the guitars and vocals build up to an amazing multichoral ending which lasts a good while, definatly a great what to end the song, in my opinion this album should have ended hear with tracks 10 and 11 switched because track 11, Anymore, offers a deep and power song to be listened to. The tracks after this one aren't anything that great, and should not be payed much attention, just trite riffs and used themes in previous songs.
All the bonus songs are boring except the acoustic balled "Stay" which is dark and gloomy, a really great track which saves the ending of the American Release. Of all the Zak Stevens albums this is better than Handfull of Rain, on par with Edge of Thorns, and doesn't quite reach Dead Winter Dead. Its worth a buy though, the good tracks on the album make up for the nto so good ones, I can't really say there are any god aweful tracks on this album, the ones I didn't comment on are decent, not bad, but not that good.
Savatage - The Queen of Heavy Metal, at least nowadays. This is one of Savatage's best offerings to date, and it has the last works of Steven's with Savatage. The album is largely driven by piano, much like DWD was, and it does it just as good if not better. I was really blown away by how much they could improve upon the vocal layering idea's so prominent in past albums, especially considering that they are the only band who manages to do it right. Operatic and heavy all in one, it shouldn't work, but it does.
Turns to Me is the first full song (not that the first two tracks aren't, they just are more like intro's) and it kicks in with some powerful vocal harmonies which pump the song, then, when you think it's getting heavier, it drops off and goes soft and beautiful. Kick ass song! Mourning Sun is another song with the heavy/soft contrast which makes for some unpredictable passages that make Savatage (somewhat) famous. Blackjack Guillotine is the heaviest track on the cd and has some decent guitar work thanx to Chris Caffery on it. The title track would be the only other song worth mentioning, due to its length and competence to entertain. Other than that, just imagine Savatage doing they're typical Zak Steven's era music, but better on the whole.
Don't miss this one, this is by all means one of the best albums there ever is, was, and will be.