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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