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„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.