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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.