Guitarist Alex Skolnick left Testatment, leaving them to produce one of the better albums of their career. His work in Savatage, albeit in less-than-ideal circumstances (former guitarist Criss Oliva was killed in a car accident and this album is dedicated to him), has also resulted in the release of one of the best progressive thrash albums I've heard in recent times. Skolnick's amazing guitar work is clearly the highlight of this album for me, but I think what is also amazing is Jon Oliva's and Paul O'Neill's songwriting. The former's keyboard work at times is also pretty interesting. My favourite track is Chance. Zachary Stevens vocals works better, I think, when he's not screaming and just singing. If you're down about the lack of virtuoso playing in many of the so-called Alternative acts of today, well, this album has a lot of it. Look for their new concept album release coming out sometime, which is rumoured to more rock-operaish.
The Wake of Magellan is one of the most ambitious compositions, both lyrically and musically, that I've ever come across. A concept album chronicling the life of Hector Del Fuego Magellan, a Spanish sailor and direct descendant of the explorer Federinand Magellan, The Wake of Magellan describes how the sailor, on the verge of committing suicide, finds a new sense of life after rescuing a stowaway from a ship who had been thrown overboard to die.
Savatage has shown remarkable growth as a band since from their initial offerings of Sirens and The Dungeons Are Calling to the recent Handful of Rain and Dead Winter Dead. The Wake of Magellan follows this progression: part musical, part rock-opera, and part symphonic heavy metal sledgehammer, this album borders on genius.
The album really picks up starting with the third track, Turns to Me, and never lets up. The guitars by Chris Caffery and Al Pitrelli are superlative, at times reminding me of the Mustaine/Freidman powerhouse combination. Jon Oliva does a brilliant job on the keyboards, though I think he should've been more present in the mix. Zak Stevens' vocals, John Lee Middleton's bass, and Jeff Plate's drums all complement each other well.
The poetry by Paul O'Neill, which complement the lyrics (also by O'Neill), provides a distinctive touch to this album. If you've been a fan of Savatage's recent efforts, this album will definitely appeal to you. The Wake of Magellan is one of those rare cases where a band's ambitions are actually realised by their songs, and I highly recommend it.
Not since Queensryche's Operation: Mindcrime has an album of such conceptual beauty been made. It's hard for me to say right now if after fifteen years, I'll enjoy this symphonic rock opera the same as Operation: Mindcrime, but I'm totally infatuated with Savatage's Poets and Madmen.
Right from the opening piano strains to the aggressive guitar work that permeates through the entire piece, it's clear that this album has something definitive to say. Like Queensryche's epic, this album is politically charged. The plot showcases the atrocities that Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Kevin Carter, who documented the African famine, encountered and how it consequently shaped his mind and thinking.
For the first time since 1991, Jon Oliva is the band's vocalist (taking up the task after Zak Stevens' departure) and his voice is simply amazing. The guitar, again as in Operation: Mindcrime, is what dominates. Chris Caffery handles most of the guitar duties though Al Pitrelli (who left to join Megadeth), also has a significant role. Johnny Lee Middleton keeps the bottom-end solid.
This album has now become my favourite Savatage album, and I feel strongly that even though the previous efforts after Streets were amazing, this is the first time the album really comes together. The music complements the lyrics (by Paul O'Neill) extremely well, to bring the overall concept into tight focus.
Right from the first listen, I realised this was one of those albums where everything comes together. One of the reasons for this is because it comes familiar traditional progressive heavy metal styling with subtle innovation. I highly recommend this release for anyone interesting in conceptual symphonic rock.