|Review: Savatage - Dead Winter Dead|
|Dead Winter Dead|
Label: Atlantic Records
Year released: 1995
Genre: Symphonic Metal
Review online: February 16, 2020
Reviewed by: Mjölnir
for:Dead Winter Dead
Rated 3.94/5 (78.89%) (36 Votes)
Savatage was in a pretty rough spot around the time this one came out. With the loss of Criss Olivia two years prior and Handful of Rain not being too well liked when it came out, it wasn't clear how the band would go in its then-current state. The answer, of course, was that it wouldn't, and Dead Winter Dead saw them sort of reinventing themselves by leaning harder on the symphonic aspect of their sound than they had since Streets: A Rock Opera. Thankfully, this album is nowhere near as egregious, but it still suffers from many of the same problems, resulting in a weak start to the band's new beginning.
The first issue I have is with the production, which lacks the organic feel of earlier works with a mix that keeps everything close together and emphasizes the orchestrations and vocals. The performances themselves have fallen a fair bit in quality as well, with the rhythm section being so in the background as to almost not be there and the guitar work only standing out in a few places and, even then, falling well short of older standards. Zack sounds great, but he's saddled with vocal lines that don't let him stretch out to his fullest, making him sound like he's holding back for most of the album. Jon Olivia comes in for the more pugilistic numbers, but while he sounds no better or worse than before, his voice just doesn't work for even the heavier material he's given.
This leads me to the biggest problem with the album, which is that the Metal takes a backseat to the Broadway elements the band had displayed since Gutter Ballet. That's not to say the album lacks variety, as you get everything from sweeping ballads like "Now is the Time (1990)" and "This Isn't What We Meant", rougher rock numbers like "Doesn't Matter Anyway" and the militaristic pounding of "I Am", and classically influenced instrumentals like "Mozart and Madness" and "Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)", the latter of which would go on to be a holiday favorite when Trans-Siberian Orchestra got off the ground. That's not even to say that there aren't good songs, as the solid grooves of the title track and the excellent album highlight "One Child" with its stunning a cappella section can attest. No, the problem is that the focus on the symphonic elements severely waters down everything else around it, making everything sound fluffier and taking away its bite in the process. It was the mix of theatrical atmosphere and metallic songwriting sensibility that made earlier works so captivating, but here they just sound like any other rock opera group, and a fairly lame one at that.
The concept of this album is based around the Bosnian Civil War in the '90s, as seen by the perspective of those in the middle of the conflict. Sadly, it's not terribly engaging due to clunky lyrics, thin story, and a lackluster job translating the given plot synopsis into musical form (it's difficult to pick up on who all the characters are without the synopsis, for example). Honestly, that might be the most damning thing I can say about the album: despite all its effort to reinvent the band as an orchestral rock group that specializes in rock operas, it can't even tell a decent story with the music given.
Savatage would limp alongside the similar-sounding Trans-Siberian Orchestra for a couple of albums before splitting into several side projects as TSO started getting serious attention in the mainstream. That was probably for the best, as subsequent albums wouldn't get much better than this, and there wasn't much point in having Savatage go on if they were just going to sound like TSO anyway. Passable, but a pale shadow of what the band once was.
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