|Classic Review: Savatage - Handful of Rain|
|Handful of Rain|
Label: Atlantic Records
Year released: 1994
Genre: Heavy Metal
Review online: August 29, 2005
Reviewed by: Sargon the Terrible
for:Handful of Rain
There was some doubt among fans as to whether Savatage would survive Criss Oliva's death in 1993, but less than a year later the band came forth with this album, their eighth album and one of their very best efforts. While not quite as superlative as "Edge Of Thorns", this is still a great album.
I'm guessing that most of this must have been written before Criss died, as it sounds a lot like the style in use on the previous album, which the 'Tage have not duplicated since. So I'm imagining this is mostly Criss' songwriting genius at work here. "Handful Of Rain" is the same kind of guitar-heavy, slightly bluesy sound that made "Edge Of Thorns" so distinctive, and so very cool. But "Handful" is a bit uneven in places.
It kicks off with the good-but-not-great stomper 'Taunting Cobras", which is very much in the pugilistic vein of older material, and so not quite what I wanted from this disc, luckily they get right to the good stuff after that with two booming epics in a row: the awesome title track followed by the amazing, theatrical "Chance", a highlight of the album. "Chance" starts out slow and balladesque, turns pounding and heavy, and then breaks in the middle for an ear-popping interlude of syncopated a capella vocals that still makes my jaw drop. Not so much for the ability to do it as for the sheer nads it took to put that in there. It's the kind of songwriting leap that separates a good band from a great one.
"Stare Into The Sun" is a mellow tune that would almost be a blues song if not for the pummeling sections on the chorus. "Castles Burning" is still one of my all-time fave Savatage songs, with a complex structure, great lyrics, and an awesome vocal performance. A great fucking song. "Visions" is a rather bland instrumental, but at least it's short and leads right into the pounding "Watching You Fall".
After that the album slips a bit. "Nothing Going On' is a really dull, boring tune that I skip. "Symmetry" is better, but sounds too much like "Stare Into The Sun", and isn't as good. "Alone You Breathe" is Jon Oliva's tribute to his brother, and it's a pretty good song, but I would rather have heard him sing it himself, which he did on the bonus track some versions have.
The performances here are really excellent. Doc and Johnny Lee handle the backbeat as professionally as always, and at least the band had the sense to bring in guitar whiz kid Alex Skolnick to play guitar, as he's about the only player they could have gotten at the time to match Criss' ability. Skolnick does well, and handles the ax duties almost as if he were channeling Criss' ghost. For me the real star of the show, however, is Zack Stevens and his awesome voice. The production is clear as a bell, and the vocal lines are killer, and Zach just tears it up with one of metal's best vocal turns.
This is a solid 'Tage album, with what I consider some of their best material. If you loved "Edge Of Thorns" as much as I did, this is almost as good, and despite the fact that some fans don't seem to like it, it ranks in my book right up there with "Gutter Ballet" as one of the band's finest moments.
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