|Classic Review: Savatage - Gutter Ballet|
Label: Atlantic Records
Year released: 1989
Genre: Symphonic Metal
Review online: September 8, 2003
Reviewed by: Sargon the Terrible
Album number five for the Sava-crew witnessed a change of direction and a good bit of experimenting with new sounds. Not surprising, considering that with the much-lauded "Hall of the Mountain King" the 'Tage had taken their old sound as far as they could, and it was innovate or stagnate. With "Gutter Ballet" they had the nads to try something new.
I am surprised Savatage don't get more credit for at least helping to launch the whole 'symphonic metal' wave that is now so prevalent, as their epic/orchestral approach on this CD presages a lot of the stylings of modern power metal, and bands from Nightwish to Kamelot obviously owe a lot to this band, and this album in particular. About half of this CD is more traditional heavy metal just like Savatage's older works. "Of Rage and War", the pounding epic of "Hounds" and especially "The Unholy"- which features the best damn riff Chris Oliva ever wrote – are good old riff and chorus metal like the 'Tage have always done, and done well. The thing that raises this album above the ordinary is the other half: "Gutter Ballet", "When the Crowds are Gone", "Summer's Rain" – epic metal cuts with a heady mix of pounding riffage, tasty solos, and the (at the time) unheard of use of piano and orchestral backup to create a huge operatic sound that was unlike anything anyone had heard at the time. After the booming, symphonic riffs of the title cut nothing in metal was ever quite the same.
The cover art is another fine Gary Smith painting, and the lyrics on this album are among the best Savatage have ever written. "Of Rage and War" is fairly stupid, but "When the Crowds are Gone" is truly arresting – a heartfelt, moving and emotional song that does not lack for kick.
Savatage have never gotten the credit or the praise they deserve, least of all for the influence they have had on the genre, but this is a groundbreaking album from a veteran outfit that contains some absolutely stellar moments. In the future Savatage would delve even more fully into progressive/orchestral music, but this is where it started. "Gutter Ballet" is a bit uneven in places, and some of the more straight-up tracks are only so-so, but the good stuff here is very, very good. This one is a piece of metal history, and a genuine classic.
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