|Review: Savatage - Dead Winter Dead|
|Dead Winter Dead|
Label: Atlantic Records
Year released: 1995
Genre: Symphonic Metal
Review online: January 27, 2011
Reviewed by: Bruce Dragonchaser
for:Dead Winter Dead
You can’t deny the supreme talents of Savatage. They are probably the most original band in the business, in that no one else sounds like them, except the side projects of their respective members, who just can’t seem to shake the sound that shaped albums such as this, 1995’s Dead Winter Dead, an unseen masterpiece that introduced the direction that would launch the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and their run of holiday-themed rock operas. This was the album the band made after Handful Of Rain, and it’s odd in that it sounds like Jon Oliva and co had an overhaul, which in a way, they did. With Oliva behind the keys and writing the songs along with producer Paul O’Neill, the band themselves were made up of Chris Caffery and Al Pitrelli on guitars, Jeff Plate on drums, Johnny Lee Middleton on bass, and of course, the superb Zak Stevens on vocals. In essence, the vocals are shared here between Stevens and Oliva (who was really a full member at this point, as he would be for their follow up, The Wake Of Magellan), and in a way, this was the band’s most cohesive period, as the album that followed was the only one to feature the same line up as the one before.
Dead Winter Dead is a rock opera much in the same vein as the earlier Streets, except it feels more like a TSO album in that it is dominated by piano and Broadway-esque segments, though there is a lot of great guitar playing here, with some mesmerizing solos in the Criss vein from both Caffery and Pitrelli. The concept is about the war in Bosnia and it raises some interesting dilemmas for the characters, though the songs stand independent of the story line, despite its narrative thrust. The best thing about this record is the flow; it feels and moves like a real story, taking you from chapter to chapter. It’s more symphonic than anything they had done to this point (and perhaps even more than what the genre had attempted; remember this was made in 1995). There would be no Nightwish without the supreme "Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)" that’s for damn sure. There’s also the matter of the military-style riffs and percussion on "I Am" and the marching "Starlight", which I’ve heard repeated on many records over the years, but were probably invented here by Oliva and co.
Production-wise, this is more condensed than anything since Streets, much softer on the guitars and more insistent on the keys, but it’s not a particularly cheerful outing; it’s one of their darkest, especially in terms of atmospherics. The best songs are towards the end, with an unblemished run from track seven, "This Isn’t What We Meant" all the way to closer "Not What You See", one of the band’s best album closers next to "Sleep" and "Back To A Reason". But really, all the songs are excellent, from positive opener "This Is The Time (1990)" to "One Child", the album’s mini-epic, complete with fantastic lyrics and mind-blowing counterpoint sections (I truly believe this element is the highlight of every post-Edge Of Thorns release). Zak’s vocals are deep and emotive; Oliva’s have their usual venom-laced menace. It’s a feast for the ears.
In closing, this album is a masterpiece of conceptual metal, one that is so overlooked it might as well be a criminal offence. Like all the best albums, it takes a few concentrated listens to sink in, and it’s not one for fans of Hall Of The Mountain King, but if you like your metal with more than a dose of something different, something gentle yet arresting, this is a record, no, scratch that: an experience you need to undergo.
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