For all the Metal bombast SAVATAGE created throughout the 1980s, the 1990s sought different problems for a band that for all accounts were transforming into a Progressive Metal group. The first major hurdle to overcome was the untimely and tragic death of guitarist Criss Oliva. Killed at the hands of a drunk driver the impressive SAVATAGE repertoire was very much centred around him and, of course, Jon Oliva. We can but guess at the reasons for Jon Oliva’s muted collaboration on this album, he did play keyboards and it has been suggested he even played drums and bass after two band members walked prior to recording. So it was a fractured and broken SAVATAGE that entered the studio with ex-TESTAMENT guitar wizard Alex Skolnick as hired-hand to shore up the axe attack.
Quite amazingly then, through all the trials and tribulations, SAVATAGE’s ninth studio offering saw the band move further away from the proto-Power Metal of 86’s awesome ‘’Hall Of The Mountain King’’ and focus more and more into the realms of Prog Metal. Not to be outdone the album does kick off with the thundering riffing of ‘’Taunting Cobras’’ causing many to think that the ‘TAGE of old had returned. However apart from the excellent Metal-by-numbers of ‘’Nothing’s Going On’’ this album lives and breaths technical Metal a la QUEENSRYCHE in rarely equalled glory. Paired with 93’s ‘’Edge Of Thorns’’ ‘’Handful Of Rain’’ encapsulates the genre merging talents of SAVATAGE from Power Metal traditionalists to avante garde Prog Rockers who utilize all manner of studio trickery to get the music across.
The title track a deceptively catchy Hard Rocker displays the sound that SAVATAGE would adopt throughout subsequent releases. Featuring some neat guitar playing from Skolnick and the power house lungs of Zachary Stevens the title track is but a taster for the supreme ‘’Chance’’ a song the band has tried to emulate over the years but not quite to the same effect. The sublime use of counterpoint that took weeks to create and record just elevates this song to one of the finest the group has effected and lapses a close second behind the mighty ‘’Bohemian Rhapsody’’ for sheer bloody minded opulence. Although the laconic drone of ‘’Stare Into The Sun’’ might not be to everyone’s taste it does let Stevens showcase that tremendous voice as does the up beat Power Ballads of sorts ‘’Castles Burning’’, ‘’Watching You Fall’’ and ‘’Symmetry’’. The album ends on the highly emotionally charged ‘’Alone You Breath’’ written for Criss Oliva it’s really a song that SAVATAGE excel at and is the perfect epiphany for a much lamented talent.
The last of SAVATAGE’s Metal albums before concepts, theatrics and Prog enveloped the band is still a remarkable album given the conditions for its recordings. Worth a visit or re-visit time and time again.
(Online April 27, 2007)