Yet another SAVATAGE best of... but this time with a first-time-on-DVD live performance captured in Japan on the bands 1994 ‘’Handful Of Rain’’ World Tour bolted onto the end of what is a warts-n-all review of one of Heavy Metal’s finest bands.
‘’Still The Orchestra Plays...’’ is SAVATAGE’s fourth or fifth (if you include ‘’Believe’’ a Japanese only issue) best of release and what’s still refreshing is that the band haven’t just re-released past efforts. 1995’s ‘’Ghost In The Ruins – A tribute to Criss Oliva’’ cherry picks rare and archive sound bites from the late guitarist impressive repertoire. The 1996 ‘’From The Gutter To The Stage’’ covers 1981 – 1995 and finally ‘’The Best And The Rest’’ released in 1997 covers up to the ‘’Wake Of Magellan’’ album.
And whilst ‘’Still The Orchestra Plays...’’ lifts nothing from the first two SAVATAGE records, ‘’Sirens’’ and ‘’The Dungeons Are Calling’’, or 1986’s ‘’Fight For The Rock’’, all the important reference points in the up and down history of these much missed Floridians is covered.
The first four tracks on CD1 epitomise the blunt force and sheer Heavy Metal might of the ‘TAGE. The opening brace of ‘’Power Of The Night’’ and ‘’Hall Of The Mountain King’’ are easily the two best songs that the band wrote in Metal mode. Bonafide Heavy Metal classics both and hence it’s not difficult to notice that when Criss Oliva was cruelly taken from the band much of the Metal was also removed.
Thereafter much of the SAVATAGE song book, from 1989’s ‘’Gutter Ballet’’, 1991’s ‘’Streets’’ and 1993’s ‘’ Edge Of Thorns’’, demonstrated Jon Oliva’s penchant and growing influence for the dramatic and perhaps overblown Prog Rock. Still featuring Criss Oliva on guitar the remaining tracks on CD1 concentrate on the Proggy/ Rocky era of SAVATAGE, that, to be honest left many fans wondering what had become of latent Heavy Metal giant albeit one waiting in the wings.
By 1994 the merry-go-round of revolving band members in SAVATAGE started to take its toll and amazingly that the band managed to produce ‘’Handful Of Rain’’ in that year was testament to SAVATAGE’s own belief in themselves. The title track and the stunning ‘’Chance’’ at long last injected that bit of Metal that was thought missing and it was on this album that vocalist Zak Stevens really stepped up to the plate and produced a quite excellent performance.
However once again the spectre of Rock Opera floated above the bands heads and even though ‘’Dead Winter Dead (1995), ‘’Wake Of Magellan (1998)’’, and 2001’s ‘’Poets And Madmen’’, were solid SAVATAGE records, with ‘’Dead Winter Dead’’ proving to be an unexpected hit which in turn spawned THE TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA project, the progression in the band’s sound from Power Metal bombast to savvy technical Prog Rockers was finally complete.
It remains to be seen, and with the growing popularity of THE TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA whether or not SAVATAGE will ever perform or record as a group again, but until such times this greatest hits package is a fine reminder of why SAVATAGE still remain one of Metal’s most under-valued bands.
(Online August 27, 2010)