Savatage
Dead Winter Dead


4.5
superb

Review

by Thompson D. Gerhart STAFF
December 26th, 2008 | 25 replies | 6,019 views


Release Date: 1995 | Tracklist

Review Summary: An album to make you appreciate life both lyrically and musically.

Dead Winter Dead - an interesting enough name for an album, though it doesn't refer to any sort of zombified (cool as that would be) or nuclear winter. Dead Winter Dead, as a matter of fact, is a concept album which largely deals with the Bosnian War in the period extending from November of 1994 to Christmas Eve of the same year.

This is the album that spawned not only a radio hit for Savatage, but Trans-Siberian Orchestra, the brainchild of producer Paul O'Neil which has come to great success and which incorporates many of the members of Savatage. Of course, this all came about over the song Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24), which is also featured on TSO's first album, Christmas Eve and Other Stories. Basically, if you haven't heard it somewhere, you've been living under a rock.

The track is a combination of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and Carol of the Bells and is supposed to represent a cellist playing Christmas carols among the mortar fire in Sarajevo. The cellist in question, according to Paul O'Neil, is actually Vedran Smailovic, who, after returning to Sarajevo during the war, actually did do this. The only difference is that in the Savatage telling of the story, Smailovic is killed by mortar fire the Christmas Eve of 1994, whereas he's actually still alive today.

In the story, his death ends up causing a truce between the Serb boy and Muslim girl around which the story of Dead Winter Dead takes place, and so he ends up telling her that he's not just a uniform and blah blah blah in "Not What You See," and they end up walking away from the war with each other in the end.

Yeh? Bleh? Whatever. I could really care less about that little part of the album (though the song is solid and interesting). I think the band was probably just trying to throw something in about love being able to stop war or something. Whatever. I expected more love and less war after reading the Wikipedia entry on the article, but the album stays true to metal form with plenty of aggressive vocals and fast, heavy riffs that establish the other eleven of thirteen tracks of war as the predominant atmosphere.

Even that final song is amazing. Possibly even the best on the album (though the concept surrounding it is "meh" at best). It features some really great solos and a rich, layered vocal performance by Zachary Stevens, who even puts out one of the best lyrics I think I've ever heard about war ("Tell me if you were to win would it show? / In a thousand years who would know? / As a million lives come and go / On this same piece of ground"). He even puts them out there in a terrifically melodic way which makes you wonder how he'd been singing so harshly earlier on the album.

Anyhow, to begin with there's an orchestral intro which gives of a mood of darkness and brooding chaos. It's ushered in by the rapid piano part and explosion which come following pounding bass drums and a screeching strings section.

From there, there are a few tracks which carve out history, or beginning of the war (Sarajevo, This is the Time (1990)). These songs are generally slower and more classical, featuring piano and an increased emphasis on crescendo. There's a great part in This is the Time (1990) where Stevens belts out "This is the one place to be!" immediately followed by a classically-based guitar solo that simply can't be missed.

In a great move by the band, not only does Stevens sing, but Jon Oliva contributes lead vocals to two songs on the album - "I Am" and "Doesn't Matter Anyway," where his harsher voice and sinister laugh contribute the necessary air of villainy in a warmonger and arms dealer, respectively. "Doesn't Matter Anyway" is another stand out track with Oliva growling along quickly to the rhythm of rapid, crunching guitars about selling instruments of war, even proclaiming that "If you never use 'em, you can save 'em till your next civil war," before pausing and grunting out "Cause that's what they're for!" in a way that almost shows off a dirty, evil smile.

"This Isn't What We Meant," "Mozart and Madness," "Memory," and "Dead Winter Dead" seem to pull together as a suite for me, and I guess that's an intended effect, since they focus around the aforementioned cellist of Sarajevo. "Mozart and Madness" is an instrumental medley of Mozart that works rather well in joining the rest of the pieces, while "This Isn't What We Meant" is a very vocally charged song in which the character seems to even be challenging God ("Is this the answer to our prayer? / Is this what God has sent? / Please understand, this isn't what we meant").

The title track slaps back into fast, catchy, and heavy mode before launching into a slow, chunky song, "One Child." The song opens with a light piano before Stevens pushes his deep voice out in declaring that "Right there in the ground I've been drawing a line." There's a really great vocal break on this track as well, where Oliva and Stevens sing in unison - notably the line "I will believe in you / If you still want me to." The track has a lot of almost quiet aggression which builds and sets the mood very well for our Christmas medley and subsequent lovers' escape.

All in all, Dead Winter Dead really feels like a sort of heavier, more vocally-driven first Trans-Siberian Orchestra album. And with good reason (I mean, aside from Savatage practically composing the entirety of the rock section of TSO). Two of the thirteen tracks are orchestral introductions and another two are medlies of traditional songs played in the metal style.

Granted, that's definitely not a bad thing, and it creates an incredibly deep and interesting variety in the instrumental section of the album, while there's an even greater variety in expanding the scope to the other 9 tracks which vary from deep, driving, and rapid to slow and almost passive. And when fantastically complex vocal and instrumental sections come together with an interesting storyline, you get Dead Winter Dead - an album to keep both your head pumping and your brain working.



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user ratings (92)
Chart.
3.9
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
AtomicWaste
Staff Reviewer
December 27th 2008



1981 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

You, sir, gave me a laugh.

Digging: Rx Bandits - Gemini, Her Majesty

BludgeonySteve
December 27th 2008



558 Comments


American power metal that doesn't suck? I don't believe this review. I will have to listen to this.

Avirov
December 27th 2008



1206 Comments


Is this really power metal? And if so, why should I believe you?

Steerpike
December 27th 2008



1859 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Savatage occupy an interesting niche. They're American power metal that doesn't suck, and they also foreshadowed the rise of symphonic metal.
Dead Winter Dead isn't their first concept album (that would be Streets: A Rock Opera) nor is it their best (Wake of Magellan). But it's one of their strongest albums.
And if you don't believe me when I vouch that this is power metal, please keep in mind that I'm never wrong.

Otisbum
December 27th 2008



1912 Comments


Yeah, Savatage are pretty amazing.

Still don't know why I don't have one of their albums yet.

Zippermouth
December 27th 2008



1305 Comments


American power metal that doesn't suck?

Wait... what?
It kinda took you long to actually get to talking about the music, and by then I didn't really care.

sba4life
December 27th 2008



363 Comments


Ill have to check this out. Good Review btw

south_of_heaven 11
December 27th 2008



5433 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I have Wake of Magellan by these guys and thought it was pretty sweet, though I never listened to it in full to give it a rating (which I'll do now). I got this today and listened to it on the way to and from work...sounded pretty good too.

Avirov
December 29th 2008



1206 Comments


Between the name (Savage+Sabotage...seriously? That's as bad as my friends' "Necrocide"), and the fact that they're metal, I'll have to pass. However, this is a pretty good review.

Steerpike
December 29th 2008



1859 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Savage+Sabotage...seriously? That's as bad as my friends' "Necrocide"

Actually, they say it's Sava-tage. Savage mysticism.

Avirov
December 29th 2008



1206 Comments


*ahem* I withdraw my point.

Steerpike
December 29th 2008



1859 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Literary nerd that I am, I have to be a dick and point out that although necrocide makes no sense because you can't kill dead people, it's still an acceptable construction.

TheNotrap
March 22nd 2012



7981 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0 | Sound Off

Some good songs but I can't find a truly inspiring moment here.

walfernu
October 6th 2012



80 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Totally agree with TheNotrap. To me this was the beggining of the end of Savatage as we know it and the Rising of Trans- Siberian Orchestra. I donĀ“t think Criss Oliva would have done something quite like this album.

Voivod
Staff Reviewer
October 6th 2012



5915 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I like this album a lot and i like the orchestral side of Savatage, it gave them the character they didn't have when they were "just metal".

Digging: Essence Beyond - Carnivalism

TheNotrap
October 6th 2012



7981 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0 | Sound Off

This band stopped being just metal since Gutter Ballet.

Voivod
Staff Reviewer
October 6th 2012



5915 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Yeah, that's what I mean, before Hall of the Mountain King they were "yet another great metal band".

Paul O' Neil changed that status, first with Hall of the Mountain King and then with Gutter Ballet.

TheNotrap
October 6th 2012



7981 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0 | Sound Off

Yeah Paul was definitely an important piece, but his Broadway based songwriting started to get monotonous and repetitive along the way.

Their last great release is Edge Of Thorns in my opinion.


ksoflas
June 28th 2013



348 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

After Criss died started the second era for the band and this album is a great moment of it.

manosg
July 22nd 2013



5719 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

One of my favorite concept albums. People need to start taking notice of this band.



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