Review Summary: Regardless of your opinion on metal, you must listen to this album.
It's very easy to hate Heavy Metal. Most of the famous and mainstream bands in the genre are plagued by the same problems: immature lyrics, bland and emotionless vocals, guitar riffs consisting of only an open E string strummed at lightning speed, and a lack of variation between bands. However, every once in a while, one can find an album that does not have any of the aforementioned errors. Savatage's Gutter Ballet
is one such album.
Savatage is a progressive metal band formed in 1978 by vocalist and pianist Jon Oliva and his brother Criss Oliva, the guitarist. On their magnum opus, Gutter Ballet, they were joined by drummer Steve Wacholz and bass guitarist Johnny Lee Middleton. While all of the band members do a good job, the obvious highlights are the Oliva borthers.
Criss Oliva is without a doubt one of the most emotive and eclectic metal guitarists. On tracks such as the instrumental Temptation Revelation
his guitar sings emotional melancholy solos, but on some pieces, such as the acoustic Silk and Steel
, his guitar plays around innocently. On others, such as the furious opener, Of Rage And War
, his guitar screams angered riffs. Electric or acoustic, mad or jovial, Criss' playing is always very heartfelt and sincere. Just as talented is the singer, Jon Oliva. He performs everything from ballads to almost Megadeth-esque thrash songs. Most importantly: Oliva's singing is always genuine and emotive-something very few singers can brag about.
Lyrically, the album is very mature, especially if compared to the subject matter of Savatage's contemporaries. For example, in When The Crowds Are Gone
, Jon sings about an old, abused, musician who tries to persevere, and is begging for one last night to play in front of a crowd. In Summer's Rain
, Jon looks back at his past and remembers old friends, promises, and vows, until finally deciding to look towards the future and forget past struggles. Some parts, such as the snarled chorus to the political Of Rage And War
, can come across as overblown, but this is certainly forgivable. The only song with weak lyrics is She's In Love
, which would be at home on an AC/DC album, but is incredibly out of place on this album.
While the album is consistently good, there are definite highlights. The first song, Of Rage And War
, feels like a more progressive version of Megadeth. The song is filled with aggressive, thrashy riffs, snarled vocals during the choruses, lightning fast solos, and incredibly polarized political lyrics. Nevertheless, Savatage manages to keep their distinct sound present throughout the whole song by emphasizing melody.
The title track is even stronger than the opener. It starts with a soft, tame piano that becomes more and more vitalized as a guitar playing slow, booming chords joins in. Then, the guitar briefly takes over until the vocals enter and become the focal point of the song. The song culminates in a blazing solo that fully displays Criss' technical prowess.
One of the more surprising highlights is the acoustic interlude, Silk And Steel
. This piece is a short, three-minute long acoustic song featuring some of Criss' best work. His virtuosic playing is carefree and lively, and provides a much needed break to the hardship and sadness present on the rest of the album.
Although almost all of the songs on the album are fantastic, the ballad When The Crowds Are Gone
stands a head above anything else on the album, and is undoubtedly the strongest song of Savatage's impressive career. The song starts with mournful piano chords, and Jon's melancholic voice soon joins them, singing his best lyrics ever. Then, Criss starts playing, and Jon voice becomes more powerful, but is still filled with longing. After this bout of energy, the guitars leave, and all becomes silent. Weak piano chords start playing, and Jon's now submissive voice sings:
And the lights
Turn then off my friend
And the ghosts
Well just let them in
Cause in the dark
It's easier to see
Then, the song fades out, and all is silent again. This is truly Jon's finest performance, and this song is truly capable of driving some listeners to tears, as it is filled with genuine emotion.
All in all, if you like metal, you need to hear this album, and if you hate the genre, you still need to hear this-it may just be enough to change your opinion.