REVIEW: Savatage – Poets and Madman (Limited edition)

A Savatage reunion gig has been announced for Wacken 2015!

SAVATAGE – Poets and Madman (2001 Steamhammer limited edition)

It is hard to believe that well over a decade have gone by since this, the final Sava-disc. Whether we’ll ever see another is unlikely, but this is a heck of a great album to go out on. Since the death of Criss Oliva, Savatage had become a much more operatic beast, culminating in the formation of Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Here, there are many changes afoot. Guitarist Al Pitrelli departed for Megadeth, although some of his work is herein. Co-lead vocalist Zach Stevens is also gone, having formed the excellent Circle II Circle. This leaves The Mountain King himself, Jon Oliva, to handle all lead vocals for the first time since 1991’s Streets: A Rock Opera. (A new co-lead vocalist named Damond Jineva was hired for the tour.)

IMG_20140723_174816This is another dramatic rock opera, and as soon as the needle hits wax (or in this case, the laser hits 1’s and 0’s) you hear Oliva’s piano flourishes dominate the opening song, “Stay With Me Awhile”. Much like “Streets”, this song is simply an intro to the story which is about to unfold. This time, Oliva and producer Paul O’Neill weave a tale about an abandoned insane asylum and the ghosts within its walls. On a whole it is a much less satisfying concept than some previous Sava-operas, but it backs up the music just fine. And to be honest, that’s why we’re here — the music.

From heavy rockers like “There In The Silence” (backed by a fat synth riff) to slow dramatic ballads like “Back To A Reason”, this is a well-rounded Sava-disc. It is comparable to previous in quality and direction to rock operas such as The Wake of Magellan or Dead Winter Dead, just without Zach.

As with the aforementioned rock operas, there is always a centerpiece on the album. There had to be a counterpoint-vocal-laden masterwork to make your jaw drop in awe and hit that “reverse” button to hear it all again. This time it is a 10 minute epic called “Morphine Child”. With Zach gone, Oliva sings with multiple backing vocalists but the song is no weaker for it.  I’ll confess that even though I usually listen to albums from front to back, I usually play “Morphine Child” three times in a row.  It’s that incredible.

Other standouts include the single “Commissar” which is loaded with guitar flash, keyboards and riffage.  It also features Trans-Siberian-style backing vocals.  “I Seek Power” sounds like classic Savatage circa Gutter Ballet.  “Awaken” is another number that brings to mind that mid-period Savatage sound.  If some fans thought they had strayed way too far into rock opera, then songs like “Awaken” will appeal to their tastes.  I still like hearing Jon screaming a chorus.

I was underwhelmed a bit by the acoustic “Rumor”, but the song does take off fully electric after a few minutes.   Then there’s “Surrender” which feels like an outtake from Streets, but I didn’t find it as memorable.  So there are a couple duds, who cares?

This deluxe version comes with a sticker, a nice box, a bonus music video (1994’s “Handful of Rain” for some reason) and a bonus track (a live version of “Jesus Saves” with Zach singing…for some reason). There was also a poster, and little surprise that relates to the story that fell out of the booklet, but I won’t spoil it. Just a little extra to make the whole thing seem more real.

Poets and Madmen is an excellent album, and it fares well against the other rock operas that Savatage has done. Streets will always be the pinnacle, but Poets and Madmen can hold its own against The Wake of Magellan, and it easily out-does Dead Winter Dead.

4.5/5 stars

Also available was a CD single for “Commissar”.  The single contained two album tracks, as well as an exclusive instrumental called “Voyage”.  This acoustic piece was written and recorded by Al Pitrelli before his departure and it has not been reissued anywhere else.

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29 comments

  1. Do love Savatage although this isn’t one of my favourites from them, there is no such thing as a bad Savatage album. Whacken 2015 eh? Maybe they’ll swing over to the UK and play Bloodstock as well. One can hope.

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        1. Be aware of the bonus track situation. Some of these albums, there are up to three different reissues available all with their own bonus tracks. Their discography, as far as bonus tracks go, is really confusing.

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        1. The Wake of Megellan is a very good album and if you’re up to Handful of Rain, then you have heard my third fave, “Hall of the Mountain King” and my number one “Edge of Thorns.” I can also recommend Dead Winter Dead as well. That’s number 2.

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        2. Here’s my list — keep in mind this could change just based on mood!

          1. Streets
          2. Edge of Thorns
          3. Wake of Magellan
          4. Mountain King
          5. Power of the Night

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        3. 1. Streets
          2. Gutter Ballet
          3. Edge Of Thorns
          4. Handful Of Rain
          5. Dead Winter Dead

          My 5 Sava-faves.

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        4. I might receive some flak here. I don’t like Dead Winter Dead very much. Some songs, yes. But for the most part that album has never clicked with me.

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  2. I confess that this review is the only knowledge I now have of this band – leave it to Lebrain to bring the stuff I didn’t know existed and now need more research to catch up. ;)

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    1. Well here’s some Cole’s Notes: Savatage evolved into Trans-Siberian Orchestra. The two were going simultaneous for a while but Savatage was put on ice while TSO made oodles and oodles of coin.

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  3. A really good album, this one. From Gutter Ballet and forward, Savatage never made a bad album. But stuff like this album, The Wake Of Magellan and Dead Winter Dead, I kinda got the feeling that – after hearing Trans Siberian Orchestra for the first time – those albums were the starting point for TSO.
    A few years back, I saw Jon Oliva’s Pain at Sweden Rock and Oliva was in really bad shape, extremely overweight – he couldn’t move withoiut a cane. But he sang well and they played 90% Sava songs. It would be a dream come true to get bot Savatage and TSO for SRF 2015.

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