SAVATAGE – Poets and Madman (2001, 2022 glow in the dark vinyl reissue)
Let us start with this vinyl reissue, before we look at the album proper. Savatage have done a lovely job of reissuing their catalogue on vinyl, with colours galore, epic packaging, and occasional bonus tracks. This reissue includes one such track on a bonus 7″ record. Awesome.
The album comes packaged in a beefy gatefold sleeve, loaded with pictures and graphics. It’s a double album, plus the bonus single. It also includes a massive booklet with loads of text, an interview, photos and lyrics. This reissue was done right. It is always a pleasure when you have something to read along to while you listen. The two 12″ records glow in the dark, a fun effect when you feel like turning your lights off and listening in pitch black (which will probably be never). Unfortunately the records have high surface noise. The bonus 7″ is a clear tie-dyed or splatter design, and sounds excellent.
The bonus track on the single is an extended version of one of the better album cuts, “Awaken”. It is almost a full minute longer, with the extra meat at the end of the track. Almost a full minute of extra guitar gymnastics for you to sink your teeth into. There is music on only one side of the 7″, with the other side blank.
A totally worthwhile vinyl reissue, while we wait for the arrival of new Savatage in 2024.
(The rest of this review was previously published in 2014)
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.)
This is another dramatic rock opera, and as soon as the needle hits wax, 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?
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.