Edge Of Thorns Review
By Toph Morris
  For all the albums Savatage has ever come out with, this one tends to instantly grab one's attention. The album cover is my favorite of all Savatage albums, it's just downright eerie in the way it's drawn... And for the band, this album marked some major changes in their career, most noticably with new vocalist Zachary Stevens, and in my personal opinion, it's one of the their greatest efforts ever recorded.

I. Edge Of Thorns
(5:55)
  Right from the get-go, this album sets to grab the listener's attention and not let go. And for those who understand the basics of progressive metal, this song may remind them of "Gutter Ballet" in many respects. It starts with (I assume that it's) Jon on keyboard, repeating a riff that scales down the key of D, and is soon joined by the rest of the band, slowly at first - Criss's guitar blasting a D5 every two piano riffs to drive the song, and soon picks up a really hooky rythym that gets the listener into this song before the first bit of lyrics ever cross over the speakers. When Zach comes in, the songs seems designed to really push the vocals over -- we get the guitar's verse rythym twice over beforehand, so there's no distraction to take away from the vocals. Basically, the idea of this song seems to be that the songwriter, presumably Jon who's constantly writing lyrics about "the girl that went away", is finally getting over her. While the verses tend to set the setting and mindset for the song's story, the chorus is the crux of the song (as it should be). Although, there's irony here as the line that stands out the most in chorus must be "but I don't think about you anymore", my friends are constantly asking me when I play this song why then he's singing about her.

Probably the deepest and heart-wrenching lyrics here however, are in the verse-to-chorus bridges which really give the listener a full understanding of the situation, and both times it works extremely well to lead into chorus. After the second chorus, the ryhtym changes entirely and the listener can be easily captivated by the sudden switch to the guitar solo. And the solo here is one of the most awsome I've ever heard. It's nothing ultra complex, but brilliantly put together. It starts and builds, then just stops with delay on and begins to build again until it leads back into the chorus. The pace here never once drops or loses the listener, and is easily one of the best songs Savatage has ever been able to come up with.

II. He Carves His Stone
(4:14)
  This song extremely musically diverse. It starts out slowly, with Criss paying a clean picking ryhtym, to Zach singing about a man in, I assume they were referring to the Catholic idea of limbo here, who's looking back on his life now that it's and having to carve his own epitaph on a tombstone. The song suddenly breaks into a heavy ryhtym, doubletimed from the first verse, and the lyrics sound like an ultimatum to Satan -- "I'll never give my soul to you, no fallen angel's prophecy will ever take hold of the man you see". Which is what the whole song sounds a lot like -- the idea that we go most of our lives without really thinking about the ultimate consequences, never thinking about the result our time here will have, and that's the idea of the epitaph being carved. In one little sentence, how could you sum up your life? If that is indeed what he's saying, then this is a very powerful song, and a warning of sorts that fits well into the overall scheme of the album.

III. Lights Out
(3:18)
  This is a very strange song. It's heavy enough that you don't really think about the lyrics when you hear it because the sound is so overwhelming. But to stop and think about what the Oliva brothers and proucer Paul O'Neill (who co-wrote the songs on this album) were trying to say can really wrack your brain. One thing that may or may not help is that somewhere from the time the song was written and put in the liner notes to the time where the vocals were actually recorded, the first verse changed. Overall, I think this song deals with temptation. The "you know you shouldn't do it, you're gonna do it anyway, all just for the thrill of doing it" concept. The lyrics seem to relate it to a drag race or some such. The music tends to reinforce all of it well just in the very fact that it's a heavy rocker.

IV. Skraggy's Tomb
(4:22)
  What I really love about Savatage and Jon Oliva's writing is that they always tend to take a moral side to things, even against some of the things rampant in heavy metal society. Such as alcoholism, the obvious focus of the lyrics here. They tell the story relating the addiction and the way an alcoholic will do seemingly anything to stay drunk to insanity. Alcoholics will crawl into their bottle, often at the expense of the eventual breakdown of their bodies, so the bottle can literally become their tomb. A very powerful song, and some great effects musically...Zach's voice filtered for one stanza here give the song exactly what the lyrics needed -- an overall eerie sound.

V. Labyrinths
(1:29)
  Here's Jon's forte, another instrumental that serves as an introduction to the following song. Of all the instrumentals Savatage has done this one sounds most like "Temptation Revelation", beginning with a piano riff, later joined by Criss's guitar.. and for overall sound, this is a gorgeous arrangement. The kind of sound that makes one remember the past, the things we've left behind. "Labyrinths" probably refers to those of the mind. Some people think of life as a maze, where we end up is all a result of the choices we make, the directions our lives take, and that's what this song does brilliantly, at least for me, is just makes one sit back and reflect on his path.

VI. Follow Me
(5:06)
  This song is well led into by the previous instrumental, and the overall song is a hard-hitting rebuke against couch potatoes. Here we are with this life that can mean so much, and we spend so much of it in front of the television. It's enough to make someone hate the TV and everything that comes from it, which is the focus of the verses. Savatage relates how the TV Guide would be the Bible to these types of people, and puts the reason for doing it as people who want to be something that they're not trying to escape reality by watching TV all the time. This is very much a dare and a challenge for people to get up and do something with their lives. If "Labyrinths" was intended to get into our minds, then "Follow Me" works on another level as taking the songwriter's advice and finding a route in life that actually means something.

VII. Exit Music
(3:05)
  Strange name for a song put seventh on an album, but it would make a great song to play in concerts while people are filing out to their cars after the show. There's no guitars here, no drums, no bass, just Jon on keyboard. Another very beautiful arrangement, and if this song is meant to be as much of an outro "Follow Me" as "Labyrinths" was an intro, then it fits well here by producing the same mind-reaching effect of the previous two. We've entered the maze, we've gone through the maze, and now we're leaving the maze. Intentional or not, that's a brilliant idea for a song or three.

VIII. Degrees Of Sanity
(4:36)
  I have to wonder if Queensryche wasn't influenced somehow by this song. Criss opens with electric sitar, something rarely heard on any album, metal or otherwise, and a year later Queensryche was doing "I Am I" with the same instrument frequently played. If any song on this album that's not a ballad is going to have people relate to it, tho, it's this one. The age-old idea of "I never did a thing to hurt you and you left me anyway" seems to be the core of the lyrics, and the focus of this song is mainly on the lyrics as the rythym rarely changes at all. When it does change, and that's for the solo, it seems designed to produce the same mind-reaching effect of "Labyrinths". The melody is definatly the strongest thing about this song, really pushing the lyrics across with a haunting feel to them.

IX. Conversation Piece
(4:10)
  The intro to this reminds me somewhat annoyingly of the Dead Winter Dead's "Overture". Mainly drums instead of guitar here, it's the same thing - plays the riff, stops. Plays the riff, stops. Eventually leading into the verse rythym, the music is absolutly eerie there. The lyrics tell of a guy who loves a girl so much that he cuts of parts of his body and puts them on display on a shelf in his house -- how lovely. Reminds a lot of people who've heard the song of Vincent Van Gogh.... But for the twisted and morbid (like me) this song will really stand out on the album. To the sane and normal, this song would probably be considered disgusting. But it's tactfully done, and really takes Savatage back to the old death-metal days. That's progressive metal for you.

X. All That I Bleed
(4:41)
  This is the song that did it for me. When I heard this, I was hooked on Savatage, heavy metal, and learning to play the style of music. Overall, this is album I think will stick out the most on the album, and it remains my favorite Savatage track to date. It starts out with Jon playing a piano riff in B-flat, and is doubled only by Zach's soft melody. The lyrics tell of a girl getting a letter in the mail that reveals "all the things we keep inside, all the things that really matter". These first two verses deal mainly, I believe, with the masks people tend to put on to cover up the pain or fear of loss. And here's one who receives a letter that just brings it all to mind and tears off the masks, so that she can no longer hide the pain. After the second verse however, the song just breaks out into the full band, driven heavily by Criss's guitar, and Zach singing what could almost be considered a prayer for the release from the pain that each of us eventually goes through. And the release is felt musically by the drastic change from piano and vocals to full band. And though the tempo never picks up, the feel does as Zach sings of flying away on the approaching of the night. It leads into Criss's solo, easily one of the most beautiful I have ever heard in all my years of listening to music. The solo is amazingly simple, but it's always the simple ones that seem to be the best. And then the song resumes back into the main chorus before cutting out just to piano again. If someone isn't prepared to be challenged to face the pain we all seem to try to hide, this is not the kind of song you want to play over and over again. This song really can hurt the heart to listen to, and it's that effect that makes it, in my opinion, one of the greatest power ballads ever written.

XI. Damien
(3:53)
  A quick change of pace from the previous song, which was mainly an almost romantic power-ballad, this song is extremely harsh. The reviews I've read on this song would lead me to believe that this song tells the story of two people who seem to be far removed from reality. The extremes -- one rich, poweful and removed from the struggles of life, the other poor, homeless, and probably convinced there is no happiness in life. And for the most part, it's the rich one that's doing most of the talking, wondering about this poor one. More than anything else, I believe this song was just designed to make the listener stop and think.

XII. Miles Away
(5:06)
  This starts with Criss playing a ryhthm with chorus pedal and Zach on vocals, doubled only occasionally by the occasional cymbal ride. This whole part of the song serves as introduction to point out the nocturnal preference of the songwriter, and the whole song seems to just be lauding the nighttime and the reasons for doing so. The intro eventually moves into full band, and has got to be Steve Wacholz's shining moment on the album. The bass drums are really what stand out here, especially on the chorus, and the bass after that. The guitar seems to just double the drums, and the drums are just more easily heard. It's the solo where Criss's moment comes on this song, and for that it really adds a fullness to this song so that this one is best when played loud as possible.

XIII. Sleep
(3:52)
  This song is just guitar and vocals, and sounds a lot like it was conceived in a folk-song influence. "Sleep" is to Edge of Thorns what "Someone Else?" was to Queensryche's Promised Land, as both provide single instrument end songs to the American versions of the album. And if "All That I Bleed" struck a chord, so will this song. Anyone who's ever had that experience of feeling like a relationship has ended too soon, or without enough explanation will really be able to identify with this one, and guitar and folk buffs will love this one for the music if nothing else.

XIV. Forever After
(4:20)
  The first of the two extra tracks on the Japanese version is one I think should have been included on the American version as well. Heavily guitar-driven, as is most of Savatage's music, I believe I hear Jon doing backup vocals on parts of this song as well. And for those who think that Savatage has become too "art-rocksy", this song should play a good part in changing their minds. Mainly, this is a song with a moral basis, and it's rare to hear this kind of song in heavy metal. The song proceeds to put down pot-smoking in its drive to act as sort of a wake-up call to people, and I can respect both the morals behind that and the ability to even make that work on a heavy metal album. And as much, it points the finger at mankind for mankind's problems instead of God, which is also quite a rarity in heavy metal.

XV. Shotgun Innocence
(3:31)
  It starts out with Criss playing another racing ryhtym to support Zach's vocals, then brings in the rest of the band for the chorus. Any guy who's ever spent any time chasing any girl out of his league will easily pick up on this song's message. The idea is basically, "either do it now or forget doing it at all". Proceeds to give a warning that the odds aren't gonna be great either way for even having a chance, and that one is liable to get hurt, but dares to try anyway. This song has an extremely catchy chorus melody, and is bound to get those who can sing along with heavy metal singers singing along (which also is a rarity in heavy metal).

Conclusion   Overall, this is still my favorite Savatage album of all time. In fact, it's probably my favorite album period. From the cover of the album to the high variety of styles of songs on the album, to the way each one really tends to mean something personal to me, this album, I believe, is a must-have for Savatage fans. I would venture to say that there's a heavy Metallica influence in places, and I think I can even hear a folk influence in their. (Actually, with a song that tends to remind one of Vincent Van Gogh, another song that uses the line "castles in the air" and that same song being entirely guitar like a folk song, to the fact that "Miles Away" and this artist's "Orphans of Wealth" use extremely similiar chorus line "And the rain comes down" and "And the rain falls", I have to wonder if there wasn't a small Don McLean influence on this album -- if not, it's an amazing coincidence...) No matter what influenced this album, tho, it's the only time we see Zach Stevens on lead vocals and Criss Oliva on lead guitar at the same time, giving this album what in my opinion is the ultimate sound I think Savatage was trying to achieve.

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