The Wake Of Magellan Review
By Toph Morris
In the realm of progressive rock/metal, concept albums seem to be breakthrough
points in a band's career. Everyone from Pink Floyd to Queensryche to Alice
Cooper has done this sort of album, and is usually acts as the next dimension
in songwriting. For in prog rock, where the music tells as much of a story as
the lyrics do on a song-by-song basis, now the songs on an album all have a
larger picture to tie into as well. Savatage has already proven their proficiency
in writing a concept album with both 1991's Streets - Rock Opera and 1995's Dead
Winter Dead. There are two big problems that I find in most concept albums:
a) there's always a wealth of symbolism that might take some stretching of the imagination to understand the use of, and
b) sometimes the lyric of a given song doesn't quite give the listener an accurate idea of what the songwriter is trying to say. In other words, if a concept album isn't thought through well, then the album may tend to lose the listener pretty quick. But since the message of this album appears to be a commentary on the importance of every second of one's life, understanding the progression of the plot, and what the symbols are, is all important. And I think that this album does this a lot better than most, filling gaps that even Dead Winter Dead had.
I. The Ocean
|Like DWD, The Wake of Magellan opens up with an instrumental to set the scene or imagery in the listener's mind before the band gets into the story. Jon Oliva's lone piano calmly brings the listener to the images of a calm sea, but the fading in of the rest of the band foreshadows the inevitable conflicts that this story will soon bring to life. There's not a whole lot to this song other than that, but for sheer melody alone, I think this makes a better opener than Overture did for DWD.|
|As this song clocks in at 2:11, and the idea basically melds with introduction of the album's concept in The Ocean, it might be best to think of the first two tracks as being one track. Only whereas the The Ocean cast imagery with music, this song does the same with lyric. This song describes in analogy the sudden mass chaos that is about to begin. Or, as Jon said way back in the Savatage song City Beneath the Surface, "Hi, welcome to hell."|
III. Turns To Me
The story commenceth. One thing about this album is that the unsung poetry
between songs in the liner notes play a fairly important role in understanding
where you are and who you're looking at in a given song. In fact, it's that
pseudo-lyrical commentary that fills the gap most albums have with understanding
the plot progression. Here, we're dealing with two characters: it's our introduction
to Magellan and the woman in the cafe that he can't seem to get up the courage to
talk to. Mainly it's the history of the woman...the story of her attempt at becoming
an actress in America and having failed, and then the bridge of the song tells of
Magellan's feelings for her and lack of confidence in everything ever coming of
them. If you want to look at a character study of Magellan here, you might say
that his doubt in ever having a family at his age plays a rather large roll in his
depression and wanting to die. This would be classic Savatage; many of their
songs deal with similar issues.
Beyond that, the music in this song is heavily riff based, and every one of them provide the hooks necessary for a song to breathe. It begins with Al's guitar, on clean tone, playing a riff in harmonics to Zak's vocals. The rest of the band comes in a moment later, driving the song on full force in pure Savatage fashion. Many of the lyrics here come from other Savatage songs... "well kept beauty queen" ties back to Shotgun Innocence, "if you still want me to" is word for word from One Child, and the basic lyric structure to this song ties back to it as well. For me, however, the real hook to this song is the bridge and its melody. There's something bizarrely inspirational about lyrics this depressing put to a melody like the one here.
IV. Morning Sun
|As far as the story is concerned, it's important to note that we have a change of view here. For the next two songs we're not dealing with Magellan. It's the first of the ties back to the news items that inspired the album (specifically the whole Maersk Dubai incident), and we're given the possible perspective of the fourth stowaway on board the ship, and what made brought him to his actions. Now Savatage, one might notice, has a very distinct sound. Many of their songs sound similar, but never really like anything else out there. I've noticed that reason for this is they seem to enjoy experimenting with 3/4 and 6/8 time signatures.... You don't hear a whole lot of that around. The feel this gives a song is why they're called waltz time, and while most Savatage songs that go to 6/8 time don't inspire dancing, it seems to be the full intention of the feel in this song. Beginning with an acoustic guitar riff (sounds nylon strung, but I'm not sure about that one), to lyrics that tell the story of Magellan's wanting to die, and his conversation with the ocean about this. This song has one of the coolest guitar solo's I've ever heard, and it's so simple in its design that it's not going to lose the listener. And at the same, the bent notes of the solo bring to mind full images of life at sea, which coincides beautifully with the album's setting. And this song has a lot to say about our use of time in life, suggesting that when any given opportunity for what we want arrives, to take it then, lest we never have another chance. Sort of saying life's too short to not take every possible moment to live. It also criticizes the attitude that some things can never be, or are not "meant" to be. Many people have said to me in my life that if God means for something to be, then it will be. And personally, I can't bring myself to believe that you can just sit back and believe God's going to take care of everything...actually, I think that ties into laziness and a fear that things might actually change for the better, and the comfort zone eliminated. Point being, this song seems to take a full force stand against the attitude that things can never be.|
V. Another Way
|This rapidly became my favorite song on this album. It's also the first of two that Jon Oliva sings lead vocals on. And this song continues the stand against the ideal that there are things that can never be, sort of making a person take a look at themself, first describing the daily routine that most people seem to get themselves locked into in life, and then forcing them to answer why they feel it must be this way. And as far as our fourth stowaway is concerned, he's basically just talked himself into stowing away, right or wrong, rather than to be forced to live his life where he was.|
VI. Blackjack Guillotine
Ok, the focus is now back to Magellan, and we're left only with the knowledge
that the fourth stowaway has now snuck on board. Magellan stumbles upon the
body of a dead boy and the packages of heroin which killed him. Ultimately, this
song will play the same role to The Wake as Strange Reality did to Streets.
Basically our main character has come face to face with with something that will
make him reconsider everything he's thought about up to this point. Only whereas
DT Jesus was convinced to try and clear his act up, the extremity of the incident
convinces Magellan that it's time for him to die.
Musically, we're back to Zak on vocals, and instrumentally speaking, this song sounds a lot like something off the Doctor Butcher project. It's a hard, rough-edged wake-up call that intends to remind that there comes a time when you want to take back all the things you knew were wrong to do in the first place, but you realize finally that you can't. Only in this case, the time spoken of, when too late, is to late to draw another breath.
VII. Paragons Of Innocence
|Again, this song and the previous one have a similar message. This is Jon's second song on the album, and one of the best in both melody and lyric. The lyrics of this song play heavily from the stanza of poetry preceding it: "If these words seem repetitious, and the subject beaten dead; the reason that I still say is it still needs to be said." And between me and some friends of mine, the nature of this has sort of forced us to call this song "the got-to-let-it song," as on one breath Jon somehow manages to get out the phrase "got to let it" 30 times. Bizarre enough, this seems to be a huge hook for the song, though this kind of repetition would turn me off of almost any other song. The other big hook is basic riff (in D-minor?) that begins the song on piano and then is doubled by guitar after a few bars. Melodically speaking, this is one of those songs that's really fun to sing along to, whether you can sing or not. Actually, I can relate to a lot of this one, and I think a lot of other people can, too. The idea of being really innocent when you're young, then moving on to that point in time where you do what you're going to do to the point where it's let go or die.|
VIII. Complain In The System (Veronica Guerin)
|This is probably the most straightforward rock song on the album. It's written from the point of view of those who think themselves above the law, who as the preceding poetry indicates might deal drugs by day and go home to their wives and children at night. And it's highly critical of these people, and acts as an ode to Veronica Guerin, who's just had a funeral wreath delivered by the ocean to Magellan in respect to the dead boy he'd found.|
|Giving the listener a small chance to absorb everything up to this point, Underture takes bits and pieces of other songs on the album, primarily the title track, and sort of emphasizes the concept that we've come to a major point in the plotline. Magellan, totally distraught with his life, has taken his romanticized image of death to the point of no return. But between the last song and this one, some very important imagery has come to the forefront. Up to this point, we've been told that Magellan has been carrying a family heirloom, an hourglass. The hourglass has long been a symbol of time, and he's been holding onto it up until now. But as Magellan begins to weep in despair over not just his own life, but the state of the world he now no longer wishes to live in, a young child sees him crying. Very young children have long been a symbol of youth and especially innocence. Magellan being 87 years old, is on the opposite end of the symbolic spectrum. The young boy begins to ask him why he's crying, but then spots the hourglass and wants to see it instead. Magellan just drops it, all the sand spilling out onto the beach, which one might believe would cause it to be lost forever. Magellan feels his time has run out. He gets on board his boat, cuts the rope, and prepares to die. I have wondered if this was somehow inspired by the cover of Dream Theater's A Change of Seasons album. It's speculation, but I did notice Dream Theater's name in the Special Thanks section at the back of the liner notes...|
X. The Wake Of Magellan
We have another change of perspective here, and actually we're looking at
Rodolfo Miguel here. We're given the possible thoughts that ran though his mind
upon having seen what he saw aboard his ship, and there's an imploring of God
here wondering if he should or could have done something about it. He's haunted
by "ghosts" of those who'd been thrown overboard.
The counter-point vocal concept that Savatage made famous with songs like Chance, One Child, and Not What You See rears it's head here for the first of two times on this album. One line in particular here, points out the fact that even in the days of Christopher Columbas and Ferdinand Magellan, when the standard of life was lower, the Captain's kind of brutality just didn't happen.
|While Another Way is my favorite song on this album, this song was the first to really catch on with me to the point where I'd just play it alone, over and over. The song is Rodolfo Miguel just accepting that God will deal with the Captain, and praying to God just to have his innocence back...just to be able to believe without having to question everything all the time. But even while I love the lyric to this song, the choir that builds in the background at the bridge is just so utterly beautiful that I truly believe it makes it one of Savatage's best songs ever. Ultimately, this song classifies as a power ballad, but in true Savatage fashion.|
XII. The Storm
|Miguel wonders what happened to the third stowaway, and all at once the climax of the song hits. The next two songs deal with setting the scene and Magellan picking up the stowaway in the midst of the raging storm. This is easily my favorite instrumental on the album; the tone Al Pitrelli gets out of his guitar here is perfect for setting the scene of a raging storm that we're about to find Magellan in the middle of.|
XIII. The Hourglass
Naturally, being the last song on the album, this is the perfect place for the
counter-point melody to surface once more. The basic thing here is that Magellan
has woken up after having a dream of his ancestor, to hear the cries for help from
the third stowaway. A lot of symbolism here, as he is trying everything to get his
boat over to save the man. No matter how hard he tries, he can't get his boat to
where he wants it. He struggles against the storm, forgetting in this moment how
badly he wanted to die, only to find that no matter how hard he tries to do it that
he can't do it. He prays for a change in his plans, just enough to save this life...
Then, suddenly, out of nowhere, the winds change and he not only finds himself
able to reach the man, but it's made quite clear he's put right NEXT to the man. If
this is related to the earlier statements about believing things can never be, it
comes off as a commentary that every moment in life is precious, because in any
given second of time, things can change. Dreams and hopes can be placed right at
your fingertips. And in the story, not one life, but Magellan's as well gets saved by
this revelation. When he gets back to shore, he helps the stowaway out, and then
finds his hourglass on the beach...refilled by "someone" who we know is the
young boy he met earlier. The time was not lost, but instead he finds his life and
strength and hope rejuvenated, and uses this newfound courage to approach the
woman he so much wanted to speak to right from the beginning...
Now, this song serves as the centerpiece of the album...most of the plot comes to a head right here. It's interesting to notice the correlation between this and Anymore. We had a verse there which stated, "And all at once the waves were getting higher; And as they crashed I thought I heard them say; There'd be a time when men would all be wiser; When everyone, everyone, yes everyone is saved." Well here, we have another verse, "And all at once the heavens bled their fire; The anchor broke, the chains they flew away; And suddenly the waves were reaching higher; And in the dark I thought I heard them say." Not only is the melody the same between these two verses, but the rhyme scheme is also identical. All in all, it helps the songs form the part of the big picture.
|Conclusion||Savatage gives each song a lot of attention, and I would say a lot of thought and effort went into the making of this album. Since every major character is given at least two songs, we're given a chance to meet and get to know them. I believe this to be one of Savatage's greatest efforts to date, and ultimately one of their best and most filling albums of all time.|