savatage tso solo projects

streets review by jim gordon
1991 saw the release of one of the greatest metal albums ever released: Streets-A Rock Opera. With the release of this album, Savatage re-established itself as one of the quintessential forces in heavy metal by showing the human side of the artists. By this point, Savatage had already carved a genre-spanning path through the years, starting with the super-heavy riff-oriented metal of Sirens and The Dungeons Are Calling, continuing through the power-metal approach in Power of the Night, the more traditional hard-rock period of Fight For the Rock, and the gritty mood-metal of Hall of the Mountain King. On Gutter Ballet, Savatage experimented with a more eclectic, art-rock influenced type of metal, especially in the songs Gutter Ballet and When the Crowds Are Gone. The latter song intimated an even greater musical maturity in the band's work, and foreshadowed the themes prevalent in Streets.

A rock opera is an ambitious work, which often has the possibility of overextending the author's creative abilities. However, this is not the case with Streets. For the purposes of brevity, I won't go over the whole storyline for those unfamiliar with it. In general, the album deals with themes applicable to anyone whose luck has sometimes (or often) been bad, and to anyone who has particularly felt confused about themselves, and life in general. The albums starts off on an ominous note, and often hits on very emotionally dark, low, or hectic spots. However, by the end of the album, the listener is taken to uplifting, albeit not joyous, areas of self-discovery. Now for a blow-by-blow of the songs----
1. streets - 6:50
This song is outside the storyline itself, and sets the stage for the album. Beginning with children singing an excerpt from Mozart's "The Magic Flute", a sinister bass-sound (keyboard or normal bass?) invades, and almost seems to corrupt the innocence of the children, which is a great touch. When the song gets into full swing, the grim setting of the city is truly effectuated, especially during the segment in which the children are begging for money to eat. The song could've been a tad shorter, but then again, so could my review. By the end of the song, Jon sets the stage for the story.
2. jesus saves - 5:13
A "Dungeons" era riff propels this song forward with the force of a funky jack-hammer, and the lyrics set up the story of the rise and fall of D.T. Jesus, rock star, in a rather rapid manner. The keyboards in this song give it a very strange, almost musical (as in Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat- don't laugh!) flavor, especially during the upward scales in the middle of the song.
3. tonight he grins again - 3:28
A very dark, bleak song which almost takes the listener out on the streets with D.T., and makes the listener feel the loneliness and pain. Very good atmospherics.
4. strange reality - 4:56
Outstanding guitar riff; as for the song itself, a friend of mine said that it slows the album down too much. I'm inclined to disagree with that; it does a good job of conveying the confusion one feels when they make a sudden, unpleasant realization.
5. a little too far - 3:25
Excellent, stark piano & vocals only ballad. For some reason, it reminds me of Don MacClean's American Pie, but better, and 50 times more emotional. As a fan of both metal and classic rock, I'm tempted to compare this song's delivery to earlier Springsteen "epics", such as Jungleland. Jon Oliva really bares his soul in this song, which makes all the difference in the world.
6. you're alive - 1:51
Very Tommy-esque, fast-paced song. Not my favorite on the album, but a good lead-in to-
7. sammy and tex - 3:07
A totally unexpected turnabout from the previous, upbeat song, this song uses a fast, metallic gallop to speed up the narrative lyrics, and add punch to the fight scene described here. An ok song which does more for the storyline than for the album's musicality (but it's a real fun thrasher nonetheless!).
8. st. patrick's - 4:17
The quiet, dark intro belies the intensity and bitterness of the emotional outpouring which begins with the first chorus. The organ during D.T.'s questioning of God's existence was genius, and the orchestral break during the bridge makes for a powerful climax to his rage. A good emotional bender.
9. can you hear me now - 5:11
I like some of the lyrics, and their delivery, but besides the middle instrumental part, this is (in my humble opinion) the album's weakest point. Perhaps this is due to the purposeful atmosphere of indecision on D.T.'s part.
10. new york city don't mean nothing - 4:01
The acoustic guitar/vocal introduction is actually similar in sound to Sleep off of EOT, but has a totally different feel. The bitterly sarcastic cynicism is a perfect complement to the almost paranoid (albeit all too accurate) advice regarding life in the city which follows during the harder section. This is a good atmosphere song, which probably is even better appreciated by New Yorkers (the truth of which I don't know).
11. ghost in the ruins - 5:32
Another moody piece, this song has a great penchant for making me sing along with it. Unlike Streets (the song), this song's length never slows it down, and gives Johnny Lee Middleton a great chance to step up and showcase his bass-playing, as well as a chance to allow Criss to experiment a bit with his axe. The ending screaming is classic Jon Oliva.
12. if i go away - 5:17
An incredible song, this powerful ballad not only showcases what 4 great musicians can do within the framework of a power ballad, but also expresses what many people ask about themselves: am I alone, and what impact have I had on the world, and other people? It is also a classic love song about a man reaching out for the woman he cares for, but who herself has drifted from his life, with nothing he can do about it. This song features some of Criss's best thematic single note lines on the guitar, and an incredible bridge section which temporarily raises the mood of the song to a sort of wistfulness.
13. agony and ecstacy - 3:33
A final burst of addiction's dark energy is encapsulated in a brooding, fast guitar riff, accompanied by Jon Oliva's gleefully disturbed impersonation of heroin. The ante is upped by even faster power chord breaks, and lyrics which seem to speed up toward meltdown. The song ends with a final reminder that you can never truly completely leave behind some compulsions without some traces remaining. Good rockin' song.
14. heal my soul - 2:35
This song marks the turning point of the album. Another piano/vocals only song, this song about leaving behind a shattered life for an unknown destiny could bring the most "macho" person to tears. As the dying homeless man asks for comfort and forgiveness, you can almost feel the pain of failed dreams (but who hasn't at least once in their life?).
15. somehwere in time - 3:17
This uplifting song is the perfect beginning for the album's end. The lyrics admit there are no easy answers, but present hope for the future, and acceptance of the past. The choruses are grandiose, and made more so by the orchestral keyboards, layered along with the guitars to create an almost heavenly sound. The galloping instrumental section after all the lyrics create a sense of flight, which calms at the end, a perfect intro for the final song, Believe.
16. believe - 5:42
The summation of the album, Believe is the most incredible conclusion to any album I've seen. The song begins with Jon and the piano alone, singing a song of tragedy and triumph, and asking both himself and the listener to believe, to believe in yourself, to believe in your potential, to believe in your worth, and to believe in the future. The next verse adds momentuous guitar chords to emphasize the need for hope and belief in the face of past failures and obstacles. The raw emotion becomes almost deafening in the second chorus. Criss enters with guitar arpeggios which give an almost Christmas-like(!) atmosphere, as Jon's voice, accompanied by a background choir, strains with emotion, singing about the fears and weaknesses we all secretly hold, and as he sings about the stubborn courage of the human spirit, his voice reaches an incredible note of personal triumph as bells ring in the background. Criss unleashes a thematic dual guitar line, Johnny Lee Middleton's bassline seems to become larger than life, and Doc Killdrums adds breathtakingly epic drum fills during the instrumental section, which flows into the chorus one final time to bring the album to its end, with a final word: Believe.
This is an incredible album, but be warned: it is very emotionally intense. I would recommend it as the first purchase for a beginning fan. This is simply their best album, in my opinion. I salute Savatage for a job well done, and look forward to seeing them in concert soon (hopefully).