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an organized nightmare

from New Rock/Metal Hammer, Germany 8/97
by Andreas Schöwe
translation by Ellen Bakvis

Originally, Savatage wanted to record an "ordinary rock-album", but it resulted in an organized nightmare.

The number 936 0f the New York Broadway is one of the most exciting addresses, that can be mentioned in relation to popular rock music. The inconspicuous facade of this building in the center of Manhattan accomodates the legendary Soundtrack Studio, where besides a number of Soul- and Pop-celebrities , Led Zeppelin, Kiss and the Rolling Stones were regular visitors. Cream of the crop, so to speak- and a killer reputation on top of that.

It is obvious, that Savatage-mentor and producer Paul O'Neill and the band (Jon Oliva (k), Johnny Lee Middleton (b), Zak Stevens (v) and Jeff Plate (d) as well as both New York resident guitarists Chris Caffery and Al Pitrelli) have already noticed the technical advantages of this facility while producing their last two albums, DEAD WINTER DEAD (95) and HANDFUL OF RAIN (94).

The organized "nightmare" however did not come as a complete surprise this time, because three years before, Savatage already tried out the technical super-equipment during the recordings of HANDFUL OF RAIN: 'Chance', a monumental piece with symphonic choirs and classical orchestration was recorded with three linked 24-track-machines. Note: just with the usual analog-technique.

Exactly three years later, in the early summer of 1997, three pieces had to be realized directly on 72 tracks: the title song 'The Wake of Magellan' as well as the tracks 'Hour Glass' and 'Anymore'. Al participants saw the use of digital harddisc computer technique as the solution for this dilemma. But, the devil's always hiding in details. That was also the conclusion of ex-Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson, who decided to have his latest output ACCIDENT OF BIRTH realized by analog-technique exclusively, while he went through a digital disaster with the predecessor SKUNKWORKS (95) and has meanwhile developed a very sceptic attitude towards this recording technique: "Each computer exchanges information with every other one. If you don't exactly know how and why, things can develop their rather dangerous own dynamics: data can get lost somewhere - and can no longer be located..."

A similar development of 'own dynamics' was avoided by O'Neill, Oliva & co., while they hired two "Killer-keyboardists, sound magicians and computer-asses" with Dave Wittman (first job as sound engineer: HOUSES OF THE HOLY by Led Zeppelin; later a.o. CREATURES OF THE NIGHT by Kiss) and Bob Kinkel (has tortured the keys for Savatage since the '87 album HALL OF THE MOUNTAIN KING). During the last couple of years they both have been persistantly occupied with these hypermodern technologies, of which " not even the Japanese have a notion today, that they'll be there tomorrow". Mobility was now the issue, because all of a sudden the six rock musicians and their producer found themselves sitting in front of the panels in three studios at the same time: on Broadway and in the high-tech temples of cracks Wittman and Kinkel...

But the ultimate blow was given to his pupils by Paul O'Neill personally: "He's an absolute perfectionist", Zak Stevens describes the trauma, "as soon as anything is less than 200% okay in a song sequence or in certain parts, it will be worked on until perfection . My goodness - I don't know how many times the telephone woke me up: "Could you please hurry to the studio to sing such-and-such take over again, while the vocal lines have changed a bit?" I think Paul's still changing things on the day the record comes out!"

But, the end justifies the means - and THE WAKE OF MAGELLAN justifies the nightmare, created by five-months-long hard studio work. On September 8th, again a piece of musical genius that equals a heavy metal- version of the legendary rock band Queen with the modern sound quality of the 90's, will be available at the record stores. And such a thing can not be qualified an 'ordinary rock album', not even by god himself.