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plus/minus - poets and madmen cd-review

RockHard Germany, March 2001
by Matthias Breusch / Michael Rensen
translated by Yvonne Kluitman
Edited by Bob "Lek" Lekich

The announcement of SAVATAGE going back to their roots again and to tighten the "Power Screws" once more, raised superhuman expectations, that with the current situation within the band, they could not fulfil completely. After a three year wait, "Poets And Madmen" turned out to be "just" a good instead of a pioneering album. The majority of the 11 songs in my opinion are missing, despite some quite audible melodies and playful details, the magic and moments of insanity we have become accustomed to, which are not to be found not even after 3000 play rounds. "Streets", "Gutter Ballet", "Power Of The Night" or "Hall Of The Mountain King" play in another league due to their all-time classic songs. As for the compositions, the brilliant predecessor "The Wake Of Magellan" obviously wins in comparison also. P&M uses some of the explosive power of the legendary side project Doctor Butcher as well and goes a bit under in the SAVATAGE-bombast-compromising-sound, although Criss Oliva’s "brother" Chris Caffery does a first class job as the main responsible "String King" while Jeff Plate’s drumming is clearly more lively than ever as he gets a chance to express himself. Considering that the 12th studio production (including "Dungeons") was in the fridge for 16 months due to TSO obligations, and the fact that the departure of both Zak Stevens (v) and Al Pitrelli (g) threw a large shadow over it, the guys around Mountain King Jon Oliva managed to do a respectable job. Though obviously the boss himself doesn’t have the vocal abilities anymore that he used to have, which brought to immeasurable masterly perfection the last time he was Savatage’s sole lead vocalist on the legendary 1991 "Streets". This becomes clear on the weak tracks like "Awaken" or "I Seek Power". Highlights for your voyage of discovery on P&M are "There In The Silence", a very varied hit driven by an intelligible keyboard part and ending with a furious Caffery solo. "Morphine Child", a mix between soft and heavy, and the monumental "Surrender".
Matthias Breusch -8-

For the most part , I agree completely with your review Matthias, but why are there so many points underneath? An 8 means advice to buy it unheard - and this - with all the best will of the world - can’t be said about this album. Hardly any of us at the editorial office is really touched by this record. Jon Oliva is partly singing very pressed and without power, to the extent that a second voice should have been underneath his vocal tracks. Especially since a lot of melody lines are obviously written for Zak Stevens and don’t fit Jon’s timbre. Chris’ guitar play, on the contrary, is certainly perfect but it is clear upon listening that he didn’t write the riffs himself (?/YK) . They also miss some of the sharpness that always set SAVATAGE apart. In addition to this, the bombast production of Paul O’Neill is often more alike TSO then alike SAVATAGE and nip every bit of power in the bud. Yet most appalling are the compositions, that only at the end of the album ("Man In The Mirror", "Surrender", "Awaken") reach an acceptable level. What have you guys actually been doing in the past three years? I for certain am disappointed by my most favorite power metal band and just can hope that the (former?) "Dream-team" of Oliva/O’Neill don’t let the golden success of TSO wash away the creativity in their brains. "Poets And Madmen" namely sounds frozen and saturated as if this was an album of burned out rock millionaires.
Michael Rensen -6½-