Released: 2001, SPV / Stemhammer
Without getting too “newsy” – most of you know that lead vocalist Zachary Stevens left Savatage before POETS AND MADMEN. Instead of finding a replacement, original vocalist Jon Oliva decided to do all the vocals on the album. Of course Jon has done vocals on a couple of tracks per album in recent years since he’s “retired” from lead vocals. I was surprised to see him return to full-time vocal duties but even more surprised that after doing so that the band went and hired a new vocalist for at least touring to try to fill the shoes of the departed Zachary Stevens. I for one miss Stevens’ vocals on this album greatly. I’m not turning this review into a Zachary Stevens vs. Jon Oliva review - that would be pointless. I am only saying I wish Jon and Zachary were BOTH on this album. Well there is nothing I can do about that besides grumble a bit…. so my grumbling is done with. Regarding how well of a job Jon Oliva does on vocals…well what do you think? This guy has always been great, so of course he’s back in fine form! Jon doesn’t have the range of Zachary but he has the guts, emotion and the balls to make this CD!
Before I delve into some of the songs on POETS AND MADMEN I thought I’d let you know that the copy of the album I’m reviewing is the “Limited Edition” box version which has the same album as will be released on Nuclear Blast in North America this month. In addition it has a bonus track – “Jesus Saves” live, the video for “Handful of Rain”, a sticker and a fold out poster. While offering nothing that I haven’t heard before, it’s still nice to have this version since I love the band so much. Also, this album is a concept album – nothing new for Savatage! As usual the story is moving and begins with three teens breaking into an abandoned metal hospital only to discover one of it’s former patients has stayed behind. No, it’s NOT a horror story in the classic sense, for what can be more horrifying then the real world. You’ll have to read the lyrics and LOOK beneath the surface to get the full impact from the CD.
The album begins with the dark/brooding track “Stay With Me Awhile” Jon’s piano adds a dark sound to this song. The main song on this CD that at first grabbed me after hearing the full album was “Drive” and, surprise, it’s one of the albums more up-tempo aggressive tracks. Jon’s vocals on this one are also top-notch. “Morphine Child”, clocking in at just over 10mins, is another of the more engaging tracks. It has the three-part vocal lines that Stevens used to be amazing at. I’m not sure if Jon is on this one though. It sounds more like the whole band, studio musicians maybe? Hmmm? My next highlight from the CD is “Commissar” – excellent backing vocals, not unlike the choir/group chanting found on some TSO! The tapped guitar part ¼ the way through the song reminded me eerily of the sadly departed Chris Oliva, even the riff following this tapped part reminded me of him…depressing. I don’t know if it was intentional, but that’s what comes to my mind when I hear it. In fact this entire song has some killer lead guitar work. The liner notes unfortunately do not say who is playing what lead part on the album. Al Pitrelli is listing in the credits for providing “additional lead guitars.” How much he contributed before he left for Megadeth I am not sure. The main song writing team for the songs is Oliva, Caffery and producer and lyricist Paul O’Neil.
In terms of “heaviness” this album is a bit more intense then their previous album, THE WAKE OF MAGELLAN coming across to me as somewhere between STREETS and DEAD WINTER DEAD. This band has been around for 20 years now, quite impressive!! POETS AND MADMEN makes a fine addition to this bands stellar catalog and one that will be getting many spins in my CD player.
Since a good friend of mine has been a great 80's metal fan and has liked Savatage I figured his "2 cents" thrown in here with my review would be fitting.
Rating: 4/5 Reviewer: Celtic Bob
First off I must say the new CD POETS AND MADMEN is incredible. Why then am I only giving it a 4 out of 5? For me personally I would have preferred a "bigger" sound with orchestra (ala T-SO) and Jon's vocals are a bit too rough in places. This however don't take away from the quality of the material. I just think that the orchestra could've added to it.
The plot is perhaps their best yet (and dare i say it rivals "Tommy" by The Who for storyline?). At the moment I am prepared to say it IS their best but time will tell. From the opening of "Stay With Me Awhile" you are hooked, an exceptional beginning. The vocals suit the song flawlessly, like a good horror/suspense flick. It puts you on the edge, wanting more. Just waiting for something to happen, and this continues throughout the entire disc. The story is very visual, you can picture it perfectly in your mind. The song "I Seek Power" is killer and one of the best on the disc. The vocals again are killer especially when Jon let's loose as well he shows a more emotional side. The guitars are insane throughout. My fave track at the moment is "Morphine Child" with "Drive" a close second.
For any of you who had doubt's about Jon handling the vocals have no need to worry. This is right up there with HALL OF THE MOUNTAIN KING and STREETS. I highly reccomend getting it. Buy the German Import for cool packaging.