Savatage - Dead Winter Dead
I still remember the huge impact this album had on me when I first held it in my hands many years ago while the chorus of This Is The Time (1990) filled the room. What a magnificent, beautiful and moving piece of music I thought to myself:
We placed our years in the hourglass
They were never unearned
Still we seemed destined to let them pass
It was never our turn
With lyrics like that I still get this feeling when I take this old friend for a spin, how's that for reliability.
Of the many things that make this album special the whole concept is of course central, the story is just so enormously important, thrilling and by all means moving. Taking place in Sarajevo during The Bosnia War (1992-1995) the main plot evolves around a Serbian boy and a Muslim girl who are on both sides of the conflict but end up leaving it together. Part of the story is taken from real life, elaborately explained in the excellent and extensive 15 pages booklet article (SPV edition), which offers lots of highly interesting Savatage insights through various interviews. By the hands of the brilliant Paul 0'Neill the heartfelt and relatable lyrics are some of the best I have come across, written with soul, warmth and a sublime talent for words.
The whole album was written by the use of a piano, which differed from the bands previous writing methods; perhaps that explains some of its more bombastic direction and pompous frame. The album pushed the band into a new era of epic, conceptual storytelling that in some ways reached even more glorious highs with The Wake Of Magellan's release three years later.
After the grand and over the top Overture, Sarajevo slowly rises from the mist, gently introduced by a delicate piano melody and Zak's inviting voice.
This is the Time (1990) is the third piece of this opening act so to speak, just the way it starts of with a simple drum beat and soaring lead playing from Al Pitrelli is brilliant. Paul and Jon had a hard time finding the lead guitarist for the album but finally found Pitrelli whose mature, elaborate and soulful playing is an essential part of the albums success. Just listen to the piano and guitar play of each other in the end, it's these minor details that end up being so important in the long run. One of my all time favourite Savatage songs.
I Am sees Jon return to the mic for the first time since Streets, again a wise decision. No one can sound this convincingly evil and sinister and his performance here is worth the cost of the album. The dramatic keyboard enhances the tense atmosphere while the marching drums symbolises the war related theme of the song... just amazing.
In Starlight Zak transforms his voice into a harder, edgier tone matching the dark shrouded lyrics well. The semi acoustic guitar playing gives the song a spellbinding and frosty mood. The breaking riff at 4:18 suddenly turns the song upside down, pumping bass lines and groovy drumming leads the attack while crafty lead shredding unfolds before the song suddenly comes to and end... but only in a way to continue with Doesn't Matter Anyway, again with thrilling machine gun paced vocals from Oliva (and as he tells almost impossible to perform live). This is an intense and precise punch in the face with a progressive mid-section twist involving a divine bass passage from Mr. Middleton, the man who binds things together.
Fittingly placed into the flow of the album This Isn't What We Meant is tempo-wise slow and atmospherically epic. The centrepiece is Zak's warm execution and Oliva's sensitive piano playing. Giving the song a heavy edge is various screaming lead passages, it's not that these don't work but I just feel they could have been closer integrated with the rest of the track.
Orchestral, pompous and all around breathtaking are words you can easily attach to the instrumental Mozart and Madness. The whole structure and interplay between instruments is just perfect, making five minutes seem like two.
Memory (Dead Winter Dead Intro) is a short catchy guitar tease that leads into the heavy and groovy guitar riff that epitomizes the essence of Dead Winter Dead. Here Pitrelli and Caffery offer a fierce lead intermezzo that sends sparks into a darkened night, making us remember that every dream told has its December.
It's hard to describe One Child due to its complexity, it somehow has all the elements that make Savatage one of best bands to ever surface from the mould. An intelligent and stirring tale where the glowing guitar playing, Zak's emphatic vocals and the solid drum/bass foundation just melts together perfectly. To take it all over the top we get a classic Savatage multi layered vocal passage as a grand finale, this is simply music in a league of its own.
Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24) ended up being a big hit in the States and the story related to the composition is definitely worth reading, it would also later appear on the first Trans-Siberian Orchestra disc Christmas Eve And Other Stories the following year. Through a very dramatic interplay between guitars (Serbs) and keys (Muslims) the cello representst the old man in the middle, a highly dramatic scenario told without words.
Not What You See is another gem with guaranteed goosebump effect, its sheer beauty gets me every time. The way Pitrelli plays the heartfelt solo is breathtaking, the lyrics enchanting and Zak's performance unforgettable.
I just have to put a few things clear about the newest edition from SPV. How in heavens sake can you leave the essential poetry between the songs found in the Edel edition out? And why reduce and blur out the wonderful cover?
As for the bonus tracks Jon Oliva's acoustic piano version of All That I Bleed is thrilling and convincing (also found on the re-release of the Power Of The Night album released by Edel) and the appealing acoustic version of Sleep is also very cool (previously unreleased).
The transformation of emotions through music has been the bands biggest accomplishment through the years; in that department Savatage are true masters, no other band will ever make music quite this way.
It's difficult to put down in words what this album and band means to me, the chances for a reunion seems bleak but I will never completely cease to... believe.
No matter how dark the nights gets, this timeless gem will always shine a beam of hope as clear as starlight.

Written by Tommy
Monday, July 14, 2008
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Tommy: 9/10

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Comment by Alanna (Staff) - Wednesday, July 16, 2008
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This was my first Savatage album, and can thank a figure skater for that. Jozef Sabovcik did alot of rock programs in his figure skating, including "Not What You See", which I fell in love with after watching his on ice performance to the song. It was so dynamic... the album is surely a classic, and I agree with your comments on the lyrics, they are moving and have meaning. It was the perfect natural progression of Savatage and "Wake of Megellan" might have even been a tad better.

But you still can't deny how this disc changed them and its overall impact.

Posted by Alanna (Staff)
Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Comment by ThraX (Member) - Thursday, August 21, 2008
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This is an amazing piece of work, the story line, the music, the lyrics and vocals are extremely superb. Tommy your review of this album is incredible, the only thing I disagree with is the 9/10 rating for me it's a perfect 10/10.......This album is better than words can explain, if there are people reading this review that never heard this album stop reading and get this album NOW and enjoy the beauty of Savatage.......Fans of Rush, Dream Theater, Pink Floyd, Fates Warning...will love this album!

Posted by ThraX
Thursday, August 21, 2008

Comment by VeX (Member) - Wednesday, November 19, 2008
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There's nothing I can really add to your review because it is extremely well written. The only thing I differ upon is your 9/10 rating. Which is a "Genius" rating but for some reason that seems insulting for how truly great this album. If any alum truly deserves a 10/10 rating this is the album. The story line is marvelous and the music and vocals compliment it to perfection. For story albums this rates up there with the very best Queensryche's "Operation Mindcrime"& Dream Theater's "Scenes From A Memory"

Posted by VeX
Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Comment by VeX (Member) - Wednesday, November 19, 2008
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I a made a couple of spelling errors in my review. Please forgive me. :)

Posted by VeX
Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Comment by VeX (Member) - Wednesday, November 19, 2008
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Oops I did it again

Posted by VeX
Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Review by Tommy

Released by
Edel 1995 / SPV 2002 - 1995

1. Overture
2. Sarajevo
3. This is the Time (1990)
4. I Am
5. Starlight
6. Doesn't Matter Anyway
7. This Isn't What We Meant
8. Mozart and Madness
9. Memory (Dead Winter Dead Intro)
10. Dead Winter Dead
11. One Child
12. Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)
13. Not What You See
14. All That I Bleed (Bonus)
15. Sleep (Bonus)

Symphonic Heavy Metal

Related links
Visit the band page

Savatage - Official Website

Savatage Tour Diary - Chris Caffery's Tour Diary from their European tour in 2002

The Official Christopher Caffery Pages - The official Website of Christopher Caffery - Guitarist in Savatage. Check out the excellent tour diaries from the Savatage tours, an autobiography and more

Other articles
Streets - A Rock Opera - (Tommy)

Streets - A Rock Opera - (Steen)

Band information - (Tommy)

Gutter Ballet - (Steen)

Hall of the mountain king - (Steen)

Edge Of Thorns - (Tommy)

Interview with Jon Oliva - (Steen)

Sirens - Silver Anniversay Edition - (Steen)

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