Memories can only last so long
Like faded photographs, forgotten songs
And the things I never knew
When the skin is thin, the heart shows through
Please believe me what I tell you is true"
One Word Review: Inspired
Gutter Ballet was a revelation when I discovered it by chance back in 1990. I had borrowed some Ozzy Osbourne LP's from a friend and among them was this Savatage album, which made a great impact right away. I had never heard anything quite like it and was at once captivated by Jon Oliva's powerful and gritty, yet still extremely emotional voice and Criss Oliva's heavenly guitar playing. One listen to Gutter Ballet and I was hooked, a couple more was all it took to make me fall in love with Savatage. A relationship that has developed and never faltered ever since.
With simple means the band is able to create a unique sound and they hold their own style through the album. Gutter Ballet is the most diverse of all the Savatage albums. Each song is unique in its own way and different from the one before. You just don't know what to expect at any time. The album includes such diverse elements as a classic song that mixes piano with heavy metal in the most convincing way, a beautiful acoustic guitar solo, an angry teeth-grinding anti-war metal track, a classic instrumental guitar and piano piece that is the perfect marriage of symphony and metal, a speed metal attack with lusty undertones, an haunting 6+ minute horror story epic, a mid-tempo insanity filled visit to the rehab clinic, a song of lost love with a touching poignant feel, a melodic monster that rises from the depths of hell, a trip into the mind of the mentally insane, and a time and space defying power ballad that can only be labelled masterpiece. Yes, I'm sure that you will find something here to like. If you already know the album you should know which song is which. If not, I kinda envy you that you still have this piece of music to discover. The songs are so different from each other and each adds another part to this massive album. To some it may seem disjointed at first, but to me the album feels complete and put together just the way it should be.
A special mention goes to Gary Smith for his beautifully painted cover artwork.
Jon Oliva's all encompassing, expressive voice mixed with Criss Oliva's mindblowing and inventive guitar playing, Steve Wacholz' skillfull and flawless drumming and Johnny Lee Middleton's groovy bass playing creates something very unique and while the production at times make the sound seem very fragile, it never breaks. The songwriting is a great part of what keeps the album fresh and alive. Chris Caffery (Guitar) is also featured in the booklet, though he did not actually play on the album, but played rythm guitar on the following tour. Wish I was there...
The album opens hard and relentless with Of rage and war. A song filled with anger and excellent guitar playing that carries the entire song from start to end. This song is worth listening to just for the "Son of a bitch" line.
The title track is a classic and the song that captured my attention at once. The structure of the song and the way it builds all the time, is fantastic. If you don't know Savatage, then one listen to this song should help you decide whether you will like them or not. Check it out in the video below.
Listening to the guitarwork on the two instrumentals is actually moving and I feel the need to bring forward the 3 B's; "Beauty Beyond Belief"! Criss Oliva is a man who literally speaks through his guitar. For many years I have had part of Temptation Revelation as the incoming ringtone of my cell phone. Best ringtone ever.
When the crowds are gone is this album's crowning achievement. A divine masterpiece of a song that is also very moving, because it feels so real. One of Jon Oliva's trademarks has always been his ability to give himself away completely to a song. It feels like he opens a door to his innermost places and out comes this incredible raw and emotional singing that surges through you in a chilling way. Starting out slowly with just Jon and a piano, the song builds through mesmerizing guitar parts and increasingsly intense singing, to a final heartbreaking climax where everything comes together and forms one of these timeless, magical moments in music. The wonderful and enchanting guitar melody in the background of this part gives the song the final push into the land of immortality. The epilogue is very fitting and gives the song a beautiful conclusion.
Side One of the original LP version of the album ended here, after a beautiful acoustic instrumental. I was always impressed by how much of a contrasting vibe the two sides of the album had. On CD this isn't as obvious.
She's in love is a straight forward song about a girl's fascination with a specific body part. It's hard, fast and has a great perverse glint in the eye. The song gets even better when heard live on the "The Devastation, Anaheim '90" or "She's in Love" bootlegs (I'll put them on the site at some point) where Jon ad-libs some very funny lyrics. A simple but very enjoyable song.
Hounds is another classic track. I love the different phases the song goes through. Starting out slowly, the song picks up speed and power with an incredible melodic guitar at 01:13 and Jon's raw voice, and here, I cannot help but sing (scream) along. Just listen to the way he sings "...native land". The magic continues right up to the powerful ending with all its awesome guitar solos, shredding included. A monster track!
The Unholy opens with a brilliant guitar melody and shoots toward heaven with a trademark Oliva scream, along with yet another virtuoso guitar solo, before the actual singing begins. The outstanding guitar work brings a great drive and carries much of this song. Apparantly the lyrics were too intense for the booklet, as they are nowhere to be found on the original release.
Mentally yours has the most brilliant, innocent piano intro you can imagine. While the intro musically is quite innocent, the song soon descends into heaviness (both musically and lyrically). Though the monotone chorus is a little overused, the rest of the song is excellent with some fantastic shredding by Criss. Lyrically the song is interesting too.
Summer's rain is one of my favorites. Beautiful emotional singing accompanied by equally beautiful guitar playing makes this power ballad something special. Jon Oliva delivers a chilling performance here. During the final moments of Summer's rain, the keyboard gives the song a magical feeling, by using the same melody as the guitar plays in the final part of When the crowds are gone. This may sound weird as the passage is only there for a few seconds, while the song is fading out, but I absolutely love the ending of this song. The inspiring lyrics add another layer.
Being based on personal experience, Thorazine shuffle has its own special vibe. The heavy guitar melody is really great and Jon has a strong presence right from the atmospheric intro. Being a bonus track on the CD version of the album, it is also one of the least stand-out tracks on the album. Still, the guitar is the song's saving grace, along with its eminently captured, psychotic vibe.
As you may have noticed, I cannot say enough good things about the guitar playing. It's mesmerizing, vituoso and perfect in its own special way. Criss Oliva has been my favorite guitarist ever since I first listened to him and I have not found anyone yet with the ability to bring out so much emotion with just a few strings on a guitar. He had a special touch and I have missed that ever since he passed away in 1993. His legacy will forever live on and Gutter Ballet is a fine example of his skill.
Gutter Ballet has been re-released three times. The latest was in 2011 by Ear-Music, where it included two bonus tracks and short, but interesting liner notes by Jon Oliva. I still prefer the sound on the original, but the two bonus tracks, Alone You Breathe and Handful of Rain are excellent and make it worth hunting the re-release down for fans. Both are acoustic versions performed in 2010 with Jon Oliva on vocals. These are great versions, performed with feeling and a certain intensity.
There is no other band that can give me quite the same feeling I get, when I listen to Jon Oliva era Savatage. This band was something special. If you haven't listened to Savatage before, then this is a great way to discover them. They are a very special band and Gutter Ballet is a timeless classic in my collection.
Written By Steen
Online: Thursday, October 18, 2012
When the Crowds are Gone
Tuesday, October 23, 2012 - Josh
My 2nd favorite album by them just behind Dead Winter Dead. When The Crowds are Gone might be my all time favorite ballad by anyone ever. Love the whole album,a classic for sure