Gutter Ballet Album Review

RIP Magazine, June 1990

By: Jon Sutherland

Contributed by: Dave Starr

Savatage, Florida's metal heroes, have been slugging it out for years, just inches away from the end zone. The Oliva combination of brothers Jon on vocals and keyboards and Criss on guitar can be dazzling.
Many musicians believe that the chemistry between brothers can exceed any other connection. This duo has always been very interesting, especially considering the varied but unique style of each family member.

The current Savatage release, GUTTER BALLET, is by far the bands most auspicious and broad musical statement to date. On the last album, the well received HALL OF THE MOUNTAIN KING, it was full speed ahead, with driving guitars powered by the titanic rhythms of guitarist Cristopher Caffery, drummer Steve "Doc" Wacholz and bassist John Middleton. It was a remarkable recovery from the more commercial stance the band had previously briefly pursued.

Now, in 1990, Savatage's musical and lyrical focus has broadened to include anything from a Queen-like theatrical vision of Manhattan's decrepit 42nd St. in the title track to the screaming, ripping riffs that sizzle in the CD groves on "The Unholy."

It is hard to summarize a record like this, because so many divergent styles and sonic ideas have been presented. The contemplative mood on "Temptation Revelation" is a far cry from the pissed-off feeling generated on "Thorazine Shuffle" (a bonus track available only on certain configurations).

One vibe that continues to surface is the dark, brooding, emotionally charged subject matter that surely must be rooted deep in Jon Oliva's psyche and the personal demons he has exorcised. Just consider like "Temptation Revelation", "Mentally Yours", and "Of Rage And War," which send the listener on a contemplative journey that is not all sunshine and clear sailing.

Another generalization that isn't truly fair, but is worth mentioning, is the tone of the last two Savatage albums. This record is dominated more by Jon Oliva's presence, whereas HALL OF THE MOUNTAIN KING seemed to revolve more around the swirling, climbing guitar adventures of Chris Oliva. Not to say that Chris doesn't have plenty to offer here. He should receive high praise for his continued development as a player and his skillful adaption to a new style.

This album was a long time in coming. If you can believe it, the original release date was April of 1989, and the title at that time was Temptation Revelation. Since then the band has been through some trying times, and much of that experience has been absorbed into the music. It probably would have been easier to write commercial melodies and play the game of metal marketing but, instead, Savatage has taken a creative chance.

This is a band that takes no prisoners live, and surely they don't want to be trapped in one cell musically. They offer a smorgasbord of sound, and the only person who can truly tell if you'll like any of the entrees is you. Remember, only the brave take chances.