Best of compilations should often be looked upon with scorn by fans; usually bolstered by an exclusive 'live track' or some such, they're a waste of time and space. However, they can serve a purpose for casual listeners to discover a band long lost in the annals of time. In this case, Savatage have released a double CD retrospective, re-mastered no less, spanning their entire eleven album catalogue. Was it not for the fact that all eleven (fourteen in the press-release) albums, in their newly re-mastered form, are being re-released in the near-future this would be reason alone to buy this. So, with the one selling point rendered useless, what do we make of these twenty tracks (not including the token exclusive acoustic tracks)? Of course, Savatage were a premier progressive power metal band of their time, so it should come as no surprise that the quality of the tracks is second to none. But, with eleven full-length studio albums to draw from, and only twenty tracks on show, surely there's going to be some glaring omissions. And there are. 'Sirens' and 'Fight for the Rock' (except for a lone acoustic track) are avoided entirely, and 'Power of the Night' has one lonely little number. So, it's up to what is arguably their break-through album 'Hall of the Mountain King' to break the silence with the title track, 'Legions' and '24 Hours Ago' all getting an airing. But, where is 'Beyond the Doors of the Dark'? A classic tune. Omitted in favour of 'Summer's Rain' from 'Gutter Ballet'? Talking of which, 'Gutter Ballet' has probably aged the worse here (and this was my favourite album of theirs once upon a time); apart from the graceful 'When the Crowds are Gone'. 'Streets...' is also represented with three tracks (and bears the distinction of being the final Jon Oliva all-lead vocal contribution), as is 'Edge of Thorns', which is the final album to feature the playing of Criss, who was sadly killed in an auto accident. 'Handful of Rain', kick-starting Disc Two, was the come-back album after Criss' death, and featured Alex Skolnick on lead guitar (Jon played rhythm, bass, keys, and drums on this release). And this was when I tuned out of the band. There are some good tunes on 'Handful of Rain', but too much filler; a possible reflection of the chaotic make-up of the band at this point. Which, is a pity, because the following albums were pretty good too. 'I Am' from 'Dead Winter Dead' features Jon again on vocals, albeit showing little of his subtlety, but then this is one of the band's heavier tracks (with their grandiosity peeking through in the middle of the song). The epic 'Morphine Child' (the sole song from 'Poets and Madmen') retains the epic heavy nature of their later work, and is a fitting closer. As a compilation, the idea and execution is flawed (by necessity rather than design), but as a collection of songs, with few exceptions, this is as good a representation of the band as you could expect. And it shows how dynamic, chaotic, forward-thinking, and grand this band was. If you're a fan, and must have this compilation, buy the limited edition for the inclusion, for the first time apparently, of their 1994 live in Japan set on DVD. If you're just discovering the band, this is a good way to determine which era of the band to focus on, when you inevitably buy the re-released albums in their full glory.
STILL THE ORCHESTRA PLAYS
Review by Steve Cowan
62:45 & 66:23
22nd March 2010
CD1: 1) Power of the Night; 2) Hall of the Mountain King; 3) 24 Hours Ago; 4) Legions; 5) Gutter Ballet; 6) Summer's Rain; 7) When the Crowds are Gone; 8) Ghost in the Ruins; 9) If I Go Away; 10) NYC Don't Mean Nothing; 11) Edge of Thorns; 12) All That I Bleed
CD2: 1) Handful of Rain; 2) Chance; 3) One Child; 4) I Am; 5) Anymore; 6) Hourglass; 7) The Wake of Magellan; 8) Morphine Child; 9) Anymore (Acoustic); 10) Not What You See (Acoustic); 11) Out On the Streets (Acoustic)
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"...as a collection of songs, with few exceptions, this is as good a representation of the band as you could expect. And it shows how dynamic, chaotic, forward-thinking, and grand this band was."