The Wake of Magellan is in many ways similar to Dead Winter Dead. This is also a concept album with a politically charged storyline, chock full of dramatic vocals, beautiful piano arrangements, searing guitar work, and symphonic overtones. Both albums boast instrumental tracks and excellent counterpoint climaxes as well as two songs sung by original vocalist Jon Oliva. This partly stems from the fact that The Wake of Magellan was the first album in years that featured the same lineup as its predecessor, and it sees input from other members too, as opposed to being a record written entirely by Jon Oliva and Paul O'Neill.
Therefore, it would be safe to claim that Dead Winter Dead and The Wake of Magellan are like two sides of the same coin, barring some exceptions which I will address in this review. For starters, the use of counterpoint-style vocal harmonization took on a new form as the band recorded a more riveting, faster, and more complex style on the title track. Backed by a nice bass groove, the song features an incredible climax in Zak's vocal delivery, portraying the conflicting emotions and arguments that cross the character's mind. What's more is Zak harmonizes on top of this counterpoint and the result is outstanding -- easily the most complex vocal recording in the band's history. Similarly, Zak's spoken-like vocals on "Blackjack Guillotine" work well in a slightly symphonic context with a nice main riff (originally written for a Doctor Butcher album) by Chris Caffery.
The album draws parallels to several influences of Jon Oliva. The pure, sweet piano riff on "The Ocean" echoes the churning riffing of the Doors' "Riders of the Storm"; and the melodic opening of "Welcome" is inspired by U2's The Edge in that it has this constant note playing against which the main melody is set. Al Pitrelli's glistening harmonics on "Turns to Me", possibly the high point of the album, make for a pleasant listen, given its fluctuating rhythmic tension, alternating between jackhammer riffs and acoustic sections enriched with sweet piano lines. Zak's voice being thick with harmony also contributes to its intensity -- this is one of his finest performances. "Morning Sun" brings forth an unusual vibe for Savatage. It starts with a soft, plucked acoustic guitar giving off a folksy air before bringing in a powerful chorus and a blues-tinged guitar solo. In terms of diversity, The Wake of Magellan is one of their strongest works.
The first Oliva-sung piece, "Another Way", sees him snapping into the psyche of the young kid in the story (there is a nice synopsis of the storyline in the booklet) and turning in a great performance, not unlike "I Am". Likewise, this piece boasts a nice classical guitar part from Pitrelli akin to the material on Dead Winter Dead and Sava's offshoot project Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Written in a weird key, the song carries an evil tone to it, and the use of sneering guitars and dense symphonic elements fits it like a glove.
There are three instrumentals on the CD, "The Ocean" serving as a brilliant mood-setter to the album. Speaking of which, the inclusion of the sound of the ocean, rain, wind effects have elevated the band into a new domain. The storytelling is a lot more Broadway-like here, complete with recurring themes and theatrical elements. For example, the sounds of rain and thunder on "Storm" do a great job visualising the desperation of Ferdinand Magellan, the character in the story. One of the few songs written by Pitrelli, he considers it his favourite solo in his whole life. That's saying a lot, considering his stints with artists that include Alice Cooper, Asia, and Megadeth to name a few. "Underture" which is more of a precursor to the wonderful "The Wake of Magellan" is heavier on keyboards and dense guitar lines placed atop sparkling piano notes.
Being a politically themed record, the band opts to cover a broad spectrum of moods and personalities. "Paragons of Innocence" tackles a very thought-provoking lyrical theme and perfects the storytelling with Jon Oliva's unique, sinister vocals where he does his craziest rapid-fire singing ever. Though the band could never perform it live, his singing has to be heard -- it is intense. To further expand on the political nature of the album, there is the two-minute track "Complaint in the System", a song dedicated to Veronica Guerin, an Irish reporter who was killed for fighting the drug lords in her country. This song is an attack against the media and governments who turn a blind eye to drug dealers -- and the use of processed vocals that personify the "system" is amazing, given its fake, unreal tone. The album closes with the eight-minute "The Hourglass", filled with yet another brilliant counterpoint harmony, but to be honest, I feel the ones on Dead Winter Dead have more emotional impact.
Upon its release, The Wake of Magellan won Savatage a whole new legion of fans (mostly in Europe) and to this day is voted their favourite release in various online polls. At the same time, it alienated the band's old fan base, being a sharp departure from the traditional Savatage sound. To me, it ranks as my least favourite disc from their post-Hall of the Mountain King period, but is better than everything else they've done. It is an essential disc if you like symphonic elements mixed into clever arrangements packed with powerful vocals and melodic guitar work.
- The Ocean
- Turns to Me
- Morning Sun
- Another Way
- Blackjack Guillotine
- Paragons of Innocence
- Complaint in the System
- The Wake of Magellan
- The Storm
- The Hourglass