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4 stars Wow! A great album by this group from the USA. Savatage plays so called "dramatic" metal with a progressive touch, which very appeals to me the moment I got this CD. Great guitar solo's, a keyboard/piano here and there and a great vocalist awaits you! Practically every song on this album is great, and the difference between them is so insignificant, hardly noticed. Especially "Handful of Rain", "Chance", "Castles Burning" and "Watching You Fall" are great, with the emotionfilled voice of Zachery Stevens to guide you through the songs, backed up by guitars and percussion in optima forma. Great, great, great! ( oh, and be sure to check CircleIICircle, the new project of Zachery Stevens )
Report this review (#27470)
Posted Wednesday, February 11, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars Ok, some people like this and some don't. That's obvious from the mixed reviews I've seen. I happen to be one of the former. Even with the mediocre opener "Taunting Cobras" I still think this is one of Savatage's best and worth 4 stars

This is a rebound album of sorts, with Savatage trying to regroup after the untimely death of guitar player, co-founder Criss Oliva in a 1993 car accident. Something like this has been a death knell for more than one band but brother John Oliva and company have persevered and have come up with one of their better releases.

Savatage formed in 1978, was originally known as Avatar. They were led by co- founders, brothers Jon (vocals) and Criss (guitar) Oliva. Renamed in 1983, Savatage then pursued a Judas Priest/Iron Maiden style of metal. Their original members included Steve "Doc" Wacholz (drums) and Keith Collins (bass). Johnny Lee Middleton, later replaced Collins at Bass. They bounced between basic metal and a more commercial sound before adding second guitarist, Chris Caffery, seemingly hitting their stride in 1990 with Gutter Ballet. The band exhibited a knack for concept albums, featuring a fusion of elaborate, hard rock melodies, theatric ballads, and dramatic, operatic concepts, a style they gravitated too and have been performing ever since.

Handful of Rain was the first album Savatage produced after Oliva's death. A new gutarist, former Testament member, Alex Skolnick, was recuited. With a lineup consisting of Skolnick, singer Zachary Stevens, bassist Johnny Lee Middleton and drummer Steve Wacholz, Savatage produced an album that is not only melodic and operatic in nature but ambitious and completely engrossing. Jon Oliva, is listed as a co- producer and a keyboardist, but not as an actual member. The songs are dramatic, passionate and intense, but they're also quite melodic in fact, melody and aggression are equally balanced on this remarkable album. Not suprisingly, Savatage dedicated Handful of Rain to Criss Oliva's memory.


"Handful of Rain" Starts out slowly, a little like Bob Seger's Turn the Page but quickly picks up steam. It's a grinding and bluesy song which after the ominously slow start assaults the listener with a tidal wave of sound. The lyrics are about alcohol and all the problems that come with it.

"Chance" it doesn't get any better than this. The fact that this and many of the songs were co-written by Jon Oliva and Paul Oneil helps explain why they sound like the music from Paul Oneil's future rock opera, Beethoven's last Night. This is a superlative song, with classical influences and broadway style vocals. It tells a story about a Japanese diplomat stationed in Lithuania, who helps save tousands of Jews during World War II by helping them flee the country, against orders from his government.

"Visions" is a very nice piano/orchestral style instumental, an excellent light interlude in the dense music surrounding it.

"Alone You Breath" was written as a memorial for the departed Oliva. It is a wonderful song, also an Oliva Oneil collaboration reminiscent of the future Beethoven piece, recorded under the pseudonym, Trans Siberian Orchestra. Alone You Breath starts out slowly and has varying tempos throughout varying from a rock ballad to medium slow tempoed rock. Skolnick's guitar work really stands out on this excellent number.


Handful of Rain offers the listener a variety of songs: From thrashy metal to bluesy hard rock to "Broadway musical" rock. In many ways, this is Savatage's most versatile outing--it is certainly one of their most unique releases.

This is in my opinion, truly an overlooked and underrated Savatage album, right up there with the best they have done.

Similar Artists

Queensryche, Trans Siberian Orchestra, Royal Hunt, Rush, Shadow Gallery

Report this review (#27473)
Posted Monday, January 17, 2005 | Review Permalink
The Crow
4 stars The first Savatage's album without Criss Oliva, and he is missed... But it's still a great album, but not a masterpiece in my opinion. In this time, Savatage was on the verge of breaking, but the strong personality of Jon Oliva made possible the continuation of the band. And this is obviously a transition album before the upcoming succesful lineup and their two fantastic conceptual works "Dead Winter Dead" and "The Wake Of Magellan".

Although he doesn't appear in the credits, Jon Oliva played in this record piano, keyboards, all the drums and the rythm and acoustic guitars... Participating too in the composition and the production. Who can deny that he is the Savatage's soul along with the producer and lirycist Paul O'Neil? After the passing of Criss Oliva, Jon took the controls of the band, and he started to develope the most symphonic Savatage's face, as we can hear in songs like the incredible Chance (with an unique choir's work...) and the beautiful ballad Alone You Breathe, being this last one a song writed by Jon Oliva in the honour of his dead brother with a lot of references to old songs like Believe and A Little Too Far.

But in this record we can hear too the influence of a great guitarrist: Alex Skolnick, ex-Testament. Songs like Taunting Cobras and Nothing's Going On are pure trash metal, in a Testament style played with rage by Alex. But we can't forget that Alex Skolnick he is a jazz guitar player too, as we can see in their future band Alex Skolnick's Trio, in a very jazz fussion style. Songs like Watching You Fall, Stare Into The Sun and the classic Hanfdul of Rain, are developed in an original and catchy bluesy-jazzy style, wich makes this album very variated and rich.

Very good album, but less than the Savatage's conceptual masterpieces. But songs like Chance, Alone You Breathe and Handful of Rain should be heared by everyone... Don't miss it!!!

Report this review (#43253)
Posted Thursday, August 18, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars Band: Savatage Album: Handful of Rain (1994) Genre: Power-Progressive Metal

Line-up: Jon Oliva (Keyboards/Bass/Drums/Guitars); Alex Skolnick (Guitars); Zak Stevens (Vocals)

Grading Scale: 0 - F; 1-5 - D(+/-); 6-10 - C(+/-); 11-15 - B(+/-); 16-20 - A(+/-)

Most notable song: "Alone You Breathe" - 20(A+) Other outstanding tracks: "Chance" - 19(A); "Handful of Rain" - 18(A); "Watching You Fall" - 18(A)

Songs Rating - 17.2(A-) Skill/Creativity Rating - 18.88(A) Overall Rating - 18.04(A)

Synopsis: After tragedy struck, putting a shadow on the success of "Edge of Thorns", the question loomed - would Savatage be able to continue without lead guitarist and songwriter Criss Oliva? It was a good question; he was a big part of Savatage. But his brother's death was hard for Jon Oliva to cope with, so he kept himself busy by writing and recording music. He asked the others to join him, but Steve no longer had interest in being in Savatage, and used Criss's death as an excuse to quit, and Johnny Lee was too devastated by the death, and needed some time off. Well, Jon couldn't wait, so he went on and recorded the drums, bass, keys, and guitar (as they were in the process of selecting a new guitarist), himself; then Zak Stevens came in to record the vocals, and after they selected Alex Skolnick to replace Criss, he came in and added his touch to the leads on guitar (Jon Oliva's rhythm guitar remains intact on the album).

The album itself combine's the emotional elements of "Streets" with the polished and heavy sound of "Edge of Thorns". The album has less piano (still a lot of it though) and a slightly more raw sound than the previous album (thanks to Skolnick's thrashy guitar style) but it also features an even smoother and melodic delivery from Stevens, with more emotion then before. The climax of the album comes at the end with "Alone You Breathe" which is a tribute to Criss Oliva, and is full of incredible emotion.

Yes, Savatage would continue to drive forward even without Criss Oliva, a Testament that these are true musicians, not many groups can survive a loss like that. "Handful of Rain" is not a concept album, however there are reoccurring themes on the album. Songs like "Chance" and "Castle Burning" cover similar real life stories, while "Stare into the Sun" and "Watching You Fall" also cover similar themes based off of actual events; the two give an opposite perspective of the previously mentioned tracks (I'll explain later). Overall though the main theme is "Visions". Now that is actually the title of the albums instrumental, but when you look at each song, Savatage is trying to help us see from others point of view, or see with their 'Vision'.

This is a strong album that begins a new chapter for Savatage and I recommend this one to those who like variety. This album goes from some thrashy Power Metal (Taunting Cobras, Nothings Going on) to bluesy/jazzy type Progressive Metal (Handful of Rain, Watching in Silence, Stare into the Sun) to a Symphonic/Broadway like style of Progressive Metal (Chance, Visions, Alone You Breathe) to your typical Heavy Metal sound (Castles Burning, Symmetry). So if you are a fan of any of those styles, or all of them, or just like to change it up a bit as you listen, this album is for you.

Song by Song Break Down:

1. Taunting Cobras - 16(A-) - Alex Skolnick (ex-Testament) makes his heavy/thrashy guitar style felt immediately in this great rocker. The song still sounds very Savatage-ish, but Alex makes it clear right on the opening track that he is not Criss Oliva, as he comes in hard and aggressive. The solo is great and an overall awesome guitar assault to get things started. Lyrically the song is about a guy who is experimenting with drugs, despite the warning from someone who seems to have been there before that he is "living on the edge" or "playing with fire" but rather then use those two extremely over used clichés, they came up with "Taunting Cobras". I think it is a pretty good way of saying it that makes things pretty clear. The lyrics go on to say "it's a long train of regret" and "puppets get go second chance, pull the strings they gotta dance" both very good points when it comes to drug addiction, the second one in particular picking up on a point made by Metallica with the song "Master of Puppets". That point being that once you get involved, there's no turning back, and when the addiction calls, you must answer. I'll admit the song is weaker then other Savatage rockers, but it serves as a great intro to this new chapter of Savatage.

2. Handful of Rain - 18(A) - This song let's you relax a little after that head on assault of thrash metal. The bass heavy intro has a real bluesy feel to it. This continues through the 1st verse/chorus, but then some guitars slam in and we start rocking again (though the bluesy feel is maintained throughout the song, especially in the solo interjections). With this song we revisit some of the themes found in the rock opera "Streets" as it is about a person in the most despair of situations. They try to hide from the world in an 'old city bar' ("The barmaid walks on over and pours another round, For a lost soul at the counter who prays he's never found" - lyrics appearing in the booklet but not actually in the song) as he tries to numb himself from the pain of his past, and insulates himself from the years wasted. He is now tying to grasp some intangible hope (a "Handful of Rain") as he uses his whiskey "like a moat" to numb and insulate the rest of the world. Overall the lyrics are very good as it expresses his desire to be left alone in his thoughts as he tries to get "Back to a Reason". This song is part of the inspiration of Trans-Siberian Orchestra as it is set in the same "old city bar/Blues bar" visited in the TSO albums.

3. Chance - 19(A) - What a spectacular song. Both musically and lyrically, and up to this point it is Savatage's longest and most progressive piece of work, as it uses a full orchestra and proves to be changing (progressing!) as it moves through the song. This song is about a Japanese diplomat (Sempo Sugihara) in Lithuania during WWII who defied government orders by signing the exit visas for more than eight thousand Jewish refugees, who other wise would have died. Lyrically it explores his thoughts as people lined up in front of the embassy. Savatage does a splendid job as the lyrics prove to be very insightful to the way one might be thinking under this circumstance, and the features the first use of five-part countermelody in the history of rock (something that will become a Savatage trademark in years to come). The song has a very intense layering of harmonies and is very unique in it's musical structure. The song starts out with piano as Stevens paints a picture of a man alone contemplating what he is about to do, and weighs the decision. Zak does this with his smooth vocals that just mesmerize the listener, and the lyrics here are brilliant. Then there is a melody played on chimes or bells of some sort and then the orchestra comes in with a build up that creates tension, and then the guitar weaves it's way through, then smashes in hard and we start to rock. As this happens Stevens gives us some insight as to what Sempo's thoughts may be as he sees the people line up outside the embassy. In this part, the "Devil" is used metaphorically to represent the Nazi police. After this moment of chaos outside, we go back to just the piano and Zak Stevens repeats "Burn the night away" and if this were a film I could see this as the part in slow motion as we watch the people lined up outside - rain coming down and Nazi police scouring the area. This is a turning point in Sempo's mind as he begins to sign the exit visas. The orchestra build up then and we drop as he continues to sign the visas believing that his very salvation come right down to this moment. Then Sempo questions what the Nazi's believe, and comes up with the answer on his own - they believe in nothing, and have no regard to human life. This is followed by the five part harmonies intended to represent the arguments and confusion in his mind as he goes on with his decision. Overall, a great tribute to a man who contemplated the meaning of a moment in life - and took the chance to do the right thing in that moment in life, and never regretted his decision despite the consequences that he faced later in his life.

4. Stare into the Sun - 17(A-) - This is a great song with a bluesy feel to it. The is about an old man who just stands by and watches as his own neighborhood tares itself apart. Inspired by the L.A. Riots of 1991. Paul O'Neill was watching CNN footage when he saw an elderly fellow observing the carnage. The lyrics explore the ideas that might have been going through his head. They do a very nice job with this one, as again the lyrics seem to be very thoughtful as to what one might think as they witness such a scene.

5. Castles Burning - 17(A-) - In this song we again explore the thoughts and mindset, or point of view of another. This one is based on the thoughts of an attorney in Italy, who was murdered by the mafia because of his stance against organized crime. Again we have some brilliant lyrics that prove insightful to what might have been going through his mind as he made his stand.

6. Visions - 16(A-) - This is the album instrumental which brings back the orchestra build up that is featured on "Chance" and has a little fun with it. It's good, and kind of sounds like it's from a circus or something like that. However it lacks the emotional depth that is a common element in Savatage instrumentals.

7. Watching is Silence - 18(A) - Wonderful song, and I agree with it 100%!!This song is about the war in Bosnia (Back in the 1990's) and how we all watched them fall on TV, but no one dared do anything about it. We all pretended we didn't see. I love the lyrics for this song, as they do so well to expose the fact that as citizens of the world, we have a responsibility that when something is wrong, we try to fix it - for the betterment of all this world, and the world our children will someday be apart of. We cannot let injustice stand. Some parts I like in the lyric's are when it says "is there a trick to the art of not feeling, safe in our world while another's child bleeds" which exposes how heartless it really is not to stand for a just cause. My very favorite part though is when it says "Christ is risen, keep him hidden, God forbid he's seen." Which demonstrates to you how many of our government leaders and citizens are more concerned with keeping religion (and anything the endorses good for that matter) out of the public's eye rather then helping those in need. It's ridiculous, it really is. Musically it's another bluesy one with the piano and guitar fades. A wonderful political statement.

8. Nothing Going on - 15(B+) - This song brings back Alex Skolnick's heavy/thrashy guitar style in an awesome Power Metal anthem. There are some great moments on the guitar, but lyrically it doesn't always make sense to me. I'm personally not a thrash metal fan either. The song seems to be lacking the lasting effect created by the depth of their music. It is a great rocker though still the same.

9. Symmetry - 16(A-) - This song is supposed to be about suicide, and the thoughts going through ones head as they contemplate death. I can sorta see it, but it's a stretch, the lyrics are ineffective at making that point. There are still some very thought provoking lines here, but it comes across more as someone pondering the meaning of life.

10. Alone You Breathe - 20(A+) - What an incrediblely powerful song! This is right up there with "Believe" as Savatage's best song(s) ever written. This is Savatage's (or should I say Jon Oliva's) tribute to Criss Oliva, the guitarist that died of an accident involving a drunk driver. It must have been difficult for Jon to handle. It seems the two were very is close. They grew up together, played in a band together for almost twenty years, and wrote music together for just as long. They were inseparable. Except by death. I imagine the lyrics are derived from the thoughts and feelings Jon had after his brothers' death. The song is full of incredible emotion, and though no one was as close to Criss as Jon was, the others prove to be very emotional in this song, which to me is impressive, most impressive being Alex Skolnick's emotional guitar work, considering he hardly even knew who he was. The song starts out with just the piano, then the guitars come on some fades, and then Zak start's to tell us how Jon feels (They should of just had Jon sing the song.) These first words really show just how close the two must have been, "You were never one for waiting, though I always thought you'd wait for me." As we go on, the guitars slam once, then the bass accompanies the piano and we continue with some of Jon's thoughts of what becomes of people after death, "Are you now but an illusion, in my mind alone you breathe" as we go on into the chorus, the guitars are strong, and the lyrics show how much he must have looked up to his brother (even the Criss was the younger of the two) "You believed in these that I will never know" after the 2nd verse/chorus, the second half of the song begins, and this is the best part. It starts with a great build of the guitar, with a sweet bend as well. The lyrics from this point on simply go from amazing to mind blowing! Some of the best written by anyone, ever! "And if this all illusion, nothing more than pure delusion, clinging to a fading fantasy. Like Icarus who heeds the calling, of a sun but now is falling, as the feathers of his life fall free. Can you see?!?" After this we here Zak as he expresses Jon's question to God "Tomorrow, and after, you tell me what am I to do?!" which shows how lost inside Jon must have felt after his brothers' death. "I stand here believing that in the dark there is a clue" this is Jon clinging to his faith, at this moment of doubt.

The next part Jon tries to answer his own question "Perhaps inside these midnight skies, perhaps tomorrow's new born eyes. Or could it be we'll never know, and after all this was the show" which is to say, 'Maybe tomorrow we'll find the answers, or maybe we will find that this really is it after all.' He then asks "What am I to do" and repeats "Got get back" much like in "A Little too Far" when DT is trying to get back to a reason, a hope, his fatih, and his innocence, well now this is how Jon feels as he tries to get back to normal life, but without his brother, which is why they put this part in the song, perfect literary allusion. Thin we have one of the best lyrical statements ever!! "Standing on a dream, isn't what it seems, could we then reclaim a dream refused. Knowing what we know, could we let it go, realizing that all are years are used" Which is to say, 'Living a dream isn't all it's cracked up to be, and in the end, after we know this, can we let go and see how we wasted our time?!' Incredible moment. We then repeat Jon's questions to God, but this it is followed by the first part of the chorus to "Believe" (the second part is on Criss's grave stone) which demonstrates the regaining of Jon's faith, the Lord's answer to his questions (we learn this by applying the meaning of the song "Believe" here as this is again a literary allusion). During almost all of this (meaning the second part of the song) the guitars are going nuts, but here they peak emotionally. We then have the "Tomorrow, and after." part repeated one last time and the song ends. Absolutely incredible, and must be heard to believe. This song alone, makes the whole album worth is.

Skills by Position Break Down:

Guitars - 18(A) - After the tragic death of Criss Oliva (most underrated guitarist of all time!!) Savatage forged on ward with new axeman Alex Skolnick, previously of Testament. The benefit to this is that Alex Skolnick was an already well-respected guitarist, and proves himself capable of filling in the leads very well. Though I feel Criss Oliva was a more passionate guitarist, there is no doubt Alex has the skills to perform. Though he doesn't takeover any writing responsibilities that Criss left behind, he still makes his presence felt in his style of play. The opening track, "Taunting Cobras" as well as "Nothing Going on" are both very "Testament-esque" in the sense that they are very heavy, and thrashy - pure power metal. He also shows the bluesy/jazzy type style that he pursues after his stint with Savatage. This shows through on tracks like "Handful of Rain", "Watching you Fall" and especially on "Stare into the Sun". Overall, he does a great job of filling in some very big shoes, and his very emotional work on "Alone you Breathe" shows that though he didn't know Criss the way to others did, he still appreciates what Criss did for Metal guitar. Drums - 17(A-) - Even though the album sleeve lists Steve Wacholz as the drummer, he doesn't play a lick on the album. All the drumming is done by Jon Oliva, who is actually a better drummer then Steve any way if you ask me. Jon proves that he could have been Savatage's drummer all these years, but I am glad he wasn't, we would have missed some truly magical moments on both vocals and keyboards/piano. Keyboards - 20(A+) - Jon never fails to disappoint us here, beautiful job done once again. Not as much piano as on previous albums, but still a prominent feature here. And again we have some magical moments once again, especially on the final track "Alone You Breathe" which is of course a tribute to Jon's brother, Criss.

Bass - 18(A) - Like the drums, Jon actually plays the bass on the album as well. And, well he proves he could have bass the bass player for Savatage all these years easily (actually did start out as the bass player in the pre-Savatage years). However, Johnny Lee Middleton is one the best bass players of all time, and I would rather have him play. Vocals - 20(A+) - Zak Stevens now fully becomes the voice of Savatage, proving emotional and powerful, and maintaining the polished and smooth delivery that defines him, and sets him apart from all others. Zak is most defiantly one of the greatest vocalists of all time, if not the best.

Creativity Break Down: Music - 19(A) - This proves to be the most diverse song set yet for Savatage, however it ultimately proves to be weaker then the last albums (barely), though still very strong, with Power Metal anthems, to Progressive Metal masterpieces, to rhythm and blues, this album keeps you interested, a job well done.

Lyrics - 20(A+) - This album features some of the best lyrics they have ever written. On this album, we see some reoccurring themes as they explore some of their past, and future topics covered in rock operas. The theme I find most interesting though, is the theme of "Visions" why are seeing things from the vision of another. This really puts the whole album into perspective. We have the song "Chance" in which we explore the thoughts and visions of Sempo Sugihara, a man who contemplated on the meaning of a moment of life, and how one moment in life can define who you are. In song, we see that when given the 'chance' to do the right thing, he does it. Similarly, in the song "Castles Burning" we see the vision and explore the thoughts of an Italian attorney who makes a stand against organized crime, and eventually gets murdered by the mafia for this stand. It is clear that he too contemplated the meaning of a moment in life. This same theme is more in depthly explored later on the album "The Wake of Magellan". However on this album we also see a contrary theme in a few tracks. For example, the song "Stare into the Sun" is about an old man who stands back and does nothing as his neighborhood tares itself apart. In this song we see that moment of life that defines you and I slip by with no action taken. Similarly we have the song "Watching you Fall" which is about not just one man standing by and letting injustice take place, but an entire nation. In this song, we also see Savatage establish the basis of its next album "Dead Winter Dead". That is, of course, the Bosnian civil war. Also, with songs like "Taunting Cobras" and "Handful of Rain" we revisit the themes of "Streets". Some very good lyrics in all of these songs, but we find the best of them in the ballad "Alone you Breathe" in which we explore the 'visions' of Savatage's very own Jon Oliva as he copes with the death of his brother. Arrangements - 20(A+) - Arrangements prove strong on this album, especially on songs like "Chance", featuring the first counter point harmonies in the history of rock. Time will prove that Savatage will not release another album without this feature on a song somewhere, if not on two songs. "Alone You Breathe" also features top-notch arrangements, as it is a powerfully emotional composition. These are only two stand out tracks on a spectacular album.

Report this review (#66980)
Posted Thursday, January 26, 2006 | Review Permalink
Marc Baum
4 stars After the death of Criss Oliva by the hands of a drunk driver, it was indeed questionable who would be able to match such a masterful guitarist. Fortunately, Alex Skolnick had left Testament to focus on other things, and decided to record the album and do a tour with Savatage. Jon Oliva, overly distraught at the untimely death of his brother, did not sing on this album. But the highly able Zach Steven's did, and he did it justice.

This was the second post-Criss Oliva Savatage album I had found. I bought The Wake Of Magellan, and kind of liked it, so I decided to try something else out. I didn't even notice it had Alex Skolnick from one of my favorite thrash metal bands Testament in it, so I went in expecting something like the other album. But as I've come to find with Savatage albums, even up to their latest release Poets and Madmen, they keep updating their sound.

I will rarely even point out guitar solos and lead work when I run over the songs, because all the songs have them and they are melodic and tastefully done. Alex Skolnick is very masterful at his guitar, and you can really tell he's shifting from metal to a more jazz feel when you listen to this album. He knows exactly when to cut in and cut out, and exactly what his solos should sound like.

This album starts out with a very fast song, "Taunting Cobras". In fact, thanks to Alex's playing I almost thought this was a Testament song until the singing kicked in. After that is the title track, "Handful of Rain". This freatures a great accoustic intro with singing over it, and then it goes into a heavy riff with more great singing, showing how Zach can shift from lower singing to this great yelling type of singing.

Next you get what is hailed by most people to be the best song off the album, "Chance". This is like their one big rock opera type song on this album, and they pull it off flawlessly. There is even the first canon-passage on a Savatage album on it that becomes more and more dramatic. Skolnick plays a lead that fits so well here, it's incredible. And he pulls off this pinch harmonic squeal coupled with a whammy bar that just dives right into the riff part of the song so well.

After this is "Stare into the Sun". It's this little track that starts out as some sort of bluesy or jazzy guitar sound with just a pace keeping drum beat. The guitar fills are short and sweet, and the rhythm part later is a wah pedal with muted strings - giving that good "chucka chucka" sound. Fits really well. And after that is another good track entitled "Castles Burning", which features more great guitar and vocals, and some piano overlayed that really seals the deal. Then later it goes into an accoustic arpeggio that sounds really sweet with vocals over it.

Then you get to "Visions", which is instrumental and is pretty short but effective. It takes a strong passage of Chance and it flues into a ballad song called "Watching You Fall". The lyrics are the real attention getter here. There's no snippet of text I can give you, you just need to read them all and listen to the song to understand.

Then comes the track "Nothing Going On" that I like the first six seconds of because you hear them talking in the studio followed by Alex doing this awesome run followed by a pinch harmonic. Then I get bored with it quickly. It's heavy, but a bit mindlessly so in my opinion. There is an awesome guitar fade in part mid-song with the solo (hear the amp crank up, and guitar slide in... and random quick licks). Plus some shredding.

The next on the album, "Symmetry" has an memorable chorus that might stay in your head for a long time, after you've heard it. It's in my book one of the more overlooked gems in the catalogue of the band. Zak Stevens gives a strong vocal performance on here.

The final "Alone you Breath" is dedicated to Criss Oliva and goes beyond words. There is a singing duet between Zak Stevens and Jon Oliva in a bridge chorus that is part-wise out-taken from Believe and is nothing less than heart-wrenching. I don't want to name Savatage beeing a ballad-group, but their ballads are mostly the crowning highlights on all of their albums since Gutter Ballet, and AYB is not an exception. This is the tribute and funeral song to one of the greatest and most underrated guitarist who ever walked the earth. Before I start to shiver about this amazing piece of music I end this review with saying that this is the true highlight on the album.

So really, for an album that came about right after such a horrible tragedy and in a time of such uncertainty, it is quite amazing. And it is definitely worth a purchase, because it is without doubt a breath of fresh air for Savatage, as it contains more of a jazzy feel (thanks mostly to Alex Skolnick) than their earlier and later stuff, but it still sounds like the same old Savatage simultaneously. Extra note: Jon Oliva wrote the complete record on his own, he even has arrenged the instrumental parts. Respect!

album rating: 8.5/10 points = 84 % on MPV scale = 4/5 stars

point-system: 0 - 3 points = 1 star / 3.5 - 5.5 points = 2 stars / 6 - 7 points = 3 stars / 7.5 - 8.5 points = 4 stars / 9 - 10 points = 5 stars

Report this review (#78931)
Posted Sunday, May 21, 2006 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
3 stars It's hard to imagine how difficult this album must have been to make after the death of Criss Oliva by a drunk driver. Former TESTAMENT guitarist Alex Skolnick takes Criss' place.

The first song "Taunting Cobras" is a little over the top for my tastes, it just doesn't seem to work. "Handful Of Rain" makes up for it though. Opening with gentle vocals and acoustic guitar, it changes after a minute to a heavy, powerful song until towards the end of the song it goes back to the opening melody. "Chance" is all over the place, and includes some orchestral arrangements. Lots of tempo shifts and the vocal arrangements towards the end of the song are pretty cool. Good song."Stare Into The Sun" is another good tune with great guitar, and reserved vocals for the most part.

"Castles Burning" is another highlight for me, especially the fantastic guitar melodies. "Visions" is an orchestral sounding instrumental. "Watching You Fall" is all about the lyrics. "Nothing Going On" is great ! A straight forward, hell bent for leather rocker. The guitarist closes this song down. "Symmetry" is another great song with some smoking guitar. "Alone you breathe" is the final song and is dedicated to Criss Oliva. This song is heart breaking to say the least and features a lot of beautiful piano.

Overall I find this record a little inconsistant, but there is enough good material to recommend it.

Report this review (#101614)
Posted Monday, December 4, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars Excellent record, one more time Savatage proves that is among the best bands ever After tragedy struck, putting a shadow on the success of "Edge of Thorns", the question arose on evreybody's lips- would Savatage be able to continue without lead guitarist and songwriter Criss Oliva? The answear is yes and quite good i might say. So this is the first Savatage's album without Criss Oliva, still a great album, but not a masterpiece. What we have here is very intristing, the creativity of the band is still at the highest level so the album deserves a full 4 stars in my view. The replace for Criss Oliva is another great guitar player ex Testament Alex Skolnik. He did a great job here and integreat very well in band's music. Sometimes the music is heavier than on previous one, but the prog arangements are still there. Savatage always had strong ideas, that let them dream to a place in the history of music. Every track is superb, well played, Zachery Stevens shines on every piece, not to mention the others and specially Jon Oliva who is now the only man who compose the entire Savatage music. Forte tracks to me are Handful Of Rain, Chance,Stare Into The Sun and the last one Alone you breath. 4 stars and recommended.
Report this review (#145038)
Posted Tuesday, October 16, 2007 | Review Permalink
Prog Leviathan
3 stars Rock solid '90's prog-metal, complete with forward thinking songwriting which distances it from its mainstream peers, along and enough heavy-metal crunch to satisfy my need for cheesy bombast within the genre. While overall a fun listen, Handful of Rain is a far cry from being anything other than artistic heavy-metal, with just enough ambition to make it a little bit prog.

The album opens with what is probably its weakest song, "Taunting Cobras" (awesome title, though!). This is Handful of Rain at its most banal: big, fat, crunchy chugging over iconic sounding metal lyrics. Not bad, certainly, but hardly remarkable. The next four songs are all good, with "Change" standing out as this album's finest example of artistic songwriting. In each of these songs there are examples of straight-forward, enjoyable metal, nuanced with ambitious songwriting and structures. Another powerful highlight is the intense "Nothing Going On", which strikes a relentless momentum with its guitar riffing and solos. There are few songs which feel contrived, and even fewer that sound like sing-along anthems; these are complex and serious-sounding tunes, fortunetly spread across this consistant album.

However, the instrumental performances lack the virtuosity to fully complement the songwriting, so the end effect feels somewhat unfinished. Skolnick's guitar is smokey and soulful, and while effective doesn't deliver anything memorable. The rest of the band is merely up to expectations. Zach Steven's vocals stand out though, thanks to a flavorful, gruff, intense delivery. Lyrical content is actually pretty smart, and the emotional strength of the songs, such as the heavy-metal farewell "Alone You Breathe", occasionally hit home. I found Savatage's Edge of Thorns a more entertaining listen overall though.

All in all a fun, if somewhat light-weight, prog-metal release. Still, listerners who can appreciate anacronistic fun in a heavy-metal style will find a lot to like with Handful of Rain.

Songwriting: 4 Instrumental Performances: 3 Lyrics/Vocals: 3 Style/Emotion/Replay: 3

Report this review (#274818)
Posted Saturday, March 27, 2010 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars "Handful Of Rain" is the 8th full-length studio album by US, Florida based heavy/power metal act Savatage. The album was released through Atlantic Records in August 1994. There´s been one lineup change since the release of "Edge Of Thorns (1993)" as guitarist/composer Criss Oliva died in a tragic car accident (involving a drunk driver behind the wheel of the other car) in October 1993. Older brother and lead vocalist Jon Oliva had already jumped ship before the recording sessions for "Edge Of Thorns (1993)" (he was replaced by Zachary Stevens), so "Handful Of Rain" is the first Savatage release not to feature at least one of the Oliva brothers in the lineup (although Jon remained the primary composer along with producer Paul O´Neill, and also performs session piano on the album). Criss Oliva is replaced here by former Testament guitarist Alex Skolnick.

So how does Savatage sound with none of the two Oliva brothers in the lineup? Well it sounds unmistakably like Savatage. While Skolnick could never replace Criss Oliva (no one could have...), he is a very capable guitarist and his contributions to the album suits the compositions perfectly. As far as the material goes, there hasn´t been much change since "Edge Of Thorns (1993)". The tracks maybe lean a bit more toward musical territory and they are maybe slightly less heavy tracks than on the predessecor, but it´s details, and overall "Handful Of Rain" is through and through the sound of Savatage.

As the case has been on the last couple of albums, the material on "Handful Of Rain" is relatively diverse, and there are both really heavy tracks like "Taunting Cobras" and "Nothing's Going On" and more epic (though still heavy tracks) like the title track and "Castles Burning", featured on the album. There are also more progressive oriented tracks on the album like "Chance", which is definitely one of the most progressive tracks in the band´s discography, heavily influenced by musicals and featuring a multi harmony counterpoint vocal section (not completely unlike what you hear on some Queen songs). The closing "Alone You Breathe" deserves a mention too. It´s a slow building power ballad type track, which in it´s long coda uses lyric lines from "When The Crowds Are Gone" (off "Gutter Ballet (1989)") and "Believe" (off "Streets: A Rock Opera (1991)"). As Frank Zappa would have put it: "Conceptual Continuity".

Overall the quality of the material is high throughout, and all tracks are instantly catchy and memorable. I would have prefered a few more rockers instead of the many epic tracks, but on the other hand it´s hard not to be impressed by how skillfully executed and well written the material is, and then it matters less that the really hard rocking and faster paced tracks are relatively few. "Handful Of Rain" features a powerful and well sounding production too, and upon conclusion it´s yet another high quality release by the band. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

Report this review (#1605205)
Posted Saturday, September 3, 2016 | Review Permalink
4 stars Handful of Rain is the first Savatage release after the death of Criss Oliva, and as might be expected of a piece recorded hot on the heels of such a tragedy it's rather overshadowed by it.

The supposed lineup of Zak Stevens, Alex Skolnick, Johnny Lee Middleton and Steve Wacholz that is promoted as appearing on the album does not tell the whole story; in fact, Wacholz was so shaken by Criss' death that he left the band entirely and didn't take part in the recording process, and whilst Johnny Lee would stick around he was far too upset to face going into the studio to play Savatage music so soon.

As a result, much of the album ended up resting on the shoulders of Jon Oliva, who at this point in time wasn't even supposed to be a full member of the band, having worked on Edge of Thorns solely as a co-producer and guest musician. With Jon doing most of the instruments and composing most of the music (along with a brief snippet cowritten with Criss and several tracks cowritten with Paul O'Neill, who was coproducing), all that was left was for a fresh-out-of-Testament Skolnick to come in to do the guitar solos and Zak to get coaxed back into the studio to deliver the vocals.

These difficult circumstances are reflected in the final product; it's a bit more of a muddled production and less strong and distinctive than preceding Savatage albums, since the production process seems to have been mostly undertaken by Jon and Paul as part of the grieving process. You're effectively listening to Jon step into the main songwriter role solo, whereas previously he'd been largely contributing to songs in collaboration with Criss, and it's to Jon's credit that the album ends up sounding as good as it does, but it's no classic and very much a transitional piece.

Report this review (#1730517)
Posted Tuesday, June 6, 2017 | Review Permalink
3 stars Released in 1994, 'Handful of Rain' was Savatage's first studio recording after the tragic death of guitarist and founding member Criss Oliva. Replaced by Alex Skolnick of Testament fame, this album catches the essence of Savatage's sound, but being released in the mid-90's, a time when most metal bands were desperately trying to adapt to suit the more grunge-inspired sound of the day, while still maintaining their own identity, it's easy to hear Savatage shift their own sound to a more groove-laden, grungy style. Imagine Alice in Chains mixed with Queen, and you're halfway there.

With heavy, crunchy guitar riffs, massive orchestrations and the trademark vocal counterpoint sections, 'Handful of Rain' incorporates a lot of the "epic" elements that the band would go on to use in later releases and with the Trans- Siberian Orchestra project. Standout performance goes to vocalist Zak Stevens, who's powerful voice truly carries the music on this album.

While things do tend to lag at times, 'Handful of Rain' is generally a solid release, and contains some of the bands most memorable songs. For example 'Chance', 'Taunting Cobras', 'Castles Burning', 'Watching You Fall' and the title track are all Savatage classics.

Whether it was the mid-90's lulling metal scene in general, or the band still mourning the loss of their brother, or maybe just a transitional period as they made tweaks to their sound, in comparison to the rest of Savatage's discography, 'Handful of Rain' comes across as mostly forgettable and irrelevant, and just sits between their power metal days and their more progressive, rock opera days.

Ultimately, it's a three-star album with five-star songs.

Report this review (#1781664)
Posted Wednesday, September 13, 2017 | Review Permalink

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