Savatage includes: Chris Caffery, Al Pitrelli (guitar); Jeff Plate (drums). DEAD WINTER DEAD is a concept album about three people living in wartime Bosnia. Song List: Disc 1 1. Overture 2. Sarajevo 3. This … see full wiki
The Bottom Line: A touching point of view on the war in Bosnia. Great music and a great story combined.
I don't think that Jon Oliva had any idea what would happen when he and producer Paul O'Neil decided to do this second concept album (The first being Streets with his band Savatage. This combination had worked together before and produced some of the most riveting music available but in comparison to what was about to happen with the release of this album, they were only just beginning.
The story begins in Sarajevo. This ancient majestic city has withstood many a battle but nothing compared to the kind of onslaught that it would receive shortly. The band sets the stage for this drama with its powerful "Overture." Calling on both the worlds of classical and metal, this musically sets a tone for a city on the brink. The Berlin Wall had just been torn down and Yugoslavia is a free country. The opportunity is there but as in most cases where there is choice; there is opposing view of what the choices should be. The problem with this one has led to civil war. Savatage manages to capture all those feelings in a brief two minute span as you listen to the joys of freedom turn to torment as the people are taken down the path to war.
Now picture this grand old city with its 1,000 year old cathedrals and ancient buildings that have seen the coming and going of many a great army. As in many cities of this age there is a town square right at the center of the city. On one corner of the square is a church that has been there since medieval times. Atop the church is a line of gargoyles. There is one gargoyle that has been watching humans and trying to figure out what emotions are. He contemplates both laughter and sorrow as he watches what is unfolding beneath him. This is where the story starts with Zak Stevens delivering a haunting vocal that tells of this lone gargoyle and his endless quest for knowledge. Chilling piano work by Jon Oliva sets the tone as Zak begins:
"In the town of Sarajevo, there's an old medieval square There's a church aside one corner most believe was always there
It was built a thousand years before any now were born And its glory was its belfry with its stones all gray... and worn
Now there's a gargoyle on that belfry and he's been up there for years And he has watched and he has pondered: "What is laughter, what are tears?"
And he's never found his answers as he sees the years go by But he watches and he wonders with his stone unblinking eyes."
With a rush of metal, the swirling music carries you off to a place where a gargoyle just might be sitting there, pondering the thoughts of humans. Can he comprehend what goes on in the minds of humans? That is the real question and one that Savatage is trying to answer.
Imagine that stone guardian looking down at the town as they get their first taste of freedom. Would he learn what laughter is? This has to be a joyous time for the people of Sarajevo. Celebrations, as they are no longer under communist rule. Savatage captures the spirit of this newfound freedom with the excellent song "This Is The Time." Lavishly layered guitars that are complemented by some well crafted orchestration make this a song of hope as singer Zak Stevens' strong voice lets us know:
"This is the time and this is the place And these are the signs that we must embrace The moment is now, in all history The time has arrived and this is the one place to be."
The first taste of freedom is always sweet but as the realities set in, there was dissention among the people.
With freedom comes responsibility. There is usually a discrepancy as to who should be in charge. Such was the case in Bosnia. The newly formed Bosnian government was under siege in the city with Serbian forces surrounding them trying to topple the new leadership and create a new Serbian government.
As the people took sides in the conflict, the leaders of the factions recruited the young to join their respective causes. They used the guise of how the other side had what was rightfully theirs. This is the basis for the song "I Am." Jon Oliva's vocals are the brutal catalyst for this song about lies and the compounded effect of those lies. His growl adds a menacing touch as he tries to gain the confidence of the young who are trying to find their way amongst all the chaos. He is successful in recruiting a young man by the name of Serdjan Aleksic to join the Serb forces shelling the city. This song is filled with the anger that is used to pit one countryman against another. The harsh vocals and heavy guitars affirm the tone of the conflict. But there is another conflict. The one inside the young recruit. Does he truly believe in what he is doing?
It is hard for a person who has never experienced this type of life to imagine what goes through the mind of the combatants. This song takes you into the mind of the soldiers that are shooting artillery shells into the city. Imagine being there at night :
"We never fear the night, we bring our own starlight Dropped on the world below, wait for the afterglow And in the dark they wed, we're dancing with the dead And if the ground's been stained, colors run in the rain."
Very effectively Savatage sonically reproduces the craziness of this setting by using their heavy metal approach to punctuate the war scenario. This has some of their most dynamic guitar work as it is used to give you the feeling of wreckage and ruin. A great track that puts you right there on the battle front.
There are people who profit from war no matter who is fighting. That is the ones that sell the arms. "Doesn't Matter Anyway" is the story about these people. These people have no scruples and would sell their wares to both sides of a conflict as long as it makes them some money. Savatage brings you into the world of these characters with a vengeance. Their metal onslaught is loud and heavy just like the subject matter. Oliva once again provides his brash style of vocals that carries a dark tone all by itself. If it weren't for the people he is singing about, there could never be war and you will realize that fact here.
It seems that there always has to be a reflective piece in every story like this. Savatage takes advantage of this with the beautifully crafted piece "This Isn't What We Meant." Weaving together a brilliant melody with flashes of metal, this song has the bombastic quality that we have come to expect from these guys. And lyrically they are right on the money with their sentiment:
"We dared to ask for more But that was long before the nights began to burn You would have thought we'd learned You can't make promises all based upon tomorrow Happiness, security are words we only borrowed For is this the answer to our prayers, is this was God has sent? Please understand this isn't what we meant."
This song is a major highlight on the album and a Savatage classic.
In the middle of the burned out city of Sarajevo something happens that is both beautiful and sad. A lone man who had just finished his prayers as evening falls, looks around the city as artillery shells start to explode around him, he climbs the rubble of what use to be a fountain and starts to play his cello. As war rages around him, the strains of Mozart is the soundtrack to the ceaseless shelling. Night after night he continues to play. Participants from both sides of the conflict listen to the music as the battle rages on. Savatage creates this scene beautifully with the magnificent piece, "Mozart and Madness." The cello is heard and is abruptly cut off with the raging guitars that signify the battle. Occasionally, wisps of the cello are heard amidst the fiery guitar. Then the piece turns to a classical bit of Mozart with both full orchestration and electrifying guitar that brings it all to an exhilarating climax. What a terrific piece of art that is never tiring and always a pleasure to listen to.
"Memory" is a fitting intro to the next song. Using a clean sounding guitar, Beethoven's "Ode To Joy" fills your ears with a serene yet haunting prelude to their next song.
As war rages on, the conflict continues into the cold of a Bosnian December. Savatage takes you once more into the heat of battle with the very heavy song "Dead Winter Dead." The title track of the album is a powerhouse of the kind that only Savatage was able to master. Chris Caffery and Al Pitrelli on guitar are at their best as this metal firestorm rages on just like the conflict it is describing. This is the Savatage I have learned to love. It is some of the most dynamic music that you will ever find and a real addition to any collection. That is, if you like metal!
Our Serb infantryman Serdjan is on patrol when he passes a schoolyard littered with the bodies of kids that were hit with a mortar shell. It is then he realizes that it is easier to drop a shell into a mortar than it is to witness where it lands. All of the injustices of the war fill his mind at this sight and the band delivers this emotional time bomb with another exceptional music display called "One Child." I have to use a new term to describe this type of music. I call it operatic metal. Using techniques vocally that come out of the opera house, the band combines this with the metal mayhem that they are known for. This only helps to charge the emotional piece that is the turning point of the story. With a style that is so unique Savatage can put you into the mindset of someone who has witnessed the atrocities of war. This is a gripping piece of music on so many levels; it can only be appreciated after listening to it many, many times. Each time I hear it there is something new that catches my ear and makes me want to hear it again and again.
It is now the night before Christmas in Sarajevo and the war is still going on. Our cello player has turned to Christmas music as both sides continue to fight. The band musically represents this to perfection with the guitars being one side of the conflict and the keyboards being the other with the cello and orchestration being caught in the middle of the struggle. This powerful piece of music, done to the melody of Carol of the Bells, shows the talent of the band to perfection and is a masterpiece of musical adaptation. Swirling orchestra amidst the mighty guitars make this a piece that is still heard every Christmas. It is not meant to be a happy piece considering it is what was happening "Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)"
This is the song that helped to transform the band. Out of this one piece, and the whole concept of it, came the band that we call Trans Siberian Orchestra today. Christmas time has never been the same thanks to this group of metal heads.
As the story draws near it's end, that Christmas Eve, two of the combatants who have been listening to the cellist suddenly hear it stop. Fearing what might have happened, Serdjan and a young Muslim girl named Katrina, from the other side of the battlefield, rush to the old fountain where the old man has played night after night. Both of them arrive at the same time and see the old man battered and bloody and his cello shattered. Realizing why they are both there, Serdjan tells the girl that they should get out of there together but she is afraid after all that she has heard about the Serbs. Soon though, she sees that he is there for the same reasons that brought her to the old fountain. It is then that she decides there must be some good in all and agrees to leave with him.
As they start to go, Serdjan feels something like rain hit him. As he looks up all he can see is the top of the cathedral and the gargoyles perched up there. Then he notices that one of the gargoyles seems to be crying.
This is how Savatage ends this story of both despair and hope. Mustering all the energy and emotion that they have filled the album with, they send you off with the heart wrenching climax called "Not What You See." This song wraps up the story as our two heroes leave this conflict together and prove that there is more to life than just the accumulation of power and money. There is good in all people, it's just a matter of how hard we are willing to look for it. Not many can last as long as the gargoyle did in this story.
There are few artists who can touch a person on as many levels as Savatage manages to with this disc. Oliva and Paul O'Neil have written a masterpiece that is still one of my favorite albums to listen to. I am sure glad that they carried on in this vein with Trans Siberian Orchestra as their concert has become an annual event for me and my wife.