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The Wake of Magellan

1 rating: 5.0
An album by Savatage

Savatage: Zak Stevens (vocals); Chris Caffery, Al Pitrelli (guitar, background vocals); Jon Oliva (keyboards, background vocals); Johnny Lee Middleton (bass, background vocals); Jeff Plate (drums).  Song List: Disc 1  1. Ocean  2. … see full wiki

1 review about The Wake of Magellan

It Will Leave You In It's Wake

  • Dec 5, 2003
Pros: A masterpiece

Cons: It ends

The Bottom Line: An album of infinate beauty and majesty. A masterfull work of art.

Making great music is so much more than the ability to put your fingers on the instrument and make the proper notes come out. It is also the ability to elicit emotion through the sounds and ideas that the musician creates. Great compositions are a combination which is pleasing to both the ear and to the mind. So few artist have the ability to do this for any extended period of time. Sure many come up with 4 minutes worth of listenable material, but there are far less with the talent to even make a complete disc of worthy music.

It is even rarer for someone to find a group that has the capability to put a story to music and have it come out anything like a listenable album. Yes, there have been exceptions to the rule but for the most part it is a very small percentage of musicians that could pull off what Savatage does with such ease.

With this album ”The Wake of Magellan” the band shows both their ability and versatility. Here they combine many musical styles with their heavy metal undercurrent to produce an exceptional piece of art. The Wake of Magellan is a concept album that really works thanks to the creative minds of the band and producer/co-writer Paul O’Neill. Savatage takes two real life events and creates a story of one Hector Del-Fuego Magellan. Hector is an old sailor who has decided to end his life. He is going to do this by sailing his small boat out into the ocean till it finally sinks.

The two real life events that helped inspire Savatage’s creative juices are first, the story of four Romanian stowaways on the Taiwanese freighter Maersk Dubai. Three of them were found and the captain of the ship had them tossed overboard. The fourth was about to give himself up and a deckhand hid him in the engine room before he could be discovered.

The second story is of Veronica Guerin. She was an Irish reporter who died fighting the growth of the narcotics trade in her country. She was killed by two men while waiting at a red light. It was an assassination by the drug lords who thought that killing her would ease the pressure that her news stories were bringing down on their illegal activities. What they really accomplished was to unite the whole country behind the eradication of their “business.”

From these events, Savatage crafts a conceptual masterpiece that has the beauty of a Mozart symphony and the savagery of a Marilyn Manson song. This collision of musical styles is enough to take the breath away from someone who fully appreciates what they are hearing. This is a gem in the truest sense of the word. Each song is captivating by itself but taken as a whole, this disc easily surpasses 99% of the trash coming out nowadays.

With the sounds of breakers hitting the shore, ”The Ocean” opens this classic album. Soon Jon Oliva’s somber piano enters and the listener is floating along the whitecaps of a lazy sea until the pounding bass of Johnny Lee Middleton reminds us that there is danger as well as beauty in the sea. From this dynamic instrumental beginning, the stage is set for the play to unfold before the listener.

A jangling piano followed by thunderous crashes of electric guitars ”Welcome” everyone as Zach Stevens in his best carnival barker voice that we should all prepare for the story that is about to come. Yes, this is the story of Hector but it is also the story of each and every one of us, the story of the hells that we all face and find a way to overcome. Zach is going to make us face those terrors.

”We’ll show you things
That in your life
You’d never dreamed you’d know
So now before the ghosts arrive
It’s welcome to the show.”

In the short span of 2 minutes 11 seconds the band performs as grand of an opening as any Broadway spectacular. Using orchestration to accentuate the majesty of the piece and a full choir to emphasize the tragedy, this short piece highlights all that the band is about. Glorious production and rich melodic texture that is just enough to wet the appetite of the music coinsure.

When Hector returned to his hometown after a life at sea, he sees a world that is completely different then the one he left. Many years have changed the face of his town as well as the attitudes of those who lived there. While strolling along the beach, he happens to see a lady sipping wine at an outdoor cafĂ©. He remembers her from the days of his youth. She was a real beauty that left to pursue an acting career. After failing to make an impression in the movies, she returned to her hometown just like Hector after his days at sea were over. This part of the story is what the song ”Turn To Me” is all about. With the sea as the constant in this tale, the thing that is there for all time, she sits and reflects upon what might have been as she gazes out upon the ocean.

With an haunting guitar backing the vocals, we hear what is on the mind of the aged beauty queen.

”Stands all alone
Looks in the mirror
And sees what she wanted to be

Safely unknown
To anyone near her
She sees what she wanted to see
And turns to me……”

With thunderous electrical guitars the sea answers back to her:

”She was prophesied
For an early slide
Followed it to the letter

Well kept beauty queen
If there, always seen
Still you thought she’d know better
No erasing
The time you’re wasting
But when you’re wasting
You don’t care”

Hector sees her everyday as she sits and contemplates yesterdays just as he does about his life on the sea. He realizes that they both might just have something to offer to the other but he cannot approach her as he thinks her still the unattainable lady of the past.

Savatage highlights this exchange by taking a soft and melodic approach when the woman is thinking and then explodes with deafening heavy metal to emphasize the uncaring attitude of the effects of time. A real musical experience for the listener that only gets better each time you listen to it.

After watching the woman drink her wine, Hector continues down the shoreline. Contemplating how he is about to end his life. He talks to the ocean and hopes that it hears his pleas. He hopes that it hears how lonely his life has become since he returned from his life as a sailor.

In the song ”Morning Sun”he questions what his life has become. He asks the sea:

”When you look at the morning sun
Do you see what I see
Or could I be the only one
Seeing just what I need.
I envisioned a different man
Than the one I‘ve become
Pray the ocean will understand
That my time isn’t done “

When he finally decides that it is time to end it, the band crashes out with the majestic sound of guitars to make sure that the listener knows that this is a moment of great importance.

”I can’t wait for the morning sun
As I stand with the sea
And the ocean she understands
Just the man I could be.”

The music here takes you inside of the mind of an old sailor thinking about killing himself. It is powerful and has just the right touch of darkness to it thanks to the combined talents of the band. From almost a lullaby as talks to the sea to the almost demonic style they employ to show the gloom of suicide, the resourcefulness of Savatage shines through once more. You cannot but help to yearn for more as you get sucked into the story that they so vividly paint for you with their music.

A person who is prepared to end his own life has to at one point or another thought about what could have happened if they took another path. They also must look at if there is ”Another Way” way to go besides death. Sometimes you just have to find that other road to travel. With animal ferocity, the band demonstrates the anguish and turmoil inside the brain of a potential suicide musically by using the electric guitars to provide the intensity that this song demands. This is Savatage at their heaviest and it establishes the proper mood for such a dark subject. You can feel the pain and torment the same as our hero is feeling through the music. If for some reason the listener has problems doing that, then there are the lyrics.

”Dreams and visions
Tied into decisions
Saw you on a postcard
From the other sided.”

The talents of the band both lyrically and musically are both very evident in this song that is the turning point of the story.

As Hector continues down the seashore, he happens upon a youth that he thought was sleeping. As he looks closer he realizes that the kid is dead. All around him are packages labeled ”Blackjack Guillotine.”Hector realizes what has happened and looks upon this as a sign. If people can as he puts it, “Purchase one’s own death and choose it by the brand,” He sees it as a signal that things are way out of hand. This almost becomes an affirmation of his choice to check out!! Savatage musters all their energy to show you the evils of drug use. With the chopping guitars along with a pumping bass line, the listener can almost feel as the heroin courses it way through the body.

”Blackjack guillotine
Razor sharp
Always clean
Gotta lie
Very wide
Once inside she knows what to do!”

In very dramatic fashion the band shows the evil of drugs. It also shows to Hector the dark side of the world that he is living in. A prime example of what he is trying to get away from.

As Hector looks upon the kid, he asks the sea just how someone so young could end up this way, the ocean answers back that it was a buddy that introduced him to drugs, nothing more than two friends who were looking for a high and thinking that they would never become junkies. It is one of the ”Paragons of Innocence” that they are indestructible and also that they think they know all that there is to life. Sometimes those beliefs have tragic endings. In spectacular fashion, Savatage conveys that life is what we make it with the time we have. But also, there is only one outcome. Death comes to us all sooner or later.

”Moments on the carousel
Must admit we ride it well
And the horses never tell
All throughout the ride
That no one leaves
No one leaves….
No one leaves…

Building from an almost jazzy feeling piano intro, guitars join in picking up the same melody line as you feel the hopelessness of Hector as the vocals expound on the depression that he is experiencing. All in all this is one of the best songs on the disc. This is a great piece that has a very catchy hook that you will be singing along with even if you don’t want to promote the message.

There is one moment when this album seems to hit a bump. That is with the fantastical way with witch they bring in the side element of the Veronica Guerin storyline. As Hector goes to cover up the body that he has found, the sea washes up a funeral wreath with the name Veronica Guerin on it. Hector asked the sea if this is not bad taste to use a wreath that was meant for someone else and the sea tells Veronica’s story to Hector and says that she would not mind. Her story is the background for the low spot on the disc. This is the song ”Complaint In The System.” While the message is straightforward, that those who make money from the suffering of others is evil, musically I cannot believe that they left this song as is. 75% of this hard edged rocker is terrific; there is an annoying robotic chorus that just does not fit. It belongs somewhere on a Styx album. But the message is dynamite and once you get past that small annoyance, the rest is vintage Savatage.

We have come to the critical part of the story. After all that he has witnessed today, Hector decides that this is the time to put his boat to sail. As he reflects, Savatage gives us a retrospective of all that has transpired before with the breathtaking instrumental ”Underture.” Here the band takes instrumentals from all the previous songs and weaves them together to form a musical piece that is reflective on all that has transpired for Hector as he sits there on the shore. While sitting there crying over what might have been, a small boy comes up and asked him what is wrong. Before he can answer the child sees the hourglass that Hector has been carrying and Hector drops it and all the sand runs out. As the boy returns to his mother, Hector climbs into his boat and cuts the anchor rope for his final voyage.

The title song to this disc, ”The Wake of Magellan,”picks up the second sub plot to the story. Rodolfo Miguel is a deckhand aboard the ship Maersk Dubai. After watching his captain throw three stowaways overboard, Rodolfo contemplates what he has just witnessed. He wonders if he should have tried to stop it.

”As he stood upon the watch deck
Looking out onto the sea
It would offer no solutions
Only silent company”

“So he took hold of the reasons
As he tried to understand
But they offered just confusion
As the bled into his hands”

He is haunted by the actions of his captain.

”I believe what the prophets said
That the oceans hold their dead
But at night when the waves are near
They whisper
And I hear”

Just as Hector realized that the world that he knew had turned to crap, so does this bit of enlightenment come to Rodolfo as he thinks that what we call a civilized world can sometimes be all but that!

”Columbus and Magellan and De Gama
Sailed upon the ocean
In a world of ignorance
With thoughts so primitive
That men were killed
With no more will
Than that they simply had the notion
But in this world of heartless men
This thing they never did”

Savatage pulls out all the stops for this epic piece. Slowly building as Rodolfo’s guilty conscious begins to overwhelm him, the music reflects the grief that he is feeling. With the underlying piano work of Jon Oliva as steady as the ocean itself, the orchestration and guitars spiral almost out of control as the madness engulfs our deckhand until with an operatic chorus sung in the round, the listener is worried that these thoughts might consume him.

The next morning, Rodolfo is horrified to see a fourth stowaway trying to surrender to the captain. Without hesitation, he grabs him and hides him in the engine room. Without any concern for his self, there is no way that he was going to let the captain inflict his sadistic punishment on another human being. This act also reaffirms Rodolfo’s belief in God. With his humanity once again intact, he tells us about tells us of his rebirth in the very spiritual and totally spectacular song ”Anymore.” In what I consider the highlight of this album, Jon Oliva delivers one of the most subtle piano works while be supported spectacularly by his band mates. The beauty of the piece is in the simplicity of his work. With a tempered hand his jangling piano work puts you right inside the mind of the young deckhand as he struggles with his inner demons.

”Don’t want to walk upon the water
Don’t want to look across the waves
Instead of seeing hills of water
I just see markers on their graves.”

With powerful lyrics like that set against the hypnotizing piano work, it is hard to resist this piece. With each line of the song it draws you in deeper and deeper as Rodolfo realizes that there was more than just luck that saved the fourth stowaway.

”Close your eyes and just believe again
There’s a god and he remembers when
We were young and faith was not pretend”

This stanza delivered among a rich wall of guitars and the pounding piano that sounds like waves crashing against the hull of the ship, is a vivid of a picture that can be performed musically. The melody, with the angelic choir harmonizing in the background puts you right out their on a ship at sea. If you could take a snapshot musically, this would be it. This is just magnificent.

A rainstorm, then a piano playing a refrain from an earlier song that suddenly erupts in Beethoven like fashion with Al Pitrelli’s guitar becoming the voice of a raging storm at sea is the beginning of the masterful instrumental ”The Storm.” As Hector takes his boat out for it’s final journey, he is greeted with a storm of tremendous proportions. In this storm he hears a voice that will change the outcome of his life story. It is the voice of one of the stowaways that was tossed overboard. So, as the raging storm throws him all over the sea, and he is about to end it the way he wants, this voice from the water is about to make him have a change of heart. All you have to do is listen to the magnificent guitar work on this number and it is easy to visualize the lone sailor looking for a person lost in the churning waves. Will he be able to save the poor soul out there treading water? Or will his despair consume his compassion? I guess we will find out in the grand finale!

With all the flourish of a grand Broadway extravaganza, Savatage culminates their complex tail in the majestic piece entitled ”The Hourglass.” We pick up the story as Hector sets sail on his last voyage.

”The man climbed aboard and set sail for the ocean
He put on the mast all the canvas she’d take
Then laid himself down on the deck neath the tiller
The ship was his coffin this moment his wake.”

The wind touched the sail and the ship moved the ocean
The wind from the storm set the course she would take
From a journey to nowhere towards a soul on the ocean
From the wake of Magellan to Magellan’s wake.

Savatage masterfully displays how music can come alive as their instruments become the characters themselves. Chris Chaffery’s guitar becomes the ocean with all its power and majesty. Jon Oliva’s piano becomes Hector as this song simmers before boiling over into a spectacular climax. As the story reaches its conclusion the music fittingly displays all the raw emotion of this tale of despair and hope. To do this, Savatage employs many different musical styles ranging from operatic to all out rock and roll. This final opus is one of the most well crafted works in recent memory and a testament to great musicians and superior songwriting.

As you can see I avoided telling how the tale ends. That is because it is a tale that needs to be heard to be fully appreciated. I don’t want to deprive you of this joy. There are so few examples of this caliber of music that to be deprived of its full effect would be criminal. This album proves once again that Savatage is not your ordinary metal musicians. There is a soul to this band that has its roots in the masters like Bach and Mozart. This soul is what sets them apart. The music is so much more than most you are accustom to hearing. This is music with guts! Something that will be cherished and appreciated every time you play it. So do yourself a favor and make sure that this disc is always within reach.

Read my review of the Savatage album Steets here:

Also catch the review of their other project, Trans Siberian Orchestra and their album Beethovens Last Night here:


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The Wake of Magellan
Label: Lava Records (USA)
Artist: Savatage
Release Date: April 07, 1998

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