In 1993, Savatage released their eighth studio album Edge of Thorns. Shortly after this release, Savatage guitarist Criss Oliva was killed in a car wreck. This shook the very foundation of Savatage for it was with his brother Jon Oliva that Criss had founded Savatage in the early ’80s. Before that tragic day, Criss and Jon had talked about what they would do if one of them did die. The conclusion that both came to was that Savatage was their dream and if one of them was lost, it would be best if the dream continued as, if for no other reason, a tribute to the fallen one.Jon Oliva, former vocalist and current keyboardist of the band, made the decision to continue Savatage to honor Criss. I’m glad Jon did this because to put an end to Savatage would have been to dishonor the hard work that he and Criss had put into building up this band.In many ways Handful of Rain, though under the Savatage name, was a Jon Oliva solo album. Jon co-wrote every track (along with long-time producer Paul O’Neill), played all piano and keyboard parts and played most of the drums, bass and rhythm guitar as well. Jon Oliva enlisted Alex Skolnick, formerly of Testament, to play lead guitar and Zak Stevens, as he had on Savatage’s previous release, sang lead vocals.The music is powerful, riveting and epic. Skolnick’s guitar work added a blues/thrash sound to Savatage — something that really hadn’t been done before Handful of Rain. Stevens’s vocals are powerful — he’s Geoff Tate (Queensryche) plus James Hetfield (Metallica). The songs are finely crafted and run from bluesy epics like the title track “Handful of Rain” to thrashy speedsters like “Taunting Cobras” to the “Bohemian Rhapsody”-like “Chance”.After tragedy, Savatage triumphs with a solid album that continues with the band’s unique brand of semi-progressive epic metal.