As an adjunct to the Jon Oliva sung live collection `Ghost in the Ruins’ this album is an interesting proposition. It’s also a good album taken in isolation. Recorded on the 1994 tour for the Handful of Rain album with Alex Skolnick substituting for the deceased Criss Oliva, as he had done on Handful of Rain.
Kicking off with the barnstorming Taunting Cobras from the Handful of Rain set the band (and therefore album) quickly locks into a full blooded groove launching as it does into Edge of Thorns and a truncated Chance (sans the preschool vocal melodies of the studio original). The power of Zach Stevens’ throat is flexed fully on numbers such as Nothin’ Going On and He Carves His Stone before proceedings change feel for Jesus Saves, one of the more salvageable moments off the reviled Streets: A Rock Opera album. The mid section of the concert then moves into slightly slower but still very classy metal territory with the Watching You Fall and Castles Burning both acquitting themselves well. The band sound particularly on which is interesting given the personnel shuffling that had gone on shortly prior to this tour.
As the live set develops we get quality versions of the introspective All That I Bleed and then things pick up towards the end with Handful of Rain, Sirens and Gutter Ballet. During this live set former vocalist Jon Oliva does some guest vocals and twinkles the ivories and the production captures the live ambience of proceedings well by allowing the songs to breath. While uncredited on my copy, I’m guessing that the bands usual producer Paul O’Neill is responsible for the knob job.
For the newcomer to the band this probably isn’t a bad disc to snap up if you can get it cheaply but my guess is this is mainly an album for the established fan who wants to hear this excellent metal band cherry pick it’s way through a bunch of mostly latter day Savatage tunes in front of a very appreciative Japanese audience.
As an aside this tour was also captured live (presumably same gig) and released as a pretty darn handy VHS release. At the time of writing it hadn’t been converted over to DVD.