It’s hard to imagine that Savatage could get any better than their 1995 album Dead Winter Dead, but when they released the Wake of Magellan in 1998 the band did just that.
Like Dead Winter Dead, the Wake of Magellan is a concept album, this time focusing on three seemingly unrelated stories. O’Neill and Oliva weave the three together, while the band makes the story come alive. This is easily Savatage’s most epic and progressive album to date, as emphasized by everything from the powerful instrumental tracks to the intricate vocal layering. The Wake of Magellan is an album that recalls the very best of Iron Maiden, Rush, and Queen. This is also the Savatage album most likely to draw parallels with O’Neill and Oliva’s highly successful Trans-Siberian Orchestra project.
Founding member Jon Oliva once again contributes vocals to this album. His voice is perfect on those tracks where a little extra aggression is required, and serves as a nice counterpoint to regular (but never ordinary) vocalist Zak Stevens. Sadly, this album is the last Savatage release to feature Stevens on vocals. He has since launched a solo project called Circle II Circle, which should definitely appeal to Savatage fans.
While the album was extremely strong from start to finish, there are some standout songs that rank among Savatage’s best, including the title track, the Storm, the Hourglass, and Blackjack Guillotine. The beautiful instrumental tracks are just as impressive. There really isn’t a weak moment on the whole album, which remains my all-time favorite Savatage release.
The only difficulty lies in choosing which version to get. The domestic version features three acoustic bonus tracks, but the similarly-priced SPV import might be the better option. It has not been remastered, but the 2002 SPV reissue does have a few extras that make it worthwhile. It features 2 additional tracks – This Is Where You Should Be and an acoustic version of Desiree. The real bonus is that the liner notes have been expanded to include several pages of very detailed information about the band during this particular stage of their career. When added to the chapters from the other SPV Savatage reissues, you’ll get the real story behind one of the best (and most underrated) metal bands of all time.
Unfortunately, the SPV reissue does not contain the three acoustic bonus tracks from the regular version, so I have two copies of the Wake of Magellan on my shelf.