"Gutter Ballet" was their 4th full-length release that gained much popularity amongst their fans as a heavy/power metal outfit. The music on this album was melodic, melancholic, dramatic and innovative. Other people can challenge this notion. The fact of the matter here was that it's fair to come to this conclusion because the pieces are filled with such unique songwriting. Criticizing the album and not giving it much thought wasn't fair to the astronomical amounts of musicianship. Unfortunately, "Gutter Ballet" was the only release that I've heard from the band out of their entire discography.
The opening track entitled "Of Rage & War" features a bass guitar intro with duties from Johnny Lee Middleton accompanied by cymbals/drums by Steve Wacholz. This song segues into a heavier yet catchy riff structure. It isn't the only song that features intriguing metal. It occurs throughout the entire release. Jon Oliva on piano/vocals came up with some of the most memorable songs with the help from Criss on guitar duties. Their other member Chris Caffery was on guitars/keyboards. The entire album was filled with much melancholic emotion. They assumed that their aim was to flock together interested listeners which in turn made it into a reality.
Instrumental acoustic/electric guitar songs were found on "Temptation Revolution" and "Silk And Steel." Their guitarists also came up with some lead guitar work on these tracks. All songs including the bonus track "Thorazine Shuffle" were simply incredible compositions. Criss Oliva was such a talented guitarist that will forever shine in the metal world. He was a fond musician/guitarist that died at such a young age. Jon's feelings on the matter was such that when Criss died he felt so did Savatage. His words in an interview on Metal-Temple.com reflects his viewpoint on the matter. Even though Jon continued his involvement in Savatage after Criss's passing, he merely assisted Zak Stevens on vocal duties who would record future albums with the band.
Their previous recordings that were released as Jon on vocals/piano and Criss on guitars I've never heard before. So there's really no comparison that I can fully make of them since "Gutter Ballet" was the only release as previously claimed to have heard from the band. However, I'm keen on purchasing their earlier works since "Gutter Ballet" impressed me in such a great way. The main reason was because of the solely captivating songwriting. It's pretty easy to make out what Jon is saying during his vocal outputs. Criss's leads were amazing. They were filled with arpeggios and tremolo picking gallore that was just incomprehensible. He demonstrated how technical his playing was.
The whole of the songs showed melodies that were grim with despair but all entirely monumental as a metal act. Just check out the title-track, "When The Crowds Are Gone" and "Summer's Rain." If this isn't enough to get a gist as to what I'm talking about then it's your loss. These tracks are the most memorable pieces from the album. Though overall, "Gutter Ballet" showed quite a bit of classical influence to it. That may be since Jon and Criss grew up with hearing songs composed on the piano. Jon as well as Criss implemented some of that musical influence well through the songs on "Gutter Ballet."
Since it was 1989 when this album was recorded, the production sound wasn't entirely impressive. Though it was well mixed in terms of the vocals, guitars, keyboards and drums "Gutter Ballet" fell a bit short of suburb quality in the session recording. It's understandable since they didn't have access to all that's available nowadays in the studio. I'm not saying that musicians lacked in talent on any respect. It just flowed within them through years of playing with other numerous outfits.
The lyrics dealt with humanity, spirituality and fantasy. Jon wrote some of the lyric writing when he was in drug rehab. "Thorazine Shuffle" and "Mentally Yours" were written during his time there. From an overall lyrical standpoint, they were very intelligent and memorable. They seemed to reflect on Jon's outlook on life and issues throughout his life itself. There was no need to have covers on here since all of the tracks reflected Jon's past life experiences. Covering other songs such as KISS among others in his earlier days with Criss were no more. To this day however, he continues with his band Jon Oliva's Pain though Savatage showed his main achievements as a vocalist, pianist and songwriter.
Savatage's status as a band is on hold for the time I suppose until something significant happens to change this. "Gutter Ballet" was an extravagant piece of work that reflected their rise within the metal community. It will never be left forgotten as a part of their discography even though Criss's passing back in 1993 was such a tragedy. My hope is such that they eventually will return from being on a hold and will once again relive the days where they once were as a band despite the tragedy. If you're a fan of heavy/power metal, then "Gutter Ballet" is an album that should be heard which won't dissatisfy you as a listener.