Savatage

Handful of Rain

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Going through a lot of personnel changes can make a band's output very erratic -- in the '80s and '90s, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath went through so many personnel changes that you never knew if a new album would be decent, mediocre or quite forgettable. But personnel changes haven't prevented Savatage from being impressively consistent. In 1993, Savatage suffered a cruel blow when guitarist and founding member Criss Oliva was killed in a car crash. But the band bounced back nicely with Handful of Rain, which was the first album it recorded after Criss' death and found him being replaced by former Testament guitarist Alex Skolnick. With a lineup consisting of Skolnick, singer Zachary Stevens, bassist Johnny Lee Middleton and drummer Steve Wacholz, Savatage delivers an album that is melodic, ambitious, often operatic and consistently absorbing. Jon Oliva, who had co-founded Savatage with brother Criss back in 1978, is listed as a co-producer and a keyboardist, but not as an actual member. The songs are dramatic, passionate and intense, but they're also quite melodic -- in fact, melody and aggression are equally important on this excellent album. Appropriately, Savatage dedicated Handful of Rain to Criss' memory.

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