Gutter Ballet marked the transition between Savatage's earlier, straightforward, fantasy-themed metal and the more progressive direction the band took in the 1990s. Co-writing all their new material with producer Paul O' Neill, the songwriting on Gutter Ballet is leaps and bounds ahead of almost anything the group had recorded before. The arrangements are more complex, with the band finding new depths within O'Neill's productions. On "Gutter Ballet" and "When the Crowds Are Gone," the addition of piano accentuates the songs' mournful sound. Both these pieces and "Summer's Rain" are light years away from Sirens or Dungeons Are Calling, featuring slower tempos, soaring guitars, and sophisticated, sensitive lyrics delivered touchingly by Jon Oliva. Criss Oliva's guitar playing has improved, as well, and his beautiful, acoustic instrumental, "Silk and Steel," is a highlight on the album. Despite the change in focus, the band did not give up their edge, but several of the rockers show a newfound maturity in subject matter. "Rage and War," "Mentally Yours," and "Thorazine Shuffle" all tackle serious topics with tight, dynamic playing. While there is some material here that is a throwback to earlier days -- "She's in Love" is a sexually charged rocker while "The Unholy" and "Hounds" feature dark fantasy lyrics -- thanks to interesting tempo changes and more complex production, the tracks sound more epic in scope than most of the group's previous work. ~ Geoff Orens
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