1989, Music

Gutter Ballet (1989) by Savatage

I find myself stuck with a lot of progressive metal, especially ’90s progressive metal. I often find that it’s either too metal for the description – not a bad thing in and of itself – or too proggy and not metal enough. Apparently I’m nitpicky about this but I believe there is a happy medium somewhere, where a band can play metal that is progressive, rather than play cheesy neo prog with only the faintest veneer of metal, or loud metal with so little that counts as “progressive” music you wonder why the term was applied. I really shouldn’t be this fussy, but I can’t help myself.

I don’t know what specifically about this record hits that sweet spot. It’s not really “progressive” in any real sense. It’s far closer to what you might dub “art metal” (or what would later be called alternative metal): it’s super theatrical and much of the artsiness comes from that. (As they acknowledge, Andrew Lloyd Webber is an inspiration.) The music isn’t particularly knotty and doesn’t aspire to be classical or jazz. But the faux operatic quality of the whole thing definitely separates it from most of their contemporaries and the straight ahead power metal they were recording earlier in the decade. (I was listening to one of their early records in the last year or two but I abandoned it because of how run of the mill it was.)

So I should still be annoyed that this music is considered “progressive metal” but I don’t know that another term existed for this kind of music in the ’80s. (Really, I want all of us to embrace either “art metal” or “opera metal” or “theatre metal” or something.) But the excessive theatricality is the differentiating factor for me here.

So I like this in spite of my documented nitpicky attitude towards the genre. I think some of this has to do with the year – I can think of one other band off the top of my head making music like this in 1989. (They are better than Savatage, in my opinion.) And that has to count for a lot. Also, if you’re going to dare to bring in piano to ’80s post-thrash metal, you need to go full musical theatre. And I appreciate that they did that.


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