When the world’s largest metal festival announced its 2015 line-up, the most surprising inclusion was Savatage. After all, the prog metal pioneers hadn’t played a show in 13 years, and with its principal members and songwriters perpetually focused on American box-office juggernaut Trans-Siberian Orchestra, a Savatage resurrection didn’t appear to be on the cards.
The deck gets shuffled for Wacken, though. Instead of a standard reunion gig, Savatage play alongside TSO on adjoining stages. It’s an ambitious move, and the resulting performance is a technical marvel of synchronised lights and pyrotechnics – but with so much focus on production elements, the emotion on classics like Believe is lost. That song begins transcendently with frontman Jon Oliva leading a passionate singalong with fans, but when he passes the vocal baton to one of TSO’s anonymous singers, the magic dissipates.
Before this dual-stage portion of the show, Savatage perform a short set on their own, highlighted by the return of 1990s vocalist Zak Stevens for Edge of Thorns and Dead Winter Dead. Stevens reappears during the second set, duetting with a soundalike TSO vocalist on Chance and The Hourglass. But by that point, between two violinists, a dozen or so backup singers and, most bizarrely, female dancers on both stages, he’s just another face in a very large crowd.
The next day’s set by Queensrÿche presents a sharp contrast. Rather than trying to reinvent classics, the group play songs such as Nightrider and Warning faithfully and confidently. As a result, the performance sees the band take a big step toward reclaiming its legacy.
Since joining forces with former Crimson Glory frontman Todd La Torre in 2012, it’s been exciting to see Queensrÿche celebrate their decorated past while also forging ahead. To that end, the twin-guitar intro and familiar chug of new track Arrow Of Time helps the song blend in seamlessly with the infectious The Needle Lies and Eyes Of A Stranger, the latter still one of progressive metal’s most irresistible moments.
Elsewhere, La Torre’s stratospheric vocals carry The Whisper, and his opening scream on Queen Of The Reich is goosebump-worthy. Meanwhile, the guitar interplay of Parker Lundgren and Michael Wilton impresses throughout. Now that Queensrÿche have successfully weathered line-up and lawsuit storms, the next step is for La Torre to show that he’s more than just a capable mimic of his predecessor.