Every year, I set a goal to see at least 100 films in a theatrical setting. Prior to the start of the pandemic, I saw 23 films and was well on my way to achieving my goal. However, when movie theaters were forced to close and screens went dark in mid-March, it was clear that my goal would not be met this year.
While I was fortunate that drive-ins and movie theaters reopened in a limited capacity in the region where I live during the summer, this was the first year I resorted to online streaming to see fresh content when a film wasn’t available on physical media.
As a result, I concluded the year by seeing 46 films in theatrical setting and approximately 250 more on physical media or streaming. While my year end list is always diverse from all genres, my favorite films are all horror related this year.
As with any list, I have not viewed every film released in 2020, but these were the 15 that stood out above the rest. Unlike my top 10 albums list of 2020 where I reviewed each one, I am only including the film’s synopsis below. I hate spoilers and trailers that give everything away and I firmly believe not knowing too much is the best way to view most of these gems.
For those who are interested, you can also view my favorite horror films of 2020 on our Letterboxd account. So far, we ranked our favorite 46 films. This wasn’t easy to do as every film on this list is solid from start to finish. Click HERE to view the list.
Disclaimer: This list is based on films I’ve seen as of Dec. 30, 2020. It could be adjusted in the future as I view other films from 2020 in early 2021.
Synchronic (Directed by Justin Benson & Aaron Moorehead)
SYNOPSIS: Two New Orleans paramedics’ lives are ripped apart after encountering a series of horrific deaths linked to a designer drug with bizarre, otherworldly effects.
2. 1BR (Directed by David Marmor)
SYNOPSIS: When Sarah lucks into a sweet one-bedroom at Asilo Del Mar Apartments in Los Angeles, she think she’s hit the jackpot. It’s got plenty of space, friendly tenants, group BBQs and even a cute neighbour next door. All is not what it seems: loud noises start keeping her awake at night; her cat is missing; everyone seems to be a little too helpful and friendly, except for the weirdo, Lester. Soon, Sarah learns she didn’t choose this apartment — it chose her.
3. The Lodge (Directed by Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala)
SYNOPSIS: A soon-to-be stepmom is snowed in with her fiancé’s two children at a remote holiday village. Just as relations begin to thaw between the trio, some strange and frightening events take place.
4. Hunter Hunter (Directed by Shawn Linden)
SYNOPSIS: Joseph and his family live in the remote wilderness as fur trappers but their tranquility starts to be threatened when they think are being hunted by the return of a rogue wolf and Joseph leaves them behind to track it.
5. Run (Directed by Aneesh Chaganty)
SYNOPSIS: Chloe, a teenager who is confined to a wheelchair, is home schooled by her mother, However, her mother’s strange behavior doesn’t go unnoticed and when Chloe pries into some private papers, she discovers a Change of Name Certificate document with her mother’s name, Diane Sherman, on it. When Chloe googles “Diane Sherman,” the internet suddenly disconnects. Chloe becomes suspicious of all that her mother does, suspecting her of something sinister. She decides to go on the run in her wheelchair in a desperate attempt to get away from her.
6. Darkness (a.k.a. Buio) (Directed by Emanuela Rossi)
SYNOPSIS: It’s the story of Stella, a young girl living with her father and two little sisters in an isolated house with bolted windows. Because of a solar explosion occurred years before, the man is the only one able to get out of the house. But his version of the truth seems to hide a huge lie.
7. Zombi Child (Directed by Bertrand Bonello)
SYNOPSIS: Haiti, 1962: A man is brought back from the dead only to be sent to the living hell of the sugarcane fields. In Paris, 55 years later, at the prestigious Légion d’honneur boarding school, a Haitian girl confesses an old family secret to a group of new friends – never imagining that this strange tale will convince a heartbroken classmate to do the unthinkable.
8. Possessor (Directed by Brandon Cronenberg)
SYNOPSIS: Tasya Vos, an elite corporate assassin, uses brain-implant technology to take control of other people’s bodies to terminate high profile targets. As she sinks deeper into her latest assignment, Vos becomes trapped inside a mind that threatens to obliterate her.
9. Anything for Jackson (Directed by Justin G. Dyck)
10. A Good Woman Is Hard To Find (Directed by Abner Pastoll)
SYNOPSIS: The recently widowed mother of two, Sarah, is desperate to know who murdered her husband in front of her young son, rendering him mute. Coerced into helping a low-life drug dealer stash narcotics stolen from the local Mr. Big, she’s forced into taking drastic action to protect her children, evolving from downtrodden submissive to take-charge vigilante.
11. Alone (Directed by John Hyams)
SYNOPSIS: A recently widowed traveler is kidnapped by a cold blooded killer, only to escape into the wilderness where she is forced to battle against the elements as her pursuer closes in on her.
12. Unhinged (Directed by Derrick Borte)
SYNOPSIS: A divorced mother honks impatiently at a deranged middle-aged stranger at a red light while running late on her way to work. His road rage escalates to horrifyingly psychotic proportions as he becomes single-mindedly determined to teach her a deadly lesson for provoking him.
13. Becky (Directed by Cary Murnion & Jonathan Miliott)
SYNOPSIS: A teenager’s weekend at a lake house with her father takes a turn for the worse when a group of convicts wreaks havoc on their lives.
14. Swallow (Directed by Carlo Mirabella-Davis)
SYNOPSIS: Hunter, a newly pregnant housewife, finds herself increasingly compelled to consume dangerous objects. As her husband and his family tighten their control over her life, she must confront the dark secret behind her new obsession.
15. Host (Directed by Rob Savage)
SYNOPSIS: Six friends hire a medium to hold a séance via Zoom during lockdown — but they get far more than they bargained for as things quickly go wrong. When an evil spirit starts invading their homes, they begin to realize they might not survive the night.
Every Sunday Limelight Magazine featured an album from 30 years ago that we had an actual ad taken from a magazine from that year on our social media pages. Here are all the ads that were featured in 2020.
On the second and fourth Friday of every month throughout 2020, Limelight Magazine spotlighted the filming location site(s) we visited for some of our favorite (and not so favorite) films and TV shows. As you can see, we visited a lot of places across the country over the years. Here is a recap of all the locations we featured this year. Click on the name of the movie or TV show to see each of them.
On the second and fourth Friday of every month in 2020, Limelight Magazine spotlights the filming location site(s) we visited for some of our favorite (and not so favorite) films and TV shows. Today we spotlight one of the filming locations for A Christmas Story (1983). The top photo is a screen shot taken from the movie while the photo underneath it is what the location looks like when I visited in June 2018. This house is located at 3159 W. 11th Street in Cleveland, OH.
It’s that time of year where Limelight Magazine ranks its top 10 albums of the year. While the pandemic wrecked havoc on the world in 2020, it was a great year for new music which brought comfort during these challenging times. Here are the 10 best records of 2020. We highly encourage our readers to give these albums a listen or even add them to your collection.
#10 Deep Purple – Woosh!
On their 21st studio album and third with legendary producer Bob Ezrin, Deep Purple show no signs of slowing down. Woosh! is one of the band’s most diverse studio offerings. If there is one thing that stands out with Ezrin behind the boards is his ability to give the band the freedom to breath and have fun in the studio. Don Airey’s keyboard wizardry is more profound and at the forefront on most of the songs on the album. I thought no one could replace Jon Lord in Deep Purple but Airey has filled the part nicely with his keyboard excellence, especially on the Hammond A-100. The rhythm section of Roger Glover and Ian Paice is in typical fine form and guitarist Steve Morse continues to dazzle with his six-string tones and phrasings. It’s hard to believe that he has already been in the band for 24 years and has recorded six studio albums with them. Lastly, it’s interesting to note that the band re-recorded the instrumental “And the Address” from their debut album Shades of Deep Purple (1968). It is the first song on that album and it’s the last one on Woosh!, excluding bonus tracks. If they did this deliberately to mark the end of their studio output, it was a nice touch. But, here’s hoping the band doesn’t go away anytime soon. (Standout tracks: “Throw My Bones” & “Nothing At All”)
#9 Kansas – The Absence of Presence
On their second studio album since the retirement of former vocalist Steve Walsh, Kansas continue to exceed expectations in every way. From the first song “The Absence of Presence” to the final track “The Song the River Sang,” it’s clear the band made a concerted effort to record songs that were in the vein of former member and primary songwriter Kerry Livgren. Whereas their last album The Prelude Implicit (2016) was more prog rock sounding, this album has that quintessential Kansas sound with some of the best harmonies the band has ever recorded in the studio. Tom Brislin has replaced David Manion on keyboard and is another welcome addition to the band, writing or co-writing seven of the nine songs. Once again, we want to give major kudos to original members Phil Ehart and Rich Williams for keeping the band going for nearly five decades and raising the bar high for quality musicianship and songwriting. (Standout tracks: “The Absence of Presence ” & “Throwing Mountains”)
#8 Metal Church – From the Vault
I’m sure that it is tempting to simply write off From The Vault as a run-of-the-mill compilation release since if features live cuts, songs left over from the recording sessions for the Damned If You Do album and other such material.
But if you do that, you are missing out on what I consider my own personal album of the year. While the various tracks may have been sourced from other parts of the band’s recording history, where they come from matters less than just how amazing the material actually is.
The newly written songs like “Dead On The Vine” and “For No Reason” are amazing. The Damned If You Do material like “False Flag” and “Tell Lie Vision” demonstrate that they could’ve been justifiably included on that release and the band’s covers of “Black Betty” and “Please Don’t Judas Me” are filled with a ton of emotion and adrenaline. Even the live songs fill a void you didn’t know you had!
Yes, strictly speaking, this is a compilation release. But the quality of the material amply demonstrates that Metal Church’s From The Vault is a utterly undeniably great album! (Standout tracks: “For No Reason” & “Above the Madness” – Jay Roberts, Special Contributor to Limelight Magazine
#7 Testament – Titans of Creation
While the studio output of some thrash metal bands from the 1980s has been inconsistent over the years, Testament never fails to disappoint. Since releasing The Formation of Damnation in 2008, Testament seems to only get better with age. On their 13th studio album, Titans of Creation contains 12 highly aggressive, in your face, tracks that matches anything up-and-coming bands of the genre have released. Furthermore, this album even raises the bar for their peers. If you’re a fan of trash metal, this a must have release. It’s full throttle from start to finish. (Standout tracks: “Children of the Next Level” & “City of Angels”)
#6 Stryper – Even the Devil Believes
When hair metal bands were at their peak in the late 1980s/early 1990s, I’ll admit that I never listened to Stryper other than when their videos aired on MTV. I found myself drawn to the excesses of Motley Crue than the Christian four-piece band. While my musical tastes have expanded over the years, it wasn’t until the release of No More Hell to Pay in 2013 that I paid attention Stryper. That record blew me away. It was the first Stryper release I purchased and I eventually bought their entire back catalog to add to my CD collection.
Since that release, Stryper has continued to create the best music of their career with Fallen (2015), God Damn Evil (2018), and again with this year’s Even the Devil Believes. This record oozes confidence, supreme songwriting, and showcases all the elements of Stryper’s trademark sound, from catchy rock (“Make Love Great Again”) to emotional ballads (“This I Pray”) to the hard and heavy (“Divider”). Whether you are a casual or die hard fan, this is definitely an album you need to listen to and have in your collection. This band continues to operate on all cylinders and we can only hope their renaissance continues well into the future. (Standout tracks: “Divider” & “Blood From Above”)
#5 AC/DC – Power Up
The first AC/DC album I ever bought was The Razor’s Edge in 1990. I recall reading a review at the time that said the band continues to release the same album over and over again. While that may be a detriment to some bands, it’s clearly worked in AC/DC’s favor throughout their career and they clearly take pride in it.
On AC/DC’s 17th studio album Power Up, which opened at No. 1 on the Billboard charts, the band reunited with producer Brendan O’Brien who helmed Black Ice in 2008 and Rock or Bust in 2014. I still can’t pinpoint the reason, but those continue to be my least played AC/DC albums. I enjoyed O’Brien’s work with bands such as Stone Temple Pilots, King’s X, and Mastodon, but I was unsure if he was the right fit for AC/DC. Power Up clearly changed that perception as this is one of their best releases to date.
Every song on Power Up maintains AC/DC’s signature sound and is solid and catchy. It’s everything you’d want an AC/DC album to be with no filler. While this is the band’s first release without co-founder and rhythm guitarist Malcom Young, his fingerprints are all over the songs. He received co-writing credit on every track with his brother Angus. To quote vocalist Brian Johnson from an interview in The Guardian on Nov. 13th, “When we were in the studio, and I was trying out singing certain lines, it just kept flashing through my mind: ‘Is this how Malcolm wants this song?’ Malcolm was a strong character. He just commanded respect without even trying. And even though he’s not with us anymore, it’s still there. We don’t want to sound gooey, but facts is facts.”
In short, AC/DC are once again not trying to reinvent themselves on Power Up, but instead proving that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. (Standout tracks: “Shot in the Dark” and “Demon Fire”)
#4 Blue Oyster Cult – The Symbol Remains
I have always found Blue Oyster Cult’s Curse of the Hidden Mirror (2001) to be a mixed bag. While I enjoyed the songs, I have played the album less than any other in their catalog. For a while, it looked like that was going to be their final studio effort, but the band surprised us this year by releasing The Symbol Remains on October 9th. The 19-year gap between albums has proven to be well worth the wait. Production-wise the 14 tracks sound amazing. Collectively, the songs contain all of the elements that Blue Oyster Cult fans have come to enjoy for nearly five decades. From the hard driving “That Was Me” to the instant classic “The Alchemist,” this album doesn’t disappoint and makes a strong case for them to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (Yes, we believe they should have been inducted years ago and it’s a darn shame they have been overlooked for so long!)
As to the band itself, original members Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser and Eric Bloom are in fine form, while “newer” members Richie Castellano, Danny Miranda, and Jules Radino make many worthy contributions, especially Castellano who wrote/co-wrote many of the songs, sings lead on three outstanding tracks (“Tainted Blood,” “The Machine,” “The Return of St. Cecilia”) and co-produced the album with Roeser and Bloom.
In 2020, Blue Oyster Cult may not get the airplay or press coverage they once did. But it’s truly heartening to see a band who can still hold a candle to their glory days. (Standout tracks: “The Alchemist” & “Stand and Fight”)
#3 Lady Gaga – Chromatica
About 10 years ago, we ran a contest asking our readers to create their own supergroup of musicians. Our former managing editor had Lady Gaga as the lead vocalist of her supergroup and I was indifferent either way. Fast forward to February 5, 2017. On this date, Lady Gaga headlined the Super Bowl LI Halftime show and I was blown away by her performance so much that I actually started to listen to her music. I picked up her most recent album Joanne and loved the stripped back approach she took to this record. I eventually purchased her entire back catalog and saw her twice in concert since then. So, now that I consider myself a fan, it’s time to delve into her newest studio album.
On Chromatica, Lady Gaga has returned to her dance orientated pop sound of the early days of her career. Ignoring three orchestral interludes, the 13 songs are deep, personal and extremely catchy. In fact, each song could be a stand-alone hit on its own. As many critics have noted, Chromatica is Lady Gaga’s love letter to disco and house music and we fully agree with this sentiment. From the infectious lead single “Stupid Love” to the retro pop sounds of “Replay” and her collaborations with Ariana Grande (“Rain On Me”), BLACKPINK (“Sour Candy”) and Elton John (“Sine From Above”), this is Lady Gaga’s catchiest album since Born This Way. Quite simply, it’s pure pop perfection and we can’t wait to see her perform these songs live when it’s safe to do so again. (Standout tracks: “911” and “Sour Candy”)
#2 Alcatrazz – Born Innocent
Alcatrazz is one band that I never expected to release another studio album. After calling it quits in 1986, Alcatrazz resurfaced in 2006 and has had a couple reincarnations since then with various lineups. With the core lineup of vocalist Graham Bonnet, bassist Gary Shea and keyboardist Jimmy Waldo back together, the band recruited drummer Mark Benquechea and guitarist Joe Stump for the new record. So, how does their first album in 34 years hold up? It’s nothing short of fantastic and flat out rocks!
At 72 years old, Bonnet’s vocals are in top form and he belts it out on the title song “Born Innocent” and “Dirty Like the City.” Shea and Waldo, who are also members of the underrated rock band New England, are in fine form and always create magic when they record together in the studio. The percussive stylings of Benquechea fit in perfectly with the rest of the band. And while Alacatrazz will always be known for featuring young guitar phenom Yngwie Malmsteem on their debut album No Parole from Rock ‘n’ Roll (1983) and Steve Vai on their sophomore release Disturbing the Peace (1985), Joe Stump is every bit their equal. His fretwork is incredible especially on songs like “London 1966” and “Polar Bear.” In short, Alcatrazz is back with a vengeance and Born Innocent delivers the goods. (Standout Tracks: “We Still Remember” and “London 1966)
#1 Static-X –Project: Regeneration Vol. 1
Our top album of 2020 is a complete shock to us! Prior to this year, I never considered myself a fan of Static-X. My brother used to listen to their debut album Wisconsin Death Trip when he was a senior in high school, and I saw them twice in concert because they were part of the WBCN River Rave and Ozzfest lineups of 2000. If you asked me to name a song other than “Push It,” I sadly could not name one. I recall vocalist Wayne Static’s passing in November of 2014 at the age of 48, but other than that, I never paid attention to the band or even considered listening to them.
Fast forward to the spring of this year. While I rarely watch anything on TV, I decided to tune into the news to get an update on the Covid-19 pandemic. I accidentally hit a wrong number on the remote and ended up on the Music Choice Metal channel. Static-X’s music video for the song “Hollow” was airing and it immediately caught my attention. I absolutely loved the song and couldn’t get it out of my head. I went online to gather more information about the song and found out it was the band’s first single in 10 years taken from Project: Regeneration Vol. 1 that would be released over the summer.
In a press release, I read the album would include some of the last vocal recordings of Static and his role would be filled by new front man XerO. The album would mark the return of original Static-X members Tony Campos, Koichi Fukuda and Ken Jay and long-time producer Ulrich Wild who was behind the boards for Wisconsin Death Trip. I was looking forward to the release, and finally delved into the band’s back catalog for the first time.
While I liked almost everything I heard from their previous six albums, Project: Regeneration Vol. 1 is the band’s finest recording to date. The album is relentlessly heavy. The 12 songs manage to be both industrial and melodic with none of them sounding like leftover tracks that were omitted from previous albums. Finding a new vocalist to fill someone else’s shoes is no easy task but Xer0 absolutely kills it in every way, especially on “Otsego Placebo” and “My Destruction.” Static-X’s returning members don’t miss a beat and capture the essence of the band’s sound. But most of all, everyone involved in this project does Wayne Static justice. This is a pure Static-X album from start to finish and is the album that made me a fan of the band. I cannot wait for Project: Regeneration Vol 2 and to see the band perform some of these songs live when the pandemic is over. (Standout tracks: “Hollow” & “Terminator Oscillator”)
The year of 2020 will definitely not be remembered fondly by the world at-large. I mean, can you really think of all that much that is worth celebrating this year?
Here in the insulated world of The Cassette Chronicles though, I still wanted to take a look back at some of the albums that really made a mark on me as I wrote about them this year. Looking back, we pretty much topped out in terms of productivity for the series. There were 47 articles written this year and that means I got to discover and/or rediscover an amazing assortment of great music.
The series will be back in 2021 but for now I just wanted to give another day in the sun to some albums that I thoroughly enjoyed both listening to and writing about in 2020.
My thanks go out to the continued support from Limelight Magazine, everyone who reads these articles and to those few bands that made a point of sharing them on their social media pages. Here’s to a wildly improved 2021 and I hope to see you all back here again for another year of exploring the 1980’s and 1990’s with The Cassette Chronicles.
And now…(blatantly ripping off Casey Kasem) on with the “countdown”.
Click on the title of the cassette to read the review.
During the autumn months of 2020, Limelight Magazine launched a new weekly series on our social media pages called Tuesday Tune. Each Tuesday we featured a new song from a band or musician that was rated on 1 -10 scale by a seven-member committee. We took the average rank and called it our Lemon-Lime Scale. If the song was a lemon, it ranked below five. If it was a lime, it ranked above five. It’s our version of Rotton Tomatoes for songs! Thanks to Giuliana Amaral, Marc Botelho, Tim Cobb, Kevin DeLue, David Kelber, and Maddie Scott for serving our our committee along with JKB Entertainment Group/Limelight Magazine co-owner Jay Kenney.
Here’s all the songs we featured and how they ranked in order of favorability.
“Shot in the Dark” – AC/DC (average score 9.1)
“That Was Me” – Blue Oyster Cult (average score 8.1)
“Scars” – Fates Warning (average score 7.7)
“Sinners Hymn” – Orianthi (average score 7.6)
“Age of Machine” – Greta Van Fleet (average score 7.4)
“The Undertaker” – Accept (average score 7.4)*
“Protect the Land” – System of a Down (average score 7.4)*
“Gonna Make You Love Me” – Tony Lewis (average score 7.3)
“Under My Skin” – Blackfield (average score 7.2)
“Gimme Back My Life” – Loverboy (average score 7.1)
“Raise the Cain” – Richie Kotzen (average score 6.7)
“Show Them The Way” – Stevie Nicks (average score 6.6)
On the second and fourth Friday of every month in 2020, Limelight Magazine spotlights the filming location site(s) we visited for some of our favorite (and not so favorite) films and TV shows. Today we spotlight one of the filming locations for Insidious 3 (2015). The top photo is a screen shot taken from the movie while the photo underneath it is what the location looks like when I visited in October 2015. Elise Rainier’s (played by Lin Shaye) home in this movie is located at 445 N Ave. 53 in Los Angeles, CA.
The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.
(WRITER’S NOTE: This is the last article in The Cassette Chronicles series for 2020. The annual “Best Of” article will come next week. The series will return in 2021 but there will be a slight change. For the first six months, the articles will appear on a twice monthly schedule. A return to the weekly article format may return in July 2021.)
SAVATAGE – HANDFUL OF RAIN (1994)
“Which of us is now in exile which in need of amnesty Are you now but an illusion in my mind alone you breathe”
That line from the closing song “Alone You Breathe” on the 1994 Savatage album Handful Of Rain is likely the best way to summarize what was going on as the album was written and recorded in the shadow of the death of founding guitarist Criss Oliva in 1993.
The odd thing about writing this article this week is that I had intended to write about a completely different album instead. But there I was at my friend Roger’s record shop [Purchase Street Records] the other day. I had popped in to pick up a special order he’d gotten in for me and as I looked around the shop, I saw that he had a cassette edition of Handful of Rain. I’ve owned the album on CD since it was originally released so it wasn’t like I haven’t heard the album a multitude of times over the years. After all, Savatage is my personal favorite band. But when I saw the cassette just sitting there in one of the racks, I just HAD to have it. And I knew that I’d be listening to it so that I could write about it.
Following the recording of their previous album Edge Of Thorns, Savatage had lost Criss Oliva in a car accident that also seriously injured his wife Dawn (she later died in 2005). I remember reading an article in one of the music magazines of the day about the Edge of Thorns album. But I hadn’t heard about Criss’s death at that point so I was more than a bit shocked when the article had a disclaimer that it had been written before his death.
This was kind of a huge blow to me because Criss Oliva was the first guitar player that ever really made me sit up and take notice of his playing. Normally I’m a vocalist and lyrics guy. The music is great of course, but since I’m not a musician myself, I found it hard to really sink my teeth into what goes into writing music or the playing of a specific instrument. Criss changed that for me. To this day, one of my prized possessions is a photo of myself with Criss before a concert in Rhode Island back in 1990.
So when I got my hands on Handful of Rain, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Over the years, the album has been referred to as more of a Jon Oliva solo album and given how he was playing most of the instruments, singing and co-writing the songs with producer Paul O’Neill, you can understand why.
But what about the music itself? Despite being made under such trying circumstances, the album is flat out fantastic in my book!
The album opens in a hard-hitting in your face fashion with the song “Taunting Cobras”. Singer Zachary Stevens helps give the feeling of metallic assault with his vocal delivery. You can feel the way the song is just cutting loose. This track is one of the two that Criss Oliva has a co-writing credit on the album. The other song is “Nothing Going On” which mirrors “Taunting Cobras” for how heavy and fast the guitar driven track turns out.
The album’s title track starts off with the music and vocals delivered in a much softer tone but that doesn’t last as the song pretty much goes for the heavy pounding rhythms after the first verse of the song.
While each of the songs (save perhaps the instrumental “Visions” that opens up side two of the album) serves to make the album into a cohesive whole, there are a couple of tracks that serve as the emotional showcase for Handful of Rain.
The first of those songs is “Chance”. It’s a beautifully constructed theatrically heavy epic that serves up a fantastic point/counterpoint vocal later in the song. It was the first time that particular vocal style had been employed on a Savatage song/album and believe me it worked in stunning fashion. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve envisioned seeing this song played out in some kind of way on a Broadway stage.
Of course then you have songs like “Stare Into The Sun” and “Watching You Fall”. Each of them are much slower in tempo overall, though the chorus does find each getting a bit heavier in tempo. “Stare Into The Sun” is actually kind of bluesy in spots which I found to be a big draw for me.
The first side of the album closed out on the song “Castles Burning”, a song with multiple tempo changes that give an extra sense of depth to the track. I can’t remember if I knew this before now, but after researching the album online a bit, “Castles Burning” turns out to be a song about an Italian judge who was killed by the mafia in 1992. I also discovered (or re-discovered thanks to my faulty memory) that “Chance” is about a Japanese diplomat in World War II. Funny how you can learn things you never knew or had forgotten even decades after an album has been released.
On the song “Symmetry”, the song’s tempo starts off slow and grows into more of a heavy rock sound. It’s actually a damn good song but there’s part of the lyric that would go on to serve as the title of a future Savatage album. I’m not going to tell you more about that here, I’ll let you do some investigating on your own. If for no other reason than I really would love anyone who reads this piece to listen to the album in full.
And that brings us to “Alone You Breathe”. I mentioned at the top of this article that the song closes out the album. It is a tribute song for Criss Oliva though it is said the song is not specifically about Criss. The point remains that it is a fitting tribute to Criss from his brother Jon and packs the kind of emotional punch you’d probably be surprised to feel. Every time I hear “Alone You Breathe”, it brings me back to when I first discovered the band. How I became enamored of their music and how much I just loved Criss’s guitar playing.
In the end, Handful Of Rain might not have been the album people would’ve expected from Savatage but it did serve as being the right album at the right time for the band to pay tribute to the passing of Criss Oliva and give them the foundation to move forward from the loss. On top of which, like I said, it is a damn fantastic record in and of itself.
NOTES OF INTEREST: There have been three CD reissues of the album (1992, 2002 and 2011). Each time the reissue was put out it contained at least one bonus track, with said track(s) being different than the previous release. The tour Savatage did in support of this album got a live release entitled Japan Live ’94.
The album features Zachary Stevens on vocals and Testament guitarist Alex Skolnick on lead guitar. Otherwise, Jon Oliva and Paul O’Neill played the rest of the instruments. While bassist Johnny Lee Middleton and drummer Steve “Dr. Killdrums” Wacholz didn’t play on the album (despite being credited as doing so) they did appear in the video for the “Handful of Rain” song. The tour for the album saw Middleton return to the lineup but Wacholz had left the band and was replaced by drummer Jeff Plate.
The death of Criss Oliva not only left a big mark on the Savatage family and fanbase, but other bands as well. Testament dedicated their album Low to him, while Vicious Rumors did the same on their album Word Of Mouth. Overkill wrote the song “R.I.P. (Undone)” on their album W.F.O. for Criss as well.
Since today marks the 40th anniversary of the assassination of John Lennon, here are some photos we took at “The Art of John Lennon” traveling exhibit at Westfield Fashion Square in Sherman Oaks, CA, in October 2015. This weekend exhibit was held in observation of Lennon’s 75th birthday. The artwork-on-the-road exhibit began in 1990 and regularly visits up to 15 cities each year.
Music and entertainment coverage since October 2006!