Marley was dead, to begin with. So too, sadly, was Paul O’Neill, and Savatage with him. While Savatage may survive the loss of one or both Oliva brothers, it cannot exist without Paul O’Neill. It is simply a bridge too far. That being said, there are respectable outlets for old-school Sava-fans to get their fix, albeit to a lesser degree; Trans-Siberian Orchestra, naturally, as well as Jon Oliva’s Pain, Circle II Circle, as well as some of the body of work by Chris Caffery. However, there may potentially be a new addition to that list of supplemental Savatage material, and that would be the brand-new 2020 project called Archon Angel, by way of their debut album titled “Fallen.”
The obvious connection is Zachary “Zak” Stevens of later-era Savatage (and Circle II Circle) taking the vocal helm in Archon Angel. However, there is a great deal to make this project stand on its own as a unique creative product. When Stratovarius’s Timo Tolkki was recording his Avalon album “Return to Eden,” Zak was recording vocals while working with producer and guitarist Aldo Lonobile from Secret Sphere. The two knew early on that it would not be the last time they collaborated, and so it is that they produced Archon Angel together. As if this was not already a hearty helping of creative input, the album was also a collaboration with Simone Mularoni (DGM, and Sweet Oblivion with Geoff Tate) as well as Alessandro del Vecchio who has provided production, songwriting, keys and vocals to far too many works to list here. For now, let’s just leave it at Jorn, Revolution Saints, Edge of Forever, and Hardline. Bass and drums are covered by Yves Campion and Marco Lazzarini, respectively. With this many creative minds in one space, the finished product is almost certain to be a unique result, and not a facsimile of any one other single act.
This proves true, as the album does indeed feel like a Frontiers metal album with progressive elements, heavy influence of Secret Sphere (guitarist Aldo Lonobile) and yes, shadows and hints of Savatage. While we wish the tireless Signor del Vecchio would have provided keyboards, but at the end of the day, the keys provided by Antonio Agate set the mood well, which is imperative, since there are so many times on this album where we would not have that crucial “Gutter Ballet” feel without them. The album does give the impression of being a concept work, focusing on a fallen angel fighting to protect humanity from the divine. It is thus that the focal fallen angel appears in the titular first track of the album, “Fallen.” It is really very comparable to the beginning title track from the “Edge of Thorns” album. Dark, minor keyboard melody setting the stage for a giant power chord on high gain electric guitar. It is a proven formula, to be sure. However, one thing which is evident in the first track is the delivery of lead vocalist Zak Stevens. Where we experienced a subtle darkening and lowering of vocal range and character in the period between “Edge of Thorns” and “The Wake of Magellan”, the effect continues onto this album. While the end product is strong, there remains an impression that Zak is just not belting it out from the diaphragm with the gusto we experienced in the 90s, nor does the full range seem to remain intact. However, rest assured Aldo Lonobile is at the top of his game, as we saw recently on the Edge of Forever album he did with Del Vecchio. The rhythm playing is tight, crunchy, and always doing what is appropriate to what a song calls for. His leads are an ideal blend of pyrotechnics and taste. This, combined with the overall talents of the band at large, as well as proper mix and production, result in an ear-pleasing record.
The second track does some cool staccato chugging (think Metallica’s “One,”) although interestingly, much of the song structure hearkens to Dream Theater’s “Strange Déjà Vu.” The third track comes out and unloads both barrels, sounding alternately like Symphony X and Primal Fear, with just a dash of Voodoo Circle. The rest of the album undulates and meanders through rising and falling degrees of heaviness. The song “Who’s in the Mirror” is especially reminiscent of “Spreading the Disease,” so who knows, maybe if we look in the mirror we will find the “eyes of a stranger.” The singular moment of unplugged acoustics can be found in the penultimate track, “Brought to the Edge,” which is actually a highlight of the album, symphonic string swells and all, as well as a memorable delivery by Zak Stevens.
What is the verdict? The best advice is to check the inevitable Savatage-related expectations at the door, and enjoy the album for what it is. While there are echoes of other works to be found in Archon Angel, you are better off clearing your mind and coming at it fresh. Many of us went into “Accident of Birth” hoping for another Maiden album, and may have been momentarily disappointed it was not, until we cleansed the palate and gave it an objective review on its own merits, and found it to be one of the best metal albums of all time, Maiden or not. If you can go into this album and refrain expectations, it is actually very solid in itself. Oftentimes, a reliable review test is to listen to an album in the background while busy, and if something happens to make you stop and rewind the “tape,” then it’s a sign that there are cool and interesting things happening. If you look up from your plumbing project and realize the album is over and you did not really notice, maybe it was just a bland soundscape with nothing of worthy of note. “Fallen” is sort of in the middle on that scale. If we go back to our Maiden-scale, this album, while not a “Powerslave”, is not a “Virtual XI” either. Maybe it’s “Fear of the Dark”. That’s good enough for us, and probably means you should check it out as well. The album hits on February 14th, so skip the chocolates and maybe get some piano metal epics in your life.
Released By: Frontiers Records SLR
Release Date: February 14th, 2020
Genre: Heavy Metal
- Zak Stevens / Vocals
- Aldo Lonobile / Guitars
- Yves Campion / Bass
- Marco Lazzarini / Drums
- Antonio Agate / Keyboards & Piano (Studio)
2. The Serpent
4. Under The Spell
6. Faces Of Innocence
7. Hit The Wall
8. Who’s In The Mirror
9. Brought To The Edge
10. Return Of The Storm
Zak Stevens (Savatage and Circle II Circle) and Aldo Lonobile (Secret Sphere and Edge of Forever) have created something special with Archon Angel. The album captures a combination of sounds which cannot be solely attributed to any single artist. While it does have shades of Savatage and other acts, it is its own animal and should be appreciated as such