After over 10 years, Circle II Circle is finally putting together a live album, and it features exactly 0 Circle II Circle classics. Instead, the band crams as much of Savatage’s “The Wake of Magellan” into 45 minutes as is humanly possible. To be fair to Circle II Circle, they are certainly a great band, but Savatage’s music is incredibly special to a lot of people, myself included. Zak Stevens even says it at one point “we're still doing what you want to hear”. What makes this particular release even more enjoyable to me is that I was at this show; I went to Wacken 2 years ago and was right up front while Circle II Circle rocked this album. For that reason, I knew this would be a great release before even listening to it, and after hearing it a few more times, I’m still convinced it’s a superb performance.
As with anything Zak Stevens has been involved with, he is a huge draw to this relase. His singing is still astonishing. Even 14 years after the release of “The Wake of Magellan”, he is able to deliver the songs just as convincingly. “The Ocean/Welcome” is an incredibly bombastic intro in which he sets the tone for the entire night. Some of his lead vocal lines also have some backing vocals underneath, and they bring even greater justice to the original songs, as they sound more powerful. There are just as many emotional twists in turns in the live versions of these songs as there were in the original, aided in part by Savatage’s ability to switch between more mellow, cleaner sections, and incredibly heavy, riff-infested moments. The triple combination of “The Wake of Magellan”, “Anymore”, and “The Hourglass” is the highlight here. These are probably the 3 strongest tracks on the original album, and, for the most part, the band does great justice to them. One of the points of interest for me back in 2012 was seeing how they would replicate the part in the title track with 4 separate vocal lines. They were able to get 2 going at the same time, with Zak Stevens cycling through the latter three parts while the backing vocals stuck with the original line. While I would have loved to hear and see all 4 of them being done simultaneously, it’s better the band does a good job with this section than risk it sounding wrong, since they don’t have the benefit of having Zak Stevens sing 4 parts at the same time.
Regardless of that one issue, “Live At Wacken” is still a stellar performance. Stevens sounds enthusiastic about this. Savatage fans are amongst the most rabid in existence; they worship the band like few others I’ve seen, and for good reason. This collection of songs, while perhaps not the strongest in Stevens’ era (that honour goes to “Edge of Thorns” and “Handful of Rain”), is an incredibly intense rollercoaster of emotions. There are few singers more equipped than Stevens to deliver this. Beyond his performance, however, the band also sounds good. They present the songs faithfully to the originals, including some of the shreddier solos like on “Morning Sun” and “The Wake of Magellan”.
The only true disappointment of this release is that the band didn’t play the album in its entirety. This was not their fault though. Wacken announced they’d play the entire album, and then only gave them 45 minutes to do so. Given this, the song selection is almost ideal. “Complaint In The System” is probably my least favourite track from the original album, so they could have chosen “Paragons of Innocence” or “Another Way”, but this was likely a timing issue. Nevertheless, if you are a fan of Savatage or Circle II Circle, you owe it to yourself to hear this album. Being able to experience it firsthand was incredible, and likely lifts my opinion of this release, but it is still one of the better live albums I’ve come across. While it is unclear if Zak Stevens will join Savatage at the Wacken 2015 reunion, I certainly hope he will as I will be returning to Germany to see that set as well!
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"The Wake of Magellan"
4.4/5 or 88%.
Written by Scott