It was the band’s second album with Zak Stevens on lead vocals and former lead singer Jon Olivia taking a back seat in a new slot covering the roles of composer, piano/keys and live backing vocals. Additionally, he performed bass and drums on this album as the band were in turmoil following founding member (and brother to Jon) Criss Olivia’s untimely death.
The album also features Testament’s Alex Scholnick on lead guitar now that Criss had passed away. His style is very different to Criss’ style but nonetheless suits the album remarkably well. Savatage always managed to make all of their albums pretty different from the one before anyway, and Handful Of Rain was made in those aforementioned tragic circumstances. Here the change manifests itself in the form of the music being a lot darker and heavier than on the album that preceded it, 1993’s Edge Of Thorns.
The year in which it was released also had an effect on its sound. Some of the tracks on it have a sort of groove metal sound, or at least that metalized rock sound which many Thrash, Power and Prog Metal bands who started in the 80s seemed to flirt with in the first half of the 90s. That is only a small part of the sound however, and other tracks such as ‘Chance,’ ‘Visions’ and ‘Alone You Breathe’ contain progressive elements, which the band would take much further on their next three albums.
Regardless of direction, the musicianship on the album is first rate, as is the songwriting and both are complimented perfectly by Paul O’Neil’s superb production job, which helps the whole thing come together and feel like a great flowing record and not just a schizophrenic collection of various styles. When the quieter tracks like ‘Watching You Fall’ and ‘Staring Into The Sun’ pick up the power, they have a real bite, and so can sit comfortably with ragers like ‘Nothing’s Going On’ without sounding out of place.
The absolute highlight of the album for me personally is ‘Castles Burning,’ which is a slow dark number constantly building up and threatening to explode, then giving way to acoustic moments. Its full of great lead guitar work and boasts some of Zak’s finest vocal performances on record.
Overall; Handful Of Rain is a great album that covers a lot of ground, it has touches of Prog, a bit of balladry and a bit of 90s-sounding metal in there too. The guitar work is brilliant, the tone is satisfying and the production is exemplary. Simply put, its’ just a very good album and I highly recommend this album. Definitely check it out if you are a fan of the band, but then again its also even worth a listen if you just like Metal in general.