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Music / Dead Winter Dead

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I know you know
In this world you gotta pay
It's all for sale
What's your side, you couldn't say...
No, doesn't matter anyway

Dead Winter Dead is a 1995 album by Savatage, the second of three Rock Operas, and set during the Bosnian War of 1992-1995.

The story begins in the center of Bosnia's capital Sarajevo, in a Medieval town square where a gargoyle is perched on the church belfry. This gargoyle has been watching humanity for a thousand years but still has never learned what human emotions really are. He has a perfect eyewitness position to observe the coming events...

It is 1990 and the Cold War has ended. The Soviet Union has collapsed and for the first time in centuries Yugoslavia is an independent nation. It's a time of celebration and optimism and a Serbian man, Serdjan Aleskovic, considers himself damn lucky to be young and alive during this period of hope and prosperity. Unfortunately, even during the celebrations there are selfish, hate-filled men sowing discord and turning Yugoslavia's ethnic factions; the Serbs, the Croats, and the Muslims against each other for their gain. Serdjan and his friends end up in a Serbian militia and soon take to the hills to fire mortars nightly into Sarajevo to chase out the groups who "don't belong" in Bosnia. A Muslim girl, Katrina Brasic, becomes one of the many people seeking out arms dealers and buying the weapons needed to protect themselves from their neighbor's aggressions. A brutal Civil War begins.

In November of 1994 an old Yugoslavian man returns to his hometown and is dismayed. Sarajevo is in ruins, the once-hopeful Yugoslavia lost its bright future and now a war zone. He turns to the heavens and begs God to understand: when Yugoslavians prayed for change in the past they weren't asking to war against each other. The sun sets as he prays and the nightly shelling of the city begins. Defiant, the old man doesn't take shelter but instead climbs a ruined fountain with his cello and begins to play Mozart with mortar shells shrieking and explosions rocking the city. It becomes his nightly ritual and from their fortifications across the city both Serdjan and Katrina find themselves listening to the old man's protest in the heart of the conflict.

The titular winter rolls in and the fighting escalates. Serdjan is on patrol and is horrified to see a schoolyard full of dead children from a mortar round. Wracked with guilt, he finally realizes that he and his friends are being used; the war isn't the glorious birth of a nation but self-destructive slaughter. Refusing to be part of it any longer, he decides to desert at the first opportunity.

Christmas Eve comes, Serdjan and Katrina are at their respective posts listening to the cello player's Christmas carols between the gunfire and explosions. Suddenly the music stops. Both Serdjan and Katrina abandon their positions to investigate the old man's fate. They arrive at the square at the same time and after a moment of tense fear realize they've both come for the same reason. Together, they find the old man is dead in the snow and the cello smashed. A single drop of liquid falls onto the old man's face, they look up to see a cloudless sky and a stone gargoyle in the church belfry. Serdjan can take no more of the war and explains to Katrina that he intends to escape, offering her a chance to come along. She refuses at first because all she sees is his enemy uniform. He pleads with her, explaining that there's more to him then his misguided and renounced faction, and eventually she understands and joins him in exile from their fallen home.


  1. "Overture"
  2. "Sarajevo"
  3. "This is the Time" (1990)
  4. "I Am"
  5. "Starlight"
  6. "Doesn't Matter Anyway"
  7. "This Isn't What We Meant"
  8. "Mozart and Madness"
  9. "Memory"
  10. "Dead Winter Dead"
  11. "One Child"
  12. "Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)"
  13. "Not What You See"

Dead Winter Trope:

  • Alliterative Title: "Dead Winter Dead".
  • All There in the Manual: The CD booklet provides the basic story with many details not found in the lyrics. Details such as the character's names.
  • Arms Dealer: They get their own song, "Doesn't Matter Anyway". Sarajevo is a hot new market for them, there are plenty of recently ex-Soviet weapons to sell, and they remind their customers: today's war might end, be sure to stock up for the next one.
  • Badass Pacifist: The old cello player. He's also based on Vedran Smailovic, who did play cello during the siege of Sarajevo and fortunately didn't die in the process.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: People were praying for change and they certainly got that.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Sardjen and Katrina keep their humanity and flee Sarajevo. The old man is still dead and the country itself is still fighting an ugly civil war.
  • Chaos of the Bells: "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24" is an instrumental medley of "Shchedryk" and "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen", and uses the "Carol of the Bells" theme to score the story of a classical cellist who returns to his home of Sarajevo during the Bosnian War, and protests the war by playing his instrument in the city square, in defiance of the bombs dropping around him.
  • Fighting for a Homeland: The Serbs and the Muslims have both decided they get exclusive rights to Sarajevo and their Soviet-era neighbors are now encroaching on their country.
  • Literal Genie: God is treated as such in "This Isn't What We Meant". Yugoslavia prayed for change from the oppressive Soviet regime, they didn't want the situation to be completely worse from their actions.
  • Instrumentals: Several. "Overture", "Mozart and Madness", their legendary "Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)", and "Memory".
  • "Not So Different" Remark: "Not What You See". Serdjan and Katrina realize this at the end, despite uniforms they're both people who suffer in a pointless war.
  • No Name Given: The old cello player.
  • One-Word Title: "Sarajevo", "Starlight" and "Memory"
  • Our Gargoyles Rock: Subverted, The gargoyle might be sentient, the first character introduced, but it's still a piece of ornate masonry, not a mobile creature.
  • Playing Both Sides: The arms dealers don't care for ideology or politics, hence "Doesn't Matter Anyway".
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The old man dies without accomplishing much. Two enemy soldiers out of many are touched by his death and may have a future but his homeland is still in the grip of a bloody war.
  • Tears from a Stone: Shed by a church gargoyle who watched over Sarajevo for centuries, after the old cello player is finally killed by a stray mortar.
  • Villain Song: Two. "I Am" being the selfish and aggressive parts of human nature that causes people to make war. "Doesn't Matter Anyway" is for the arms dealers getting rich off suffering and, per the title, completely uncaring of any purpose beyond wealth. The songs also happen to be the only ones sung by Jon Oliva.