Savatage are one of those bands that I've been into since the 80's. Savatage actually formed in 1978 under the name Avatar. They later changed their name to Savatage and persued a heavier Judas Priest-influenced sound. Savatage's sound has progressed over the years from the more straight forward heavy metal to more dramatic, almost operatic metal. Sadly, co-founder and guitarist Criss Oliva was killed in an auto accident in 1993. Chris Caffery, who has been the band's second guitarist since 1989 has remained in the band but several guitarists have attempted to fill the shoes of Criss Oliva including ex-Testament guitarist Alex Skolnick and shredder Al Petrelli (who has also played in Asia, Widowmaker, and more recently toured with Megadeth.) Chris Caffery, along with Savatage co-founder Jon Oliva recorded a side project called Doctor Butcher. Chris Caffery also recorded with Metalium. Several of the Savatage members, along with long time producer Paul O'Neil, have also played with the Trans Siberian Orchestra,
Savatage - Sirens (Metal Blade) 1983
"Sirens" is the first album that I had ever heard from Savatage. The title track is one of their finest heavy metal songs ever. Jon Oliva's vocals on this song are outrageous. "Sirens" remains as one of Savatage's finest discs even today. "I Believe" is another favorite off this one.
Savatage - Dungeons Are Calling (Metal Blade) 1984
1. "The Dungeons Are
I owned this CD once before only to trade it off because I didn't care for the lyrics. In any case, this disc has to be the heaviest disc Savatage ever recorded. The music is just pummeling. "Visions" is a raging song that describes Hell and how evil people will become the servants of the devil. "City Beneath The Surface" is actually a song that was written when Savatage was still Avatar for their "City Beneath the Surface" EP. The song begins with an eerie synth intro, which melts into a slow, Black Sabbath-like heavy guitar riff before jumping into a speedy metal riff. Musically, this is probably my favorite song on the disc. Of course having said that, these were the insipid lyrics that had me trading in this disc the first time as "City Beneath" is yet another silly description of Hell. Another example of the weak lyrics on this disc is "Whips," a stupid tale of S&M. The other thing about "Dungeons" is that it is barely a full length disc; even with the two bonus tracks it only clocks in at just over a half an hour. From what I understand this EP was recorded at the same time as "Sirens" and released a year or two later. I've actually seen conflicting release years, but I think the correct year is 1984. The Metal Blade reissue, released in 1994, has two bonus cuts including the studio demo track "Fighting for Your Love." This song became "Crying For Your Love" on "Fight For the Rock." The recording quality is very rough but listenable. The last track is an incredible live version of "Sirens" recorded in Germany. The song finishes out with Jon Oliva yelling, "Hello, Deutschland! YOU ARE METAL! YOU ARE METAL!" Gotta love it.
In 2002 Metal Blade released a special "Silver Anniversary Collections Edition". The music is remastered and sounds a bit better than the original version. It also includes three bonus tracks. The booklet includes a nice biography/timeline on the band and some vintage black and white photos of Avatar. The silver Savatage logo didn't scan to well (see above) and looks far better than the scan. For some stupid reason Metal Blade decided to add 90 tracks of complete silence. At track 99 some stupid joke/rap thing comes in. Annoying! Otherwise, a nice re-release.
Savatage - Power of the Night (Atlantic) 1985
1. "Power of the Night"
"Raise the fist
of the metal child!"
Savatage - Fight For the Rock (Atlantic) 1986
1. "Fight for the
This album is generally held as Savatage's worst. Why? Due to the success of their past discs, their clueless record company decided they needed to go into a more commercial pop metal direction. (or at least that is the story that I have heard.) It is quite obvious that the band was not comfortable with this style as the whole thing just seems forced. Of course eveyone who liked Savatage liked them because they were real heavy metal. No one wanted, or expected them, to sound like the hair bands of the time. Despite this, there are some gems on this forgotten disc. There is the mystical, melodic number "Lady in Disguise" as well as the heavier numbers like "Hyde" and "Red Light Paradise." "Out on the Streets" is the ballad from their "Sirens" disc and despite the overproduced sound, the added background vocals and the loss of a verse, I do like this version. Actually I think this song would have made a great radio single. "Crying for Love" is actually a re-written version of "Fighting for Your Love." from the band's early Avatar days. "She's Only Rock 'N Roll," "Day After Day" and the title track are the weakest points of the album. Despite having decent riffs, the corny lyrics and the pop metal sheen totally ruins the songs. "Day After Day" is an atrocious Badfinger cover. I cringed when I heard this song. Yes, the skip button was a necessity. I sure am glad this album did not do well, otherwise Savatage may have be forced to continue in this style and may not have returned with their powerful 80's masterpiece "Hall of the Mountain King." I put off buying this cd forever because I have not seen it used in a long time and I really did not want to pay full price for a disc that was mostly to fill out a collection. I finally broke down and bought it when CDNow had a 30% off sale on all domestic Savatage releases. ($6.98 new) "Wishing Well" is a well done cover of a Free song. Should also mention that this is the album that bassist Johnny Lee Middleton joined the band.
One of the finest power metal albums ever written. MTV picked up on "Hall of the Mountain King" and played it constantly on Headbanger's Ball. This one got them a lot of exposure. Unfortunately, being on a big label, a taste of success got the clueless big wigs at Atlantic Records money hungry so they forced the band into a more commercial direction on their next disc.
Savatage - Gutter Ballet (Atlantic) 1989
1. "Of Rage and War"
This was the album where Savatage became the phenomenal theatrical, progressive metal band as opposed to the mighty power metal that they once were. "Gutter Ballet" is a great album, one of the band's finer theatrical discs. This was also the first disc to feature Chris Caffery as their second guitarist.
Some songs like, "Of Rage & War" and "She's in Love" sound as though they could have been written for "Hall of the Mountain King." Others like "When the Crowds Are Gone" show a more melodic side to the band. "Silk and Steel," an acoustic guitar instrumental, shows the diversity and talent of Criss Oliva.
Savatage - Streets: A Rock Opera (Atlantic) 1991
"Streets" is the last album to feature Jon Oliva on lead vocals, until "The Wake of Magellan" many years later, although he would remain active in the band writing as well as playing keyboards in the studio. "Streets" continues in the theatrical, progessive mode that "Gutter Ballet" started and takes it one step further. Perhaps it could be said that there are far too many slow songs on this album when compared to the power of earlier albums, but what can you expect for "A Rock Opera?" The album blends heavy songs with slower ballads to create a mood that brings the story to life. The story is based around a character named Jesus who use to be a rock star before becoming a homeless bum.
Savatage - Ghost in the Ruins -A Tribute to Criss Oliva (SPV) 1996
1."City Beneath the
Surface" -- NYC-The Ritz 1990 (5:40)
"Ghost in the Ruins" is a compilation of live recordings, all with Criss Oliva on guitar. Every song is played with aggression and passion. I never have seen Savatage live, but hearing this disc makes me realize what I missed. "Post Script" is an acoustic guitar piece that is quite beautiful and "Chris Intro" is a guitar improvision/solo.
"Edge of Thorns" is a fabulous album and the one that made me a fan of the band all over again. After I sold all my records in 1989, I sort of forgot about Savatage until I ran across this cd in the used bins. I bought it and was stunned by how good they sounded. I immediately began searching for the rest of their cds, of which I still do not own them all. Sadly, "Edge of Thorns" would be the last album to feature Criss Oliva on lead guitar as he soon died in a tragic car accident.
1. "Taunting Cobras"
After Savatage suffered the cruel blow of founding member Criss Oliva's death, the band bounced back with "Handful of Rain." The line-up now consisted of Skolnick, singer Zachary Stevens, bassist Johnny Lee Middleton and drummer Steve Wacholz, that later two being the only original members. Jon Oliva, who had co-founded Savatage with brother Chris Oliva back in 1978, is listed as co-producer and keyboardist, but is not listed as an actual member. Also missing from the line-up is Chris Caffery. I'm not sure what I was expecting on this album, but I was disappointed at first. I suppose that since this album featured ex-Testament shredder Alex Skolnick, I was expecting something much more aggressive and heavy. After living with the album for a while, however, it has grown on me. "Handful of Rain" is not ultra heavy but it is melodic, ambitious, and often operatic. The songs are dramatic, passionate, emotional and somber yet at times very intense, but they main focus is melody with aggression taking a back seat. Perhaps this somber mood was created by Chris' death. Appropriately, Savatage dedicated "Handful of Rain" to Chris Oliva's memory. This would be the one and only album that would feature Alex Skolnick.
The German SPV version has a slightly altered cover, with the logo not interfering with the cover art and the color being more vivid. The inside booklet art, however, is not as nice as the American version which included individual color photos of each member. The SPV version has individual shots as well, but they are black and white images that are cropped out of the tray art. The bonus track is a nice addition. The music consists of Jon Oliva's vocals and a piano.
Savatage - Japan Live '94 (HiQ) 1998
1." Taunting Cobras"
Second live album in a row from Savatage, this one following on the heels of "Ghost in the Ruins." This album was recorded during the "Handful of Rain" tour in which Alex Skolnick (ex-Testament) was on guitar. However, I have been told that Chris Caffery actually re-recorded and overdubbed all the guitarwork. The selection of songs is completely different than "Ghost in the Ruins" with the exception of "Sirens." A good performance of Savatage's progressive-era material. Recorded live on Saturday November 12, 1994 at Club Citta' in Kawasaki, Japan. This disc has recently been re-issued with a different cover on SPV in Germany and Nuclear Blast in America.
Savatage - Dead Winter Dead (Atlantic) 1995
Even though I have often complained that Savatage have continued to get mellower with each album, each album has still continued to impress me. "Dead Winter Dead" is no exception to that rule. The story line behind this concept album is based around a war in Sarajevo. Two soldiers on opposing sides find comfort in the music of a single man who plays daily at a fountain in the middle of the war torn town. Apparently on Christmas Eve, the musician is killed and the two go to find out what has happened. When they meet at the fountain they realize that both were there for the same reason and that they are more in common than they do differences. A great story that actually goes much deeper than what have just described here.
Of note, despite the fact that almost every song was co-written by producer Paul O'Neil and Jon Oliva, Jon Oliva does the vocals on two tracks ("I Am" and "Doesn't Matter Anyway").
Also of note here is that the Trans Siberian Orchestra, who performs the phenomenal Christmas song on this album became so popular that they released a few albums of their own. Basically the Trans Siberian Orchestra is made up of members of Savatage as well as many different classically trained musicians.
Savatage - Wake of Magellen (Atlantic) 1997
1. "Ocean" (1:33)
The "Wake of Magellan" is Savatage's 14th album. Once again they blend their distinctive heavy metal sound with the theatrical compositions, sweeping melodies, intricate arrangements and jaw dropping solos to create a fantastic concept album. What makes this album even more enthralling is the return of Jon Oliva who shared lead vocals with Zachary Stevens, who has been with the band since "Edge of Thorns." "The Wake of Magellan" employs a fictional character, Hector Del-Fuego Magellan, a supposed descendent of famed explorer Ferdinand Magellan. The band retells two supposed true stories. The first is the tale of the Maersk Dubai, a Taiwanese freight ship whose captain, upon discovering three stowaways on board, decided to throw the offending passengers overboard. The second is the story of journalist Veronica Guerin, who died while combating drug lords in her home country of Ireland. Producer Paul O'Neill, who has been a big part of the band since the 80's, wrote all the lyrics, as well as the epic poem in the liner notes that outlines the storyline. The entire story is brought to life by the surprisingly heavy but graceful, almost angelic music. A great album! The U.S. version contains three acoustic bonus tracks. With the exception of "Stay" all these tracks were released on other albums. According to the liner notes, "Stay" was a song that was written for the "Street-A Rock Opera" album, but was not included on that album.
Savatage - Poets & Madmen (Nuclear Blast) 2001
1. "Stay With Me A
"Poets & Madmen" is a return to a heavier Savatage, although the progressive elements from more recent discs are also present. Old Savatage fans ought to really enjoy this disc for two reasons: 1) because this disc returns Savatage to a heavy metal sound and 2) because Jon Oliva is back doing all the vocals on this disc. Musically, this album is the most dynamic the band has done in a while. Lyrically Savatage continues in their epic, storytelling style. This time the story is about a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer who has become mentally sick from seeing all the evil in the world. The U.S. version has an additional bonus track. It's about stinking time that an American release gets the bonus track. Of course the German box set (which I wish I also had) has two different bonus tracks: "Jesus Saves" and "Handful Of Rain" (live in Germany) as well as a video and a poster. The American bonus track, "Shotgun Innocence," was originally a bonus track on the Japanese version of "Edge of Thorns" and features Zachary Stevens on vocals.