Picture of Savatage

Fight For the Rock

Savatage - Fight For the Rock ©1986 Atlantic
1. Fight for the Rock
2. Out on the Streets
3. Crying for Love
4. Day After Day
5. The Edge of Midnight
6. Hyde
7. Lady in Disguise
8. She's Only Rock 'n Roll
9. Wishing Well
10. Red Light Paradise

Like many bands who ventured into the major label arena early in their careers, Savatage found themselves helpless at the behest of label pressures on their second big label release, the cliché ridden Fight For the Rock. According to reports, Atlantic put a lot of pressure on the young band to release a considerably more standard rock album than the ambitious band would have otherwise. Singer Jon Oliva had been writing some pop tunes for other bands on the Atlantic roster, so some executive got the brainy idea that Savatage could also deliver that sort of material. Of course, Savatage was probably too wet behind the ears and cowed by label pressure to say no and as a result, we get one of the worst albums of the 80s by any esteemed metal band.

From the emasculated production to the atrociously pandering songwriting, there is very little to recommend on Fight For the Rock. In fact, only two songs even remotely fall into the general realm that Savatage would spend the rest of their careers exploring: "The Edge of Midnight" and "Hyde". Had the rest of the album followed suit, Fight For the Rock would have been a decent release but as it stands, the remainder of this pitiful album dwells in the Spinal Tap region. The attempts at slower, radio friendly pop tunes are truly abysmal. Songs like "Out in the Streets" or "Day After Day" sound more like sessions musicians with a more vested interest in collecting a paycheck than pouring their souls into the music. The band hardly sounds convinced that this is the record they wanted to make.

Fight For the Rock is a contender for the dictionary definition of Major Label Musical Abortion. It's not entirely unusual for a band to tread the waters of radio friendly hard rock. Pantera spent their early years as one of the unintentionally silly cock-rock bands, after all. Savatage was fortunately able to rebound on their next album and regain respectibility. Fight For the Rock is less of a Cold Lake moment than a portrait of a band that wasn't able to withstand record label meddling.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 09/2008

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Hall of the Mountain King

Savatage - Hall of the Mountain King ©1987 Atlantic
1. 24 Hrs. Ago
2. Beyond the Doors of the Dark
3. Legions
4. Strange Wings
5. Prelude to Madness
6. Hall of the Mountain King
7. The Price You Pay
8. White Witch
9. Last Dawn
10. Devastation

After the abysmal outing of Fight For the Rock, Savatage put their cock rock back into their collective musical pants to reformulate their direction. Enter Paul O'Neill, an accomplished producer, musician and rock promoter. His resume included production credits with Aerosmith, promoting tours of Sting and Madonna and playing guitar for the touring production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Normally, when you hear of a producer being assigned to a band to oversee their music, you think of boy bands and contrived commercial garbage. In the case of Savatage, O'Neill turned out to be precisely the collaborator they needed and his first partnership with the band is the credibility saving Hall of the Mountain King. Had Savatage continued putting out lukewarm hair metal, they certainly would have faded away years ago into the VH-1 and MuchMusic "where are they now" files. Instead, Hall of the Mountain King marks the emergence of a much better and far more interesting band.

Now before I get all carried away with hyperbole and Rock Critic Proclamations From On High, it needs to be noted the biggest reason for excitement regarding this album is that it removed the band from the Territory of the Eternal Suckage. Fight For the Rock was atrocious, but Hall of the Mountain King is an above average record that the band absolutely had to put together to have any sort of metal credibility. The songwriting is much more ambitious and focuses a lot more attention on the over the top guitar playing of Criss Oliva. Yes, there's a pompous aspect to it, particularly in naming your album after a Grieg composition. However, 80s metal had more than its fair share of ridiculously overblown concepts, but Savatage pulls it off. The album does contain a somewhat mediocre power ballad ("Strange Wings"), but generally has its fair share of powerdriven metal. The band wisely finds their strengths on this album, which happens to be the bombastic approach with the melodramatic flair.

The partnership with Paul O'Neill certainly rescued Savatage from being pushed around by their record company and injected creativity into their music. While I still point to Gutter Ballet as a fine example of Savatage's best music, this album is a somewhat overlooked recording from the era.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 03/2009

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Gutter Ballet

Savatage - Gutter Ballet ©1989 Atlantic
1. Of Rage And War
2. Gutter Ballet
3. Temptation Revelation
4. When The Crowds Are Gone
5. Silk And Steel
6. She's In Love
7. Hounds
8. The Unholy
9. Mentally Yours
10. Summer's Rain
11. Thorazine Shuffle

Savatage, to me, has been split into two eras. Their 80s output is a considerably less confusing soap opera than what transpired over the course of the 90s when the band was faced with horrible tragedies, constantly changing lineups and side projects that seemingly were better received than the main band. The 80s, on the other hand, were relatively turmoil free and the band was primarily a metal band trying to put out quality albums.

Gutter Ballet just so happens to be one of their best works and possibly the best before the decade let out. The previous release, Hall of the Mountain King, was a solid release, but occasionally fell short in certain areas. Gutter Ballet does nothing more than build on the foundation and up the ante in many areas.

With the exception of Jon Oliva's decidedly limited vocals (there was a reason the band ultimately sought out a true lead singer later on), Gutter Ballet brandishes the band's impressive musicianship all over the place. Of note are the guitars of Criss Oliva and Chris Caffery, who had joined the band for the album. While often flashy, the guitar playing is substantial throughout and even the showy "Silk and Steel" is flat out beautiful as opposed to indulgent. Also of note is the blossoming theatrical aspect of the band. Gutter Ballet is often filled with imagery and a more refined ability to weave something beyond typical hard rock music. "When the Crowds are Gone" and "Summer's Rain", even with Jon Oliva's limited singing ability, are emotionally strong and convincing. The band, although exploring a softer and moodier edge to their music, still knows how to turn things up a notch on great hard numbers like "The Unholy" or "She's in Love".

Although a bit unnoticed at the time of its release, Gutter Ballet has stood the test of time and is still my favorite release by Savatage. They hadn't quite lost the thread of hard rock nor indulged in strange rock operas. Rather, this album is a portrait of a band running strongly on all gears. A necessity for any fan of this band.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 12/2002

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Streets: a Rock Opera

Savatage - Streets: A Rock Opera ©1991 Atlantic
1. Streets
2. Jesus Saves
3. Tonight He Grins Again / Strange Reality
4. A Little Too Far
5. You're Alive / Sammy and Tex
6. St. Patrick's
7. Can You Hear Me Now
8. New York City Don't Mean Nothing
9. Ghost in the Ruins
10. If I Go Away
11. Agony and Ecstasy / Heal My Soul
12. Somewhere in Time / Believe

After a pair of fairly decent albums, Savatage committed the ultimate atrocity with the pompous, utterly bloated and painfully corny Streets: A Rock Opera. The title itself demonstrated that Savatage had become an oxymoron. The word "streets" suggests credibility, but it's a proven fact (which can be looked up in any reputable encyclopedia) that the very second any rock band releases an "opera", they lose their credibility for all time. And Savatage more than lives up to that loss of authenticity with this bloviating slab of mediocrity draped in pretension.

The album is based on a play that band manager Paul O'Neill had written at some point, but wisely had stashed away far from sight. Unfortunately, one of the Savatage members, at least according to lore, found the manuscript and got the brainbusting idea to make an album out of it. Presumably inebriation of some sort led to this decision. Naturally, the story is about a down and out rock star who has some wacky adventures. No story about a rock star is complete without references to drug problems. My issue with tales about drug addled rock stars is that it's about as exciting and innovative as Fox's latest reality TV show. Books about rock stars who have substance abuse issues are exceptionally boring. Thus, an album about this topic is equally dull. A couple songs on this record, minus the insipid lyrics, might be tolerable rockers. But the band veered into insipid balladry and a general tendency for simpering and bleating.

Streets was released not long after a certain Nirvana album was getting some notice. It's not surprising that grandiose, theatrical heap of refuse looks painfully out of touch with any sort of reality the audience might relate to. Streets is precisely the metal album that could explain why so many people lost interest in that scene, at least on the mainstream level. This is rancid ham and cheese.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 03/2010

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Edge Of Thorns

Savatage - Edge Of Thorns ©1993 Atlantic
1. Edge Of Thorns
2. He Carves His Stone
3. Lights Out
4. Skraggy's Tomb
5. Labyrinths
6. Follow Me
7. Exit Music
8. Degrees Of Sanity
9. Conversation Piece
10. All That I Bleed
11. Damien
12. Miles Away
13. Sleep

Edge of Thorns is the eighth release from Savatage. It has been interesting to watch the evolution of this band over the years. Never content to stay with one style of play or to play to one audience, Savatage has covered the scope of metal pretty thoroughly, from thrashy speed stuff to epic, to progressive, to melodic, to conceptual. With a huge fan base, they are one of the more popular bands in "mainstream" metal today.

Edge of Thorns was a turning point for the band. Gone is the Hall of the Mountain King epic feel. This CD shows a much tighter song construction. The emphasis is on composition and a much more layered style of song writing emerges as a result. From the opening notes of Jon Olivia's piano on the title track, you know this is not the same Savatage that released Gutter Ballet or Streets. One of the biggest changes is that Zachary Stevens replaces Jon Olivia as the vocalist. Even though Jon Olivia is not listed with the band, he is present in the playing and his influence on the songs is unmistakable. His time was divided between working with Savatage and Trans-Siberian Orchestra during its initial inception. The influence of that project is very evident in the songwriting style from this disc forward with Savatage. There is a large does of acoustic and classical music interwoven into the songs that was not really present in the former works. This disc and Handful of Rain show a more introspective Savatage determined to produce a quality song that has some meat to it. Many Savatage fans cite this disc as their favorite, so evident is its importance in their musical evolution.

Always entertaining, always worth the money, this disc especially stands out as an important disc in the history of a band that has continued to grow and mature as time goes by. I think it is their very willingness to change that has allowed them to survive for so long. Stand out tracks include "Edge of Thorns", "Miles Away" and "Sleep".

Review by Matthew Braymiller

Review date: 06/2000

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Handful Of Rain

Savatage - Handful Of Rain ©1994 Atlantic
1. Taunting Cobras
2. Handful Of Rain
3. Chance
4. Stare Into The Sun
5. Castles Burning
6. Visions
7. Watching You Fall
8. Nothing Going On
9. Symmetry
10. Alone You Breathe

After a tragic accident killed Chris Olivia, Alex Skolnick, formerly of Testament, joined the ranks of Savatage. He had some very big shoes to fill, but he filled them very well. Jon Olivia is even further in the background on this disc, mentioned only briefly in the credits. This disc continues the sound of Edge Of Thorns with a heavier edge to it. The title track is one of my favorite Savatage tunes. Where this disc represents progress for Savatage is in the lyrics. The content of the songs continues to get deeper. The song "Chance" is one of the best songs Savatage has ever written. It has been called the "Schindler's List" of Savatage, dealing as it does with events of WWII. The emotion is really stepped up, giving the songs a life of their own that really holds the listener and keeps your interest. Again the influence of Trans-Siberian orchestra can be felt, notably in the story telling nature of the songs. Though not a concept album by any stretch, Handful of Rain puts Savatage on course for the future releases of Dead Winter Dead and Wake of Magellan. The style that was begun on Edge of Thorns incubates on this disc and is given full flower on the next two discs to come from an ever changing band that has captivated fans for years.

Review by Matthew Braymiller

Review date: 06/2000

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Dead Winter Dead

Savatage - Dead Winter Dead ©1995 Atlantic
1. Overture
2. Sarajevo
3. This Is The Time
4. I Am
5. Starlight
6. Doesn't Matter Anyway
7. This Isn't What We Meant
8. Mozart And Madness
9. Memory (Dead Winter Dead Intro)
10. Dead Winter Dead
11. One Child
12. Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)
13. Not What You See

Pressing on in the face of an indifferent public, a faceless, hostile music industry, and some internal personnel turmoil, Savatage are one of those rare musical acts that seem so blissfully unaware of the status quo. Dead Winter Dead is another big steamy concept record about war and it effects on an individual basis, and Zach Stevens and Dr. Butcher Jon Oliva team up, finally, to do a bit of vocal trading-off, for dramatic purposes, of course. All the essential Sava-elements are there: emotional ballads, guitar shredding, vocal layering, pictures of Johnny Middleton with his shirt open, etc. Aside from the latter of aforementioned, the only thing that bothers me about this record is the absense of a true rhythm player to provide those meaty riffs (Criss Oliva was versatile enough to do both lead and rhythm), many (such as one in "Starlight") sounding like second rate Motley Crue. At any rate, Savatage will continue to do what they do, regardless of public opinion, because, I mean, do they care?

Review by Lee Steadham

Review date: 12/1998

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Review #2:

The co-production team of Jon Olivia and Paul O'Neill produces a disc that is absolutely astounding with this release. Complete with a modern Romeo and Juliet style love story, this is a concept disc that tells an impassioned tale. Drawn from the events of war torn Sarajevo, the writing captures the loss and tragedy of war from a unique perspective, that of a stone gargoyle. As a detached neutral observer, he records the events that take place in the lives of the players on this disc. The influence of Olivia's time with Trans-Siberian Orchestra is all over the place on this disc. The songs are sweeping and grand, powerful and complex. "Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)" appears on Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Christmas Eve and Other Stories CD. The two bands are almost indistinguishable from one another at this point in Savatage's history.

Musically this disc is heavier than Handful of Rain or Edge of Thorns. I'd classify it as neo-progressive metal as there is a lot of keyboard work with a bit of cello thrown in for good measure. Jon Olivia begins singing again, but keeps himself to the "parts" that are more in tune with his voice. The vocal arrangements on this disc are several steps ahead of the previous releases. There is a tremendous emphasis on the message of the songs, and the time and effort that has gone into writing them is brought out fully in the playing and production. This is a stellar performance from a band that has continued to defy definition. Just when you think they've settled down to one style or another, they surprise you with a disc that is very different from anything that they've done in the past. Fans of concept discs, take note, there are few that are as well done as this one.

Review by Matthew Braymiller

Review date: 06/2000

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Wake Of Magellan

Savatage - Wake Of Magellan ©1998 Atlantic
1. The Ocean
2. Welcome
3. Turns To Me
4. Morning Sun
5. Another Way
6. Blackjack Guillotine
7. Paragons Of Innocence
8. Complaint In The System (Veronica Geurin)
9. Underture
10. The Wake Of Magellan
11. Anymore
12. The Storm
13. The Hourglass
14. Somewhere In Time / Alone You Breathe
15. Sleep
16. Stay

Wow. After a hiatus during which many of the early Savatage discs were re-released, the band was busy putting together their magnum opus. Continuing the successful team of Jon Olivia and Paul O'Neill, Savatage wrote and produced a masterful story through the songs of this disc. Drawn from real life events, the story will sweep you away as it unfolds in the telling.

The songs are very tight and each of them plays off the next to give a seamless quality to this disc. The passion and power of Handful or Rain is here. The intricacy of Dead Winter Dead is stepped up to an even more richly layered and complex level. The vocal arrangements of Trans-Siberian Orchestra are present. This disc is so wonderfully full that it will take several listens to appreciate the complexity and masterful presentation. The acoustic "bonus" tracks are bootleg recordings that the band had made and decided to release for their fans. Musically, this is a heavy, driving disc, full of energy. The crunch of the guitars from the days of Hall Of The Mountain King is back. The bass line is very noticeable throughout the disc highlighting the excellent production. Jon Olivia and Zak Stevens share the singing responsibilities with a couple other band members stepping up to the microphone to add to the layered sound of the singing on some of the songs. The singing on the title track is very typical of the direction Savatage is heading. I'd expect any future releases from them will be even more involved and vocally complex.

Savatage has come a very long way since their beginning. It has been a great ride to follow along with them as they continue to grow and mature. I don't predict any settling for them since they have not shown any inclination to stay with one style for a long time. As they grow and evolve, they continue to release impressive discs, each more involved than its predecessor. I can't wait to see where they go next. It is bound to be interesting and involving.

Review by Matthew Braymiller

Review date: 06/2000

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Poets And Madmen

Savatage - Poets And Madmen ©2001 Nuclear Blast
1. Stay With Me Awhile
2. There In The Silence
3. Commisar
4. I Seek Power
5. Drive
6. Morphine Child
7. The Rumor
8. Man In The Mirror
9. Surrender
10. Awaken
11. Back To A Reason
12. Shotgun Innocence (bonus Track)

For its first definition of the word "best", my little pocket dictionary has this entry: "The supreme effort one can make." I think that is a fitting definition when approaching this latest effort from Savatage. It is supreme among all their discs.

Jon Olivia and Paul O'Neill have had a long standing work relationship that has resulted in a great body of work, both with Savatage and with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. The work with the latter in their Broadway show style concepts has impacted the last two Savatage discs, Dead Winter Dead and Wake Of Magellan. Both of those were epic concepts with a lot of the Broadway show type of musical themes. In other words, they represented a great departure from the heavier side of Savatage and showed us the flashier showmanship of the band.

Poets and Madmen is the result of a marriage. It is a union between the earlier roots of the band and the new intensely artistic side of the group. That marriage produced this album full of heavy metal that remembers where this band began mixed with a story and concept lyrics that are supreme among the songs Savatage has written. This disc is worth purchasing if only for one song. That song is "Morphine Child", which is Savatage's supreme piece of work. I am trying not to write this review based solely on that song, but it is difficult because it is an astounding piece of music. Over ten minutes long and containing elements of every era of Savatage's history, it is the supreme effort Savatage could make. It is the single best song I have heard this year.

The story behind the music could serve as a movie script or the basis of a psychological thriller novel. It involves a group of young men who make a late night visit to a secluded building that had, at one time, served as an mental institution. The events that ensue are unfolded in the songs. The story is quite satisfying and its presentation is nothing short of masterful. The story of the lyrics is balanced out and given its context with the story in the liner notes. Taken together, they make a very compelling disc of richly satisfying measure. The members of Savatage have excelled as songwriters, performers, musicians and storytellers on this disc.

This disc would represent one of the year's best efforts for any other progressive metal band. For this band, this disc is supremely Savatage.

Review by Matthew Braymiller

Review date: 10/2001

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