Pounds the Opera Walls

From: Circus 3/31/92

By: Mordechai Kleidermacher

Title: "Savatage Pounds the Opera Walls"

Transcribed and HTMLized by: Tracy Wrona

     The opera is titled Streets, but don't expect tuxedoed musicians softly bowing violins or fat, bearded tenors singing with eye-bulging drama. Expect furious assaults of pounding bass and drums, sinister guitar riffs and raging vocals. Savatage calls its seventh full-length album a rock opera, but heavy-metal opera is more like it-even with the calmer interludes of delicate piano and soft singing.

     Set on New York's Lower East Side, the story chronicles the rise, fall and redemption of dope-dealer-turned rock star D. T. (Down Town) Jesus, who burns out on his excesses and strives for meaning in life. "This is something we've wanted to do for a long time," says singer/pianist Jon Oliva. "Actually, Gutter Ballet [Savatage's preceding album] was supposed to be the rock opera, but we chickened out at the last minute." Enthusiastic support from Atlantic records gave the group the required shot of balls.

     Savatage also features guitarist Criss Oliva-Jon's younger brother-bassist Johnny Lee Middleton and drummer Steve "Doc" Wacholz. Originally named Avatar, the band formed in Tampa, Florida over a decade ago and in 1983 released its first album, the independent EP, City Beneath The Surface. Savatage's major label debut came with 1985's Power of the Night.

     Streets originally consisted of 26 songs, but was cut down to a more album-friendly 16. "It's now the Reader's Digest version," Middleton jokes.

     While he admits indulging in his share of rock-and-roll excess, Jon says Streets is not autobiographical, but based on a book written by band producer Paul O'Neill, who co-wrote Streets with the Oliva brothers.

     The story's moral is simple and timeless. "It's really a story about life," Jon says. "The main character is just a vehicle for the story's message: believe in yourself and you can achieve anything you want."