From: Metal Explosion, l990.
Contributed by: Bryan Holland
HTML by: Ellen Bakvis


Steeped in the traditional metal sound that many of our modern rockers are finally admitting to being influenced by, Savatage has one of the best albums of the year with 'Gutter Ballet'. With all music written by the dynamic vocalist/lyricist Jon Oliva and his virtuoso guitarist brother Criss, these songs are born of pain and blood, sweat, honesty and care. This is a band that's been together for over 10 years without ever succumbing to trends or music industry pressure, and it's obvious in the passion of songs like "Of Rage and War" and "When the Crowds are Gone".

Formed in Florida under the name Avatar, the band went through the usual personnel changes, always with the brothers Oliva and drumdestroyer Steve "Doc" Wacholz at the core, to finally consolidate with bassist Johnny Lee Middleton in '85 and pick-up second guitarist Christopher Caffery in '88. The latest album goes one further than the previous "Hall of the Mountain King"and for fans of epic, noble heavy metal, "Gutter Ballet" is the real thing. Dramatic without being corny, beautiful without being sickeningly sweet, it's an enveloping discourse in finely woven melodies as well as tales. A real metal band, with real musicians and memorable songs, I was totally psyched when asked to go on the road with them to document the last few gigs of the national tour.

I joined the entourage in San Diego and was to travel with them to Anaheim and Fresno before hopping aboard headliner Testament's bus for the cruise to San Francisco (who turned out to be old and faithful fans of the band and watched each night's show from the side of the stage). Several times Testament singer Chuck Billy even joined Jon on stage for a rousing edition of the Savatage standard "Power of the Night" and it seemed like a statement for metalheads everywhere to make this their anthem. With mutual camaraderie, Jon joined Testament's encore to sing "Nobody's Fault", the Aerosmith classic, and Testament's only cover in the set. It was cool to see two bands with such diverse sounds truly respecting each other, and what was even cooler was the response Savatage got from the crowd each night. With Testament being the Bay Area's biggest thrash-veined hope (barring the huge Metallica, the revered Slayer, and the notorious Megadeth) these last four shows were clearly on their home turf. What a jaw-gaping and euphoria-inducing surprise when Testament's audience pounded the air with their fists and filled the halls with chants for Savatage every show I saw. No one was abandoning their enthusiasm for Testament, they were merely expanding a bit, allowing themselves to like a type of music most thrash fans wouldn't go out of their way to discover. The guys in Savatage were stoked about this fact, though initially Doc "Killdrums" was afraid that people who weren't familiar with Savatage might expect them to be a thrash band. Not to worry, the crowd loved them for what they were. The show was an all-out rock affair with lights, two beloved ghouls and a lot of action.Sporting a natural, yet larger-than-life Rock Stance and plenty of pumped and riveted adrenaline, there was no trace of indifference among this group!

Yet watta down to earth bunch, these guys. Upon my initial arrival backstage at the Celebrity Theater, vocalist Jon couldn't help but tell me how great the San Diego zoo had been that day and too bad I didn't arrive sooner. Sigh. The bus rides were filled with Three Stooges classics, Arnold Schwarzenegger's The Predator and occasional stops for Gatorade. Disneyland was a must-do when we were in Anaheim, and Christopher and Criss had to run, not walk from Splash Mountain to Space Mountain to The Matterhorn.
Then it was nothing but soundchecks, pitstops, after-show parties, autograph signings, radio promos and fanzine interviews. Jon, Criss, Doc, Johnny and Christopher are a band finally getting the recognition they deserve, and without any change in fine personality. They were getting a little tired by the last show though, but they had a three day break to look forward to before filming a video for "When The Crowds"and then starting their own club tour which should keep them on the road through November.
Look for them in your town!!