Hardrock-ballet by Savatage

from: OOR magazine, Holland march 1990
author : Mark van Schaick
contributed by :
Meindert Overeijnder
translated by : Ellen Bakvis

Recently Savatage, hard rock band from Florida, appeared on a Dutch stage for the second time this year. They gave away a concert that moved people to tears: right from the very first moment Tilburg's Noorderligt was turned upside down ! During the encore, even the promotinal assistant of the WEA record company was onstage throwing fans of all sizes and shapes back into the crowd grinning from ear to ear. Atmosphere !

Before writing down this story I have been going through the entire Savatage collection thoroughly while composing a cassette for my car stereo. Standing in a traffic jam I am known to start acting like an animal, you know...
During Power Of The Night , I saw no need to press the 'pause' button anymore ! So I decided to push all my work aside for three quarters of steady headbanging. I'm sure you know the "Fuck the Neighbours, I'm gonna Blow the Roof off With this Record..."
It was the first album that Savatage made for Atlantic, in 1985, and as far as I'm concerned it is still the best, even though the recent Gutter Ballet is also great, in it's own way.

Sirens is the title of the debut from '83 ( nowadays available together on one CD together with the subsequent mini The Dungeons Are Calling), that was being received enthousiastically.
But Savatage appears to be human; the album Fight For The Rock from '86 turned out to be a first class artistical disaster. The heavy songs do not sound heavy, the 'commercial' songs do not sound like Savatage and apart from a remake of the song Sirens it contains two covers: Wishing Well of The Free and Badfinger's Day After Day.
The relative succes that the album has in the States lets the bandmembers always make it seem as if they were jusy on a 'different track' but in the year 1990 JON OLIVA dares to admit that there were other factors:
"Look, we were in a difficult spot. Atlantic had certain ideas about a more succesful sound, so we just went ahead and tried it. Then came the problems with management and the producer went out to lunch very often...know what I mean ? Sure, we made mistakes, but that's all in the process of learning, you know. It's also the difference between working with strong people and working with weak people..."
Maybe, in saying this Jon is also speaking about himself; in those days his alcohol and drug - addiction was hardly controllable anymore, though he wouldn't be going into rehab until 1988...

Fortunately in 1988 there is Hall Of The Mountain King, an 'old-fashioned' heavy album on which not only the hard side of the Oliva bothers' songwriting is emphasized, but on which the bombasic element in melodies and arrangements is brought to the spotlight by producer Paul O'Neill.

On the new album Gutter Ballet that appeared recently, the collaboration is more or less the same, be it that Jon Oliva gets a chance now more than ever to show us the sensitive side of his voice. All in all, here we have four memorable albums here...

"We were extremely relaxed while writing, there was no pressure like before ", Jon says about the latest album. "I've had a great time working with Paul. It took us seven months this time, where we used to have a maximum of two. And you can hear that, in my opinion. The whole thing sounds much better cared for.
One of our problems is that we are songwriting machines. We disposed of so much material, that the hardest thing to do was to decide which songs to record and subsequently which ones to put on the album. Eventually, five tracks remained unused. And it hurts to see good material stay on the shelf."

Savatage, besides Jon and his brother Criss Oliva ( guitar ), consisting of Steve Wacholz ( drums ), Johnny Lee Middleton ( bass ) and Christopher Caffery ( guitar, keys ), makes a kind of hardrock that absolutely can't be placed amongst the commercial American brothers. In the early days they were sometimes being compared to Black Sabbath, but they are now already far ahead of them on the point of inventiveness. No lack of melody and raw emotion, but on Gutter Ballet they also make use of the piano to reach the desired melancholic effect.

Jon : "I can talk for hours about the use of piano and keyboards, but let it be sufficient to say that if someone really likes a band, they will also appreciate the diverse aspects of that band. In the past, Led Zeppelin was known as the heaviest sounding band, but their third album was acoustic for like 60, 70 %. We are trying to grow as mature musicians; it just would not be fair if people would only like us to play stuff like Sirens."

A lot of the distinct Savatage sound can be credited to the manner in which singer Jon Oliva profiles himself; when he opens his big mouth, your girlfriend gets the shivers and your mother starts asking you to please turn the volume down ! That's not because he sounds like a wounded sucking-pig or a horny grizzly-bear, but because he has the ability to put a devilish tone into every word, so you'll be sitting in your chair hypnotized after a single song.

"It just comes uot that way, don't blame me for it...haha. I don't even understand it myself, it scares me sometimes. I'm not trying to sound like anyone else. It's important for me not to sound like Jon Bon Jovi, you understand ? Or like Ronnie James Dio. I want people to know that it's Savatage right away when they put on a record. And I've accomplished that, so... By the way don't you think that I can also sound rather nice ? I'm like that too, you know. I'm a nice guy, who likes to have fun on stage and with whom you can have a nice chat. I really don't always feel like bringing to the stage everything that Savatage makes.
My whole life, I have been listening to many kinds of music, classical from my dad, jazz... I tremendously respect the Beatles because they were never afraid to experiment. That band never cared about what people might say and that's what I 'd also like to achieve with this band".