Friday, April 9, 2010
Underrated Metal Bands #3: Savatage
Anyone remember this band? Or how about this: does anyone know of the “Christmas metal” band Trans-Siberian Orchestra? Well believe it or not, Savatage actually features most of the members from TSO. But before TSO came Savatage and it is astonishing how this band got so under the radar over the years!
The origin of this band goes back to when the Olivia brothers, Criss (guitar) and Jon (vocals), founded the band Avatar in 1978. This newly formed band, along with Steve Wacholz (drums) and Keith Collins (bass), played in various bars in and around the Tampa, Florida area. In 1983, due to copyright issues, the name “Avatar” was no longer allowed to be used for the band. Thus the new and current name of the band, Savatage, was born mixing the names “Avatar” and “Savage” together.
Savatage’s early music was influenced by early heavy metal bands like Black Sabbath and NWOBHM acts like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. They played a very aggressive, fast paced heavy metal style (speed/power metal) and eventually formed their own signature sound with the Olivia brothers doing what they do best. Jon Olivia’s
voice is unlike anything in metal as he just uses every moment he takes to create one of metal’s most menacing voices. He was very underrated and never got the credit he deserved. Same with his brother Criss, who in my opinion was one of metal’s finest guitar players, but never got the kind of respect he deserved either.
In 1987, four years after their stellar debut “Sirens”, the group released their zenith album “Hall of the Mountain King”. It remains their most commercially successful album and in my opinion is a classic American heavy metal album. The self titled track “Hall of the Mountain King” is the band’s best and most popular song to date. The song and music video would be played on MTV’s Headbangers Ball on a consistent basis. This was the turning point for the band and would ultimately make them go in a different direction musically.
With the release of “Gutter Ballet” in 1989, the band went from the straight forward heavy/power metal sound to being more progressive. Fans of the band had mixed reactions of the change in style at that time, but in the end, the band proved this to be a successful move and their new sound was just getting underway. In 1991, the group released “Streets: A Rock Opera”. Again, it was another experiment by the band to be even more progressive and less heavy metal. The fans had mixed reactions again, but it proved to be another move that would later influence their new group, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, which plays and performs a style similar to what Savatage played at that time.
The release of their 1993 album “Edge of Thorns” brought new and different changes to Savatage. For the first time in the band’s history, Jon Olivia stepped down as the lead vocalist and was replaced by Zachary Stevens, who in my opinion is no where near as good as Jon at vocals. This change was not well accepted by the fans and many thought that the group was beginning the lose some of it’s steam. But nothing would be as devastating to Savatage as to what happened later in that year. On October 17, 1993, Criss Olivia (left picture) was killed as a drunk driver took his life on impact around 3:30 in the morning near Tampa, Florida on Highway 301. This tragedy left the band and his brother Jon in shock. Many thought that Savatage’s future was in jeopardy, but Jon kept the band going and released another album entitled “Handful of Rain” a year later. This album brought back some of the heavy/power metal elements the band had abandoned with their new progressive sound. The album was mainly a tribute to Criss, especially with the song “Alone You Breathe”.
Since 2002, the group has been primarily inactive and put on hiatus, but at the same time most of the members are focusing on their more popular project of TSO. So if you have not heard this band before, I recommend them to anyone who likes old school progressive/power metal, or just anyone who likes good metal music. Savatage is indeed one of the most underrated as well as one of the greatest American metal bands of all time. Rock on! \m/
Savatage's main website , Savatage's last.fm page