Hall Of The Mountain King Review
By Jim Gordon
  After Fight for the Rock, Savatage found itself in a small stylistic and compositional crisis. Fight for the Rock was a step away from the pure metal style which Savatage had hammered out in albums such as The Dungeons are Calling, yet fans could not see what it was a step towards. The band itself later expressed their dissatisfaction with the album, and undoubtedly more than one critic hailed Fight for the Rock as evidence that Savatage had fallen victim to predictability, and the "dinosaur syndrome", as undeserved as such commentary was. As decent as the album was, it was obviously indicative of a more mainstream, hard rock style, which the band was not that well suited to, due to their dramatic creative style. Enter Paul O'Neill, a producer who had previously worked on the Aerosmith Live Classics albums. O'Neill's musical vision worked so well with the band, that he expanded beyond the role of mere producer, and into the role of co-songwriter. Over the years, Paul O'Neill would become like a virtual member of Savatage, and help co-author many Savatage classics. With a new producer who would not bow to the pressures of the radio/commercial aspect of the music business, the 'Tage was ready to spurn any critical epithets regarding the band's musical demise, and create a masterpiece of complex metal.

I. 24 Hours Ago
  A swirling fade-in quickly reels in the listener, as the song breaks into an unusual time-signature unleashed by Doc Killdrums. This is paired with dark-sounding slabs of heavy guitar. The song continues by changing into a more traditional rock rhythm, but suddenly switches back. Criss Oliva begins to unleash lightening fast leads, and the band lurches into stop-time riffs as the song proceeds. Add to this the propulsive coda, driven by Johnny Lee Middleton's expert bassline, and you get an ominous, moody song, which sets the tone for the album. This song obviously shows that the boys listened to a lot of Rush in their time. Lyrically, the song creates a night-time mood by use of imagery of someone in a car driving down a deserted road late at night, seeking to be anywhere besides where he was. A very good song which takes a few listens to fully appreciate.

II. Beyond The Doors Of The Dark
  The dark feel of Hall of the Mountain King is continued in this song, with its eerie opening, replete with smoky keyboard choirs, and harmonics galore eminating from Criss's guitar. The song rips into full speed suddenly, as Jon switches his voice from low register to full "grit". He paints a chaotic, nightmarish picture. I'm not sure what the song actually means, but it's pretty scary sounding no matter what. Another great night song which (thanks to the backing vocals [or are they keyboards?]) points towards the use of texturing which the band would master in subsequent albums.

III. Legions
  The opening bass line, and subsequent segue into the main body of the song somehow remind me of Van Halen's Mean Street. An excellent rocker, this song is lyrically similar to some of Savatage's older material from Power of the Night. The "good god" exclamations add some unintentional humor to an otherwise grim song. The layering of vocals was a nice touch.

IV. Strange Wings
  One of my more favorite songs off Hall of the Mountain King, this song starts with an excellent riff reminiscient of Judas Priest's "The Night Comes Down" and "Bloodstone", and explodes full throttle into riff-accompanied soloing. The verses are punctuated by ethereal guitar strumming, and excellent, tricky cymbal riding. The backing vocals combine with the opening riff to create a chorus that seems to scream, "Make me into a single for the radio! Now, goddamnit!" Despite this song's pop potential, or maybe even due to it, "Strange Wings" is one of my favorite songs off this album, and would've stood out on hard rock airwaves dominated at that time by the rise of hair bands.

V. Prelude To Madness
  Savatage does Grieg's "Hall of the Mountain King". Pure classic classical metal. Eat your heart out, Yngwie Malmsteen. The song peaks as Criss's guitar soloing and Bob Kinkel/Jon Oliva's keyboard riffing trade off at ever increasing speeds. The song climaxes, and a roll of thunder segues into......

VI. Hall Of The Mountain King
  One of Savatage's best known songs, the savage opening riff conjures up (in my mind at least) the picture of the everyman, driven too far over the edge, and taking action on his tormentors. Lyrically, the song is simply about a dude stuck in a mountain, and pulling a Jack Nicholson a la "The Shining", but the main emphasis in this song is the music, and the way the words are presented. The middle section is particularly outstanding, and creates a manic tension of huge proportions. The song ends with a mellow fade-out featuring a strange, haunting guitar riff.

VII. The Price You Pay
  This is my favorite song off this album. A straight ahead rocker, this song features Jon Oliva's Alice Cooper impression (and he does an incredible job of it!). The riff is incredible, and the lyrics are the best ones on this album. To me, this song is the first seriously introspective song Savatage wrote, in the vein of Gutter Ballet and Streets. Jon Oliva makes his first successful use of the stage metaphor in this song. This is another song which would've made a great single.

VIII. White Witch
  A speed-metalesque number, this song speeds along at a breakneck pace, which seems fitting due to the subject matter of the song. The song is undoubtedly about cocaine abuse, which was, and still is, a problem in the music business. This one goes by quickly, and is a show of the band's energy. However, it isn't one of my favorites for some reason.

IX. Last Dawn
  This fairly quite and haunting instrumental bit is meant to be the intro to the next song,.....

X. Devastation
  The last song on the album is also the most depressing one on it. A heavy riff sends the song thudding along in Black Sabbath mode. Jon Oliva rants about the foolishness of mankind, and in the chorus, growls "Total devastation!". This song is effectively the sequel to Holocaust, off of Sirens. Despite the depressing overtone of the song, it's hard not to start nodding along with the song (sort of a subconscious headbanging). The song rises in key at the end, and spirals up only to fall back to the chord the song is based on.

Conclusion   Hall of the Mountain King was a watershed of sorts for Savatage, and has achieved the status of classic metal. However, the band fortunately decided not to simply rest on their laurels, and proceeded to follow the direction this album pointed toward.

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