savatage tso solo projects

sirens review by tolph morris
From this, their first release under the name Savatage, to Dead Winter Dead, it's easy to see why Savatage is labeled as progressive metal. In fact, if Jon Oliva hadn't done vocals for two songs on DWD, then listening to Sirens you wouldn't even know it was the same band or the same mind behind the music. A good bit of that is because literally, it's not the same band. Jon Oliva is the only remaining member of Savatage from these days. And the music that is now a very artsy, technical, prog metal sound was one more of an extremely raw thrash/death-metal style.
1. sirens - 3:40
A slow, deliberatly haunting guitar riff by Criss Oliva introduces the world to Savatage's music here. The idea here, of course, is based on Greek and Roman mythology and the singing sirens who's voices lured sailors into their harbor where they ate them. Real lovely idea to base a song on, but then that's the whole point -- it's not exactly intended to bring visions of flowers and smiley faces to mind. The slow riff that opens quickly moves into a thrash-style rocker that fits the lyrical content of the song quite well. The lyrics are relatively short compared to the time span of the song itself, as the last minute and seven seconds of the three-and-a-half minute song is mostly just a Criss Oliva outro. The only vocals for that sequence are Jon's "aaah"s that basically are there just to emphasize the harsh, raw sound that Criss has been producing through-out the song. One interesting note is the addition of chimes to the percussion set at the very beginning of the song, something you don't hear every day in heavy metal. It's this kind of inventive creativity that makes Savatage's music stick to mind and not fade away like most bands of the time have. Oliva has always been one to try new ideas, taking a chance and doing something different (like the addition of piano from Gutter Ballet on). That's one thing that makes this such a classic Savatage song. It's was different, and still is, in a time where most everything in metal sounded pretty much the same.
2. holocaust - 4:36
More than anything else, I think this was an excuse for Steve Wacholz to show off. The guitar riffs are cool if nothing else, but it's the drum track that really makes this one stand out on the album. Savatage's music has always been guitar-driven, even as early as this album, but it's songs like this and "Ghost In The Ruins" off of Streets that prove that the drummer and the bassist aren't there just to make the guitar sound good. It opens with a cymbal ride that sets the tempo and overall mood for the rest of the song. Criss Oliva comes in along with the bass, and then Jon. It's songs like this that convince me that Oliva's purpose with death metal was not to glamourize the darker side of life, but more to warn against the consequences. Even in death metal, singing songs about hell & Satan ("The Dungeons Are Calling"), witches ("White Witch", "By The Grace of the Witch"), demons ("The Unholy"), war ("Of Rage And War", "Chance") like this song, nuclear holocaust... he never puts them in a good light. It's commendable that anyone can make that work in the modern heavy metal market. The song ends somewhat abruptly in the middle of nuclear-explosion sound effects cutting immediately into the next song, somewhat like Queensryche's "Blinded" did, making a very odd-sounding transition to "I Believe". But overall, this is one of the better songs on the album.
3. i believe - 5:28
Jon Oliva has always had a flair for writing about the mystical, the unknown, and the things you just don't hear in other styles of music. The princept of this song is based first on his belief in life on other worlds, and secondly, it implores a great deal of the previous song. It starts out with him crooning how he believes there's "life out there," but also on the necessity of finding it. The reason for that being that with the current state of things (as of 1984, anyway), the way this world was going there wasn't going to be anyone left alive here, and for nuclear radiation any survivors wouldn't be able to inhabit this world afterwards. His solution, find another world where we could live. Neither this song, nor "Holocaust" is overly optimistic about chances for survival, but then to be so would ruin the whole purpose of the songs. Whereas Savatage's death metal is designed to more or less literally scare the hell out of people, the result is a horror song where the lyrics sound like something that would come out of the mind of Edgar Allen Poe. And to write a song like this, again, is so off the wall compared to anything else out there, it gives Savatage an overall originality was hard to come by in 1984, and even harder to come by in more recent years. Also, this has some of the fancier Criss Oliva riffs, the kind of playing that made him so famous and well-respected in the minds of fans and other guitar players.
4. rage - 2:40
Every time I hear this song I think of "Washed Out" from Power Of The Night. It's a similiar speed-thrash type sound that almost sounds identical to "Washed Out" at the intro, and like "Washed Out", that tempo is held throughout the song. Both songs are also relatively short compared to all the other stuff they've come out with. And it's probably where the idea for "Washed Out" came from, that's progressive metal at its truest. Lyrically, it's a somewhat bitter song, and the title is apt. That's exactly what this song is about. Rage. At life, mainly.
5. on the run - 3:33
This song has a great beat, and that's the first thing that will grab the listener on this song. There's a lot of reverb and echo on Jon's vocals here that give this song a sound unique on the album, but soundwise, other than that, it sounds a lot like all the other rockers on this album.
6. twisted little sister - 3:39
Welcome to 1984, the height of the whips-and-razor-blades era. If there is any song that this one reminds me of, it's "She's In Love" off of Gutter Ballet. Far from romantic, far from anything but masochistic, it's songs like this that got Savatage heard in the first place. While their other stuff is original, it's stuff like this that everyone was doing at the time. Basically, it's disgusting, perverted, with a bunch of metaphors that could easily win a Garth Brooks Honorary Not-So-Subtle Sexual Innunedo Award. The opening guitar riff will definatly catch the listener, tho. And this is the kind of song you just have to listen to with a smirk on your face.
7. living for the night - 3:20
The thundering bass drum at the beginning can easily remind Savatage fan of "By The Grace Of The Witch" off of The Dungeons Are Calling. ...This song reminds me of a very strange cross between Kiss's "Rock And Roll All Night" and Neil Diamond's "Thank The Lord For The Night Time." That's the concept of the song, heavy metal style. It's fairly obvious that Jon Oliva prefers the night to the day after songs like this and "All That I Bleed" and "Miles Away" from Edge Of Thorns. Similiar idea, really, but far more of a thrash song.
8. scream murder - 3:51
This song is mostly rythym. It begins with Criss Oliva playing a gallop that kind of reminds me of the chorus rythym to Queensryche's "I Don't Believe In Love," (albeit 4 years before...) just with a longer note at the end of the gallop, and soon adds Steve Wacholz playing out a bass/snare combo that basically just double-times Criss's rythym. This song compliments the rest of the album very well by it's subject matter. Back to the death-and-horror theme that's been really the focus of the whole album.
9. out on the street - 5:12
This is the only ballad to be found on the Sirens album. And overall, it's one of Savatage's best. For the album, it's my personal favorite track... I can relate, and I think a lot of people can, which is what makes all of Savatage's ballads so great. Not only are they musically well-written, but they also tend to hit somewhere deep down. Criss Oliva picks out a clean-sound rythym while bassist Keith Collins basically just flows with the tonic notes of the chords Criss Oliva's picking out. Wacholz adds the extra spice to the song by flowing easily along on the verses and then really laying into it for the choruses, where Criss also switches from clean picking to distortion rythym. Oliva's vocals tell the same old story of lost love, trying to get along with out the woman who's apparantly left him behind. And after listening to songs off of Streets which he said was based on his own life, it's painfully apparant that Jon is baring his soul in a big way here. I'd venture to say this is a big piece of his heart and soul here, and a pain he'd felt personally. Criss Oliva's solo here is truly his shining moment on the album. It's solos like the one here that prove conclusivly that he was one of the greatest guitarists to have ever lived. This song was re-done for the Fight For The Rock album, but of the two, this is easily the more beautifully done of the two, and they cut a whole verse out of the FFTR version.
10. lady in disguise - 4:36
This song has a somewhat mystical edge, which is extremely well reemphasized by the music. The real hooks to this song are the melody and the riffs played by Criss, but the lyrics can also grab ahold of your mind. It's obvious the part the singer plays here is that of someone completely infatuated with a woman who he's never even met "I'll find you someday, our paths our sure to cross," and the metaphors here are all that of a mystical nature. And it's the ability to double the everyday with mystical imagry that is what Jon Oliva does best. This version is certainly hookier than the version off of Fight For The Rock -- lyrically and musicially it's far different, and in my opinion one of the better early Savatage songs out there.
11. the message - 3:39
The one thing that really stands out about this song is the melody. Where die-hard metal fans rarely care about the sound of the melody, it's the ability to come up with a somewhat singable melody and keep to the hard metal edge sound of die-hard metal that has made progressive metal bands like Savatage and Queensryche so famous and made other bands who just threw together a bunch of screaming words fade out of people's minds. Savatage and Jon Oliva have always been able to come up with the kind of hooks to a song that make it stand out in your mind. This is a Savatage rocker that, in my own opinion, far outshines most of the others that were on the original album itself. The lyrical content here just tells the story of a guy who's been used and isn't taking it from the woman. "The Message" as the song is titled could easily be renamed "Get Lost, Bi**h" or something similiar, that's the idea of it.
conclusion
Overall, Savatage's first effort (as Savatage) is a successful one. This is out-and-out death metal, with the exception perhaps of "Out On The Streets." If later albums like Edge of Thorns or Streets is what caught the listener on to Savatage at first, then this album may or may not be their cup of tea. Savatage's music has changed rather dramatically since this, although it's easy to see that this album's concepts pop up again and again with bit-phrases and more complex songs of the same ideas on later albums. "Sirens," the song, is an absolute classic, and while most of the rest of the album has taken a back seat in concert preformances to the newer and better material, the songs here are still well worth listening to. There's not a whole lot of variety here, save basic subject matter, but each song is orginal and well thought out and put together, and doesn't lose a dedicated listener the way a lot of metal of the time tends to do.