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savatage shows you can go home again

St. Petersburg Times: Weekend Section, 12th June 1998
By: Logan Niell
Transcribed by: Gonzo the Silenced

Savatage, the once bay-area-based metal band, makes a homecoming at Jannus Landing Wednesday night, its first appearance here in a couple of years.

It's not that the band is facing extinction, says keyboardist Jon Oliva, the remaining original member of Savatage. In fact, the band has racked up a healthy share of frequent flyer miles in recent months touring Europe and South America in support of its The Wake of Magellan album.

"We're anxious to start touring the States," Oliva said in a press release a few weeks back.

The band has recorded fourteen albums in its sixteen-year history and remains the most successful metal band ever to call Tampa Bay home. Magellan, a collection of songs telling a fictional tale about a descendent of famed 16-century Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan, won the band some respect in critical circles and provided proof that Savatage has evolved considerably from its days as headbangers extraordinaire.

"We simply got bored with doing the same thing, and began to experiment," said Oliva of Savatage's evolution. "We began to develop our own kind of orchestrated sound. We're trying to keep things fresh.

The overhaul of the band's sound paid off with a moral victory when the song "Christmas Eve" gave the band its first real chart success. The seasonal ode, which chronicled the strife in war-torn Bosnia, propelled a band that never had much use for mainstreams music right into the middle of it.

Savatage began life in Tampa in the late Seventies as the trio Metropolis, with Oliva on bass, joined by his younger brother Criss on guitar, and Steve Wacholz on drums.

The ensuing years found the band adding bassist Keith Collins, with Jon switching to keyboards. With the metal scene heating up nationwide, Savatage eventually outgrew local stages, winning a contract with Atlantic Records.

"We were kids when we started Savatage," Oliva once told Jam magazine. "We thought that when we signed that contract we were going to get rich. We had absolutely no conception of what the business was like. We spent the first four or five years not making any money."

Eventually, the band made its way up the ladder, achieving success alongside mid- to upper-level metal bands such as Poison, Slaughter, Judas Priest, Great White and Skid Row.

Even into the '90s, when many of the band's peers went into hiding, Savatage found a loyal, willing audiences in rock clubs across the country and toured extensively throughout Europe.

But the band's good fortunes came to an abrupt halt on a highway outside Zephyrhills in October of 1993 when 30-year-old Criss Oliva was killed by a drunken driver in a head-on car crash.

From that point forward, said Jon, Savatage could never be the same. Over the past few years, the band has drifted in and out of activity; however, Jon has vowed to keep the band as a tribute to his brother's talents.

"I know he never would have wanted me to put an end to everything," Jon told Jam. "Both of us worked so hard and sacrificed so much to get the band where it was. He would have wanted me to push the band as far as I could push it. As long as I keep Savatage going , that keeps his memory alive for me."

Savatage performs Wednesday at 8 p.m. at the Jannus Landing, with guests Anthrophobia and Smackhead. Tickets are $13