Savatage: Criss Oliva (guitar); Jon Oliva (piano, vocals); Johnny Lee Middleton (bass); Steve "Doc" Wacholz (drums). Recorded at 321 Studios, New York. Song List: Disc 1 1. Streets 2. Jesus Saves 3. … see full wiki
The Bottom Line: One of those times when you really wonder why you have not heard of such a great composition. Buy it!
Just how would the great composers of yesteryear sound if they were alive today? Would Beethoven be producing his 5th Symphony or would he be doing something similar to what Savatage has created here? I tend to think that as one of the innovators of great music he would tend to retain the classical edge but would use any instrumentation available to produce the inspirations that are in his head. Thus, it is easy to think that this group may have just happened upon a formula (with a major helping hand from producer and songwriter, Paul ONeill) that could very well be called the modern day symphony!!
As the driving force behind both Trans Siberian Orchestra and Savatage, ONeill has opened up a whole new genre of music. The heavy metal symphonic collage he and the Oliva brothers, (Chris who has since died and Jon) captures a rare and totally captivating sound that is wholly their own.
So that brings us to Streets the 7th release from the group Savatage. The disc is a concept album that does what so many others wish they could have, that is, actually present a story and carry it throughout the whole disc. While groups like Pink Floyd and The Who have climbed this mountain with a certain amount of success, they were never able to pull of what Savatage does here. And that is to create what can truly be called ..A Rock Opera!!
The overture of every great work is the canvas where the story is to be painted. This album is no exception. The title track Streets begins with a childrens choir singing an excerpt from Mozarts The Magic Flute. Then, a single bass note is hit and carried until a set of chiming bells bring you into the vocals of Jon Oliva.
As darkness falls so hard Come and play, yeah
Somewhere, out there Alone and out of place Streets of illusion Sooth the shattered faith
Jon Olivas unique voice brings the listener out there into the lonely, desolate world of the streets of New York City. That short opening verse will have your imagination running wild with pictures of street bums holding paper covered bottles and dirty street urchins who long for the safety and happiness that a normal family life can give them. The canvas has been laid for the remainder of the story. This song paints one of the grittiest pictures you can ever conceive. Just like they wanted it too! Criss Oliva, using his six string assault weapon hammers out cringing chords that only further your dive into this world of depravity and despair. He reminds the listener that this is a ROCK opera after all!!!
From this terrific beginning, we are taken to the start of the story proper with a bum on the street starts telling us the story of DT Jesus, as he puts it, one character that has made it out of here. With the song Jesus Saves we learn in true rock and roll fashion of the rise and fall of this music legend. DT was a guy who came from the streets, made it big and then as so many do, fell off the top of the mountain faster then he got there! Before long, he was right back where he started from.
Last seen drinking wine Beneath a flashing sign Promising salvation to strays.
The band takes a total heavy metal attitude to the intro of this story. Screaming guitar work by Criss Oliva is one of the highlights to Chapter One of the DT Jesus story. There is a truly petrifying guitar solo that captures the essence of the storyline. After hearing a lot of Savatage music, I have to wonder why this guy was not on the top of everyones list of guitar players. He is really terrific but I think that it is the labeling of his band as metal that works against his being accepted as the gifted player that he was. Another unique aspect of this song is the keyboard work of his brother Jon. As a contrast to Criss thrashing, Jon brings an almost Las Vegas feel to the song with his swirling organ and synthesizer work. The combination of the two is what makes this band so awesome. It is a magnificent piece that works on so many levels musically as well as lyrically.
The next song, Tonight He Grins Again takes us out on the streets with DT after his fall from grace.
Nighttime again Seems Im my only friend Wander the streets alone The lost in search of his own
Once again Ive played the clown Used my friends and let them down Walk the streets just staring out Late at night the strange come out.
This line after a stark piano beginning takes us down into the gutter where DT seems to call home. The power of addiction is all consuming and we feel the pain that overwhelms Mr. Jesus as he realizes just how far he has fallen.
But as Paul ONeill stated in an interview with Rockline, this song is about more than just DT Jesus. Jon Oliva was dealing with his own drug problems at the time this song was written. As Paul says When Jon sings Im just looking for a friend, but no one seems to be around, Just this monkey that Ive found, he is singing about himself as much as DT Jesus. Knowing that Jon is singing an autobiographical piece makes this powerful song about the horrors of drug addiction all the more real.
Once you have hit the bottom like our hero DT has, a person will either just stay the course and end up in a ditch somewhere or, you will come to the understanding that your current path will just lead to destruction. Savatage shows us how DT chooses the second way and comes to a Strange Reality about his situation. He realizes that he has known there is a better way and his present situation is a dead end street!
Who;s this before me Dressed in rags, soaked in gin Is it a sign or a warning? Am I know where hes been?
The band uses a very interesting musical background for this act of DTs resurgence. They take a very straightforward heavy guitar piece and turn it a little popish to give the listener the feel of being uplifted with the story! But dont fear, I doubt this song is ever going to be a Top 40 staple. When I say they ease up a bit, I mean that they have maybe come down to the Metallica level of metal music!
What really hooked me about this band is their ability to be as melodic as anyone in the music business while never deserting their metal roots. Take the next song where Jon tells us about DTs decision to get clean and sober. Using just his dynamic, gritty voice and a piano, he provides us with a stark and totally riveting portrait of DT (and Jon?) climbing out of the hole they have created.
When John Wayne caught the last train out And Spock and Kirk have had enough And no ones left to beam me up
Got to get back Got to get back I never meant to take it this far
Oliva puts so much emotion into this song you have to believe that he is singing as much about himself as his character. Either way this is one terrific ballad that is perfectly placed within the storyline.
So now Mr. Jesus has rejoined the living and decided to resurrect his music career. The song Youre Alive is the joyous declaration by our hero of the fact that he is back!!!
So D. T. returned To the ground he had burned in the past And the press they all laughed And they said it never lasts.
Well the crowd they came in Just to see a man back from the dead As he stood on the stage It echoed in his head
When youre skating on ice too thin to take it You got to move fast or else youll break it So throw back your hair and let the wind rush by And youre alive!!
This is rightfully one of the fastest paced songs on the disc. A true rocker that is just way too short. Give the guy his moment!!
Savatage returns to their speed metal roots to deliver the thrasher Sammy And Tex next. This is pure metal at its finest as the guys tell a story of a fight between a drug dealer who DT owes big bucks too and his road manager Tex. This is by far the loudest tune on the record as Sammy and Tex wrestle around before tragedy hits and Tex ends up with a knife in him! Here once more the band shows its ability to provide the proper music to fit the scene. This is a good chunk of heavy metal that really captures the feeling of a major brawl in progress. Welcome to the headbangers ball!!
With the death of his road manager, DT does what a lot of people in his situation would do. He questions the reason for such things happening and he even questions his faith. St. Patricks is where Mr. Jesus brings his questions to the only one that could provide the answers that he seeks. This is the moment where he asks God why. Tragedy can rock you, this is for sure and the band gives us a very insightful look inside the brain of one who has seen his share! But the lyrics are one half of a great combination in this song as the band delivers one of its finest moments with a piece that starts out as a tender ballad with a man praying to his God and builds to a thunderous crescendo as his faith is tested until it explodes musically when he does not get the answers he so desperately needs. This is a song that Andrew Lloyd Weber would be proud of! It reminds me very much of Phantom of the Opera with Criss Olivas guitar backing up those French Horns at the swirling finale of this melody. A classy piece of symphonic metal.
The story continues as DT continues to reflect upon what has happened in the next song Can You Hear Me Now. This eerie piece has Mr. Jesus reflecting back on his life and all that has happened. This song is as loud and unsettling as you would expect as DT takes a look back on a life filled with so much despair. Echoing drums and jangling guitar work gives this piece a haunting quality until Oliva crashes out with his six string as the hopelessness of DT becomes overwhelming. Another example of great songwriting from some very talented musicians!
If I havent mentioned it, this story takes place in New York City. A place where stories like this are common. Savatage reminds us of that fact in the song New York City Dont Mean Nothing. Starting out with a quiet acoustic guitar to highlight the good points of the metropolis, the band suddenly turns it up and with a booming crash of metal mayhem, they show us the dark and brooding underbelly of the city where you can loose yourself all too easy if youre not careful. The place where DT is in danger of returning too! This band has an edge over so many others. That is their ability to really capture the dark side with their metal background while still being able to pull off the truly melodic moments when necessary. This is what makes them one of my personal favorites.
With the comeback of DT to the status of rock star, the old trappings of life on the top start to surface also. Ghost In The Ruins is where our hero realizes what is happening this time and decides that this is not going to be a repeat of his first trip to the top! As he looks around this time, he sees how easy it is to fall into the old ways but he is much stronger now thanks to his time in the gutter a place he never wants to return to! He is determined to keep the faith and for once look to the future. Musically this song is one of the heaviest on the album. Chunky layers of guitars throughout the number really set a somber mood to this gritty tune. Nothing captures the dark side of life as well as thunderous Black Sabbath like chords!!
Jon Olivas piano work is the powerful opening to the next offering, If I Go Away. Here our hero looks to the future. Way into the future. He now wonders what people are going to think of him after his death.
If I go away What would still remain of me The ghost within your eyes The whisper in your sighs You see Believe And Im always there
In other words, he wonders if his work is going to stand the test of time. Is he good enough? Time will tell. I also have to say that this is one of the most melodic pieces on here. This is one of the times where you can really hear the combination of classical and metal mesh into a remarkable piece of music. It is one of the highlights on the disc.
Every addict will have a time when that monkey on his back decides to cause another itch! Agony And Ecstasy is about one of those times in the life of DT Jesus.
Listen to me from deep down inside Im the madness that just will not die With no regrets of what Ill do to you Before the night is over Youll be crawling to me.
Drugs are a demon that can come back and bite you at anytime and DT is finding that out. But this time at least, he is able to resist. But as the monkey says at the end of this song:
And just remember If you ever need me Im here.
This is Savatage as heavy metal rockers period. This song is as hard as any and one of the best heavy metal songs to ever have a message also! Real great work once again from this most underrated bands on the planet.
Savatage uses the piano to accentuate the feeling of spirituality in the haunting ballad about further conversations between our hero and God. Hear My Soul is DT Jesus praying for his soul after being tempted by the demons once more. His faith is growing stronger and for the first time you just might think that he is going to make it! Jon Oliva with his piano and vocals captures all the emotions of a tortured soul in this stirring ballad. A very touching piece delivered at the appropriate moment in the story. A good song that starts us on the way to the grand finale.
Somewhere In Time is DTs final soliloquy to the listeners. Here he tells us:
So what can I tell you If lifes the length of this play Perhaps God gave the answers To those with nothing to say.
He is still trying to find answers to all the questions that have plagued us since the beginning of time. But he realizes that it is a matter of faith.
The years are forgiven If Gods forgiving and kind Perhaps well all find the answers Somewhere in time
DT also finds that his faith is getting stronger. With the ability to look back on a life filled with both high and lows, he sees that a person without faith who relies upon the material things in this world, is nothing but a empty shell. You got to have faith!
Ive been grasping at rainbows Hanging on till the end But the rain is so real lord And the rainbows pretend The rainbows pretend
This is a very dramatic point in the story and Savatage captures the essence perfectly. Blending the Broadwayesque message with the electric savagery of their instruments. This is the perfect intro to the grand finale where all is brought together into a mesmerizing climax.
This album is one about choices and hope. Sometimes we make the right decisions, sometimes we dont. No matter though, there is always hope as long as you Believe. For if you cannot believe, then all hope is gone. In the culmination of the story God finally answers DTs questions.
So after all these one night stands Youve ended up with heart in hand A child alone On your own Retreating Regretful for the things youre not And all the dreams you havent got Without a home A heart of stone Lies bleeding.
And for all the roads you followed And for all you did not find And for all the things you had to leave behind
I am the way I am the light I am the dark inside the night I hear your hopes I feel your dreams Dont turn away Just take my hand And when you make your final stand Ill be right there Ill never leave All I ask of you Believe
God tells our hero that the only thing he needs is to have faith. All things are possible by believing. This realization finally comes to DT .
I never wanted to know Never wanted to see I wasted my time Till time wasted me Never wanted to go Always wanted to stay Cause the person I am Are the parts that I play So I plot and I plan Hope and I scheme To the lure of a night Filled with unfinished dreams And Im holding on tight To a world gone astray As they charge me for years I cant pay
God then tells him once more. All you have to do is believe. That is the message that Savatage is trying to leave you with. Never stop believing cause then all hope dies. With this spectacular closing, the band leaves the listener with a feeling that all is not lost. There is still hope. After dragging us through the dirty streets of New York and all the filth that a human being can bring down on himself, Savatage manages to show us that there is a way out. The album becomes an uplifting message about the human spirit and the power of faith!!
Few times in my memory can I recall an album where every song has such meaning and such depth. Both lyrically and musically this epic hits on all cylinders. I suppose that many will be turned off by the bands combining such traditional music with the world of heavy metal. Some also might be put off by the unique vocals of Jon Oliva. But without these factors, the disc would not be what it is. An epic masterpiece that fuses together musical styles to form a brand of music that Savatage can call their very own, one that they have refined even more on subsequent releases.
I can see where this band easily became the driving force behind Trans Siberian Orchestra. With their talent (I am including the brilliance of Paul ONeill) for songwriting and their overall musical ability, I look forward to many more releases from these guys.
You might want to check out my review of Trans Siberian Orchestra Beethovens Last Night: