SAVATAGE – Sirens and The Dungeons Are Calling (Reissues)

SAVATAGE - Sirens and The Dungeons Are Calling (Reissues)


Metal Blade
Release date: April 23, 2002

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Not as frequent as Iron Maiden, but still so often that Gene Simmons would like the idea, Savatage – or more correct; their record companies – reissue their back-catalog. These discs have been around for a while now, and there’s more coming, as the last three (“Handful Of Rain”, “Dead Winter Dead” and “The Wake Of Magellan”) are said to be in the making. It’s natural to divide Savatage into a chapter one and a chapter two, life before the killing of Criss Oliva, and life after the death of the most underrated player and greatest with-a-band guitar player there ever was…

Sirens and The Dungeons Are Calling, originally released in ’83 and ’85 and here reissued by Metal Blade, were both recorded at the same time, according to main man and genius songwriter Jon Oliva (vocals), during an intense two-day session. The records show a young and promising, but naive band, and nothing but the music is the band’s focus – like it mostly always was with the ‘tage. The original releases were poorly mixed, three of the songs off The Dungeons Are Calling were never mixed at all. These reissues tone down the bass and show the guitar further up in the mix, and the rework is nothing but brilliant. These releases show the music as it was meant to be, I believe, crunchy – featuring a creatively unique young guitar player. It took 9 years after his death to for someone to give these records the sound they deserve and a mix Criss would have been proud of. All hail the Blade for that!

Savatage’s original drummer, Steve “Dr. Killdrums”” Wacholz, has been a coordinator for Metal Blade, he has made a timeline for the band, and I bet he dug deep into his photo archive to find a really cool and vintage photo of Avatar (pre-Savatage). The covers are so-called silver editions, very well done – and I really look forward to the gold versions in a few years… (Sarcasm mode switched on!)

About the music on Sirens and The Dungeons Are Calling, you can still take a bow and admire the band’s unique way to separate themselves from the music industry even at that time. Savatage always sounded like one in a million, or billion for that matter, and still to this day, even with one half of the great Oliva brothers missing, there are many aspects that remain typical ‘tage. I have seen reporters trying to say “they sound like Savatage” about other bands, but I never agreed to any of that. I have never heard anything come close to sound like Savatage. Well, except for Jon Oliva and Chris Caffery’s little side project some 7 years ago, Doctor Butcher.

Oh well, back to the re-issues, I see no use in digging further into the original recordings, except saying that they sound a lot better here, so let’s talk about all the bonus material instead. Wacholz has indeed not only dug deep into his photo archive, but also his tape collection. Technically, it’s a bit weird that demos from the time between Hall Of the Mountain King and Gutter Ballet are included, but these songs have circulated so long among bootleg collectors, so why not release them from a first generation copy. (My assumptions might be wrong, though, and these recordings could be something Metal Blade has gotten from someone else…) Criss Oliva developed incredibly much at that time, and these songs are a great gift to those who claim that Hall Of the Mountain King was the last great Metal record the band did, and that Gutter Ballet had too much piano and mellow stuff. Included on Sirens are “Target” and “Living On The Edge Of Time”, the first one a mid-tempo song that later was formed into “Symmetry” from Handful Of Rain, the latter a straight-forward rocker more old school ‘tage than anything found on Gutter Ballet. The main riff is not so different from Iron Maiden’s “Wicker Man”, a song the Brits(?) wrote some 12 years later. Also, stupidly hidden as track number 99 on the disc, you find an acoustic recording with Criss Oliva, where he shows that Jimmy Page was a great inspiration to him – I think this unnamed piece reminds a little of Led Zeppelin’s “Rain Song.” And before I stop talking about Sirens; I seriously claim that this record is one of the first of its kind, call it Power Metal or whatever you want. The title track, written with Criss’ hand injured, is still and will always be a must in the band’s live set.

“The Dungeons Are Calling” was first released as a strictly limited (300) cassette in 1984, with a different cover, but was given a thorough release and distribution right before Savatage signed with major Atlantic in 1985. Gotz Khuenemund, head of Rock Hard, the German Metal-bible, calls its title track one of the best metal songs of all times, and indeed, here are nothing but killer songs lined up. This is Metal with no compromises, with an attitude only the band itself managed to recreate once again in the following years. And the fact that three songs never made it to the mix, “By The Grace Of The Witch,” “Visions Of Hell” and “The Whip,” sound so much better on this reissue, makes this record a crown jewel in the collection. Alas, a fuck-up sees “The Whip” twice on the record, and the cover says “Dungeons…”, not “The Dungeons…” – those are the small mistakes done by Metal Blade here. With the improved sound, I can forgive them… Of course, the package could have included lots more, but then again – Metal Blade will likely not make any money on these. I have a feeling that this is put together by fans, for fans…

The bonus tracks on The Dungeons Are Calling are the rest of the demo mentioned earlier. “Metal Head” is an uptempo Metal song that not really lives up to the band’s standard. I mean, it’s a cool song, it just doesn’t live up to the Savatage standard. “Before I Hang” is a killer riff monster that many have anticipated that Jon would bring to surface in the recent years, but he never did. It has a plain and simple riff, but sounds amazing with Criss’ unique expression and tone. “Stranger In The Dark” is the first part of what would later be “Larry Elbows” from the Streets: A Rock Opera sessions, a character that was taken out of the story, and its last part was used to end “Follow Me” from Edge Of Thorns. The hidden bonus track here, again as track 99, is a rap that Oliva Bros. did a late night in the studio, probably with very thin blood… The rap is very sarcastic, but when Jon sings “I don’t have a monkey on my back – I got the whole Zoo and that’s a fact”, you know it was also more than a fraction of the truth back then…


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