SAVATAGE – SuPerValues [Reissues]


Release date: June 3, 2002

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Back to Savatage’s re-releases, this time over to SPV’s “SuPerValues”, which presents the band’s six first releases for Atlantic Records (six was the total in Europe, while Atlantic US somehow held on to the band even after 1993). As opposed to the Metal Blade re-issues, these records are not improved sound-wise. Some of them would indeed have needed a face-lift, while others still stand the test of time. Musically, most of the material do… What’s SuPerValue here, are first of all the booklets. A few never before seen photos, lyrics that have never been printed before, but most importantly; there’s a lot of text to read through. All penned by Clay Marshall, you can read about the band in-depth, and simply understand why Savatage in my book is the greatest soap opera in music. You will hear how you can pick up a rental car and take care of tour transportation, simply by lending the car a few more weeks than agreed on, and how to check out from a London hotel and not pay the bill, and still bring all the gear with you to the airport. And you will know how the police told Jon Oliva to keep his mouth shut when busted for drug possession. All this, and more…

Power Of The Night, first released in 1985 and produced by the well known Max Norman, sees Savatage grow as a band. Unlike most releases in ’85, Power… has a little keyboards, though mostly used as intros. The songs are bone-crushing Heavy Metal, and the world starts to realize what’s about to come. The bonus tracks on the disc are “Sirens” from Dallas 1990 and “Power…” from Cleveland 1987. I’ll get back to those later.

That’s right, the world is about to wake up and get to know the talent coming out of Tampa, Florida. But then – and as always when things are going great for Savatage, still to this day – disaster strikes. Jon Oliva is writing a lot of different material, songs not always in the Savatage vein, and the record label likes the stuff. Blinded by respect for authorities and by the fact that the label wants to fly the band to London to record, the guys agree to record and release these songs as the next Savatage album. All in all, not more than two-three songs live up to the Savatage standard, and the producers have no clue what kind of music and talents they are working with. In retrospect, considered the year and the songs, Fight For The Rock is not a weak album, but to say that it’s a great Savatage record, can not be justified. Jon doesn’t use his unique voice in the unique way the fans expect, and even a few cover songs are recorded to kiss label reps’ asses. The new and more commercial Savatage is a disappointment to the fans – but also to the band, that hardly includes any of the songs in their live set at that time. Bonus tracks are “The Dungeons Are Calling” and “City Beneath The Surface”, both from the radio broadcast in Dallas 1990.

Some wise-ass in New York, that I owe my life, tells producer Paul O’Neill about Savatage. Paul agrees to check them out, and flies to Tampa to see the band in concert. Paul returns in a state of shock, not only because Jon started the gigs back then with “Hiiiii! Welcome to hell!!!”, but he is amazed by the incredible talent the band now has, featuring new bass player Johnny Lee Middleton. He persuades Atlantic – not for the last time – to keep the band, and together O’Neill and Savatage makes Hall Of The Mountain King, a record that indeed stands out as one of the milestones in heavy metal. The record holds nothing but killer songs, and also the flirt with Edvard Grieg’s “Hall Of The Mountain King” classical piece sees the band get recognition. “Prelude To Madness” has bits and pieces from the classical “Hall…” opus, and the band’s title track, a heavy metal opus just as big as Grieg’s classical piece, ends every Savatage gig to this day. Grieg is of course credited for the Heavy Metal song, and not for the classical piece… Ronni Le Tekro from TNT once said that if Grieg were alive today, he would have been a Metalhead! “Strange Wings” is the most radio-friendly song, and is lifted as a promo single from the LP. It features a duet with Jon and Ray Gillen, at that time the singer for Black Sabbath – a band that Jon already had turned down doing vocal duties for – and if you believe the two blokes had a good time in the studio – well, buy the CD and read the booklet…

Hall… also features the first collaboration with the amazing cover artist Gary Smith, a collaboration that ended in 1997 where Smith’s last work with the band was just a t-shirt motive. The bonus tracks are the title track and “Devastation”, both from Cleveland 1987. Now, let’s get to the core of my little problem with these re-issues. The bonus tracks are all incredibly good recordings, and they show how above all the band was back in the day. But first of all, the most loyal fans already have them collected, as all songs were on the promo-CD From The Dungeons To The Streets from 1992. Secondly, the songs are cut from their original form. “…Dungeons…”, “City…” and “Sirens” were all played “in one” back then, like a medley but still as full versions. It’s disrespectful and stupid to split them and spread them out on different releases. I wonder if there are lots of disrespectful people out there working behind the scenes, who don’t even have a clue how to keep Criss Oliva’s legacy alive in the best way. And also, I still believe that the band has plenty of unreleased Criss era material laying around – so why not use it? Why not use more of the recordings that found the way to the Ghost In The Ruins, the tribute to Criss? Well, I’ll make sure my voice is heard next time, in a few years from now, when someone needs to cash in on a band that still sells pretty good from their back catalog.

Stay tuned, more to come as SPV are making them…


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