WELCOME TO THE DUNGEONS! It’s Part One of the Early Savatage series!
Welcome to the early Savatage series! The first two Sava-platters, Sirens and The Dungeons are Calling, were recorded together in one day. The 15 songs could not fit on a single record, and so the songs were released on an album and an EP. Did you know you have to buy four separate CDs just to get all the bonus tracks?
The Savatage catalogue is a mess of reissues and bonus tracks, all but impossible to keep track of. The worst of them for scattershot releases are Sirens and The Dungeons are Calling. As part of this series, we will examine the first album, the EP, and all the associated bonus tracks & where to find them. Today, let’s have a listen to Sirens.
Low budget, borderline thrash metal — that’s Sirens. There are no hints of the progressive rock to come, but plenty of Criss Oliva riffs, a treasured commodity that we haven’t had any of since his untimely death in 1993. The title track packs in slick lightning guitar licks with a concrete riff. You can certainly hear the outlines of massive songs to come, like “Hall of the Mountain King” and “Gutter Ballet”, but this is straightforward headbangin’ metal, with a slow section in the middle to catch your breath. Beware the “Sirens” or you too might end up on the rocks!
“Holocaust” delivers an atom bomb riff, the kind only Criss OIiva could write. A nuclear apocalypse was reliable 80s subject matter for metal lyrics. “What will 2000 bring? The war of a billion things.” I sure wish I could go back in time and tell Jon Oliva about Y2k, the disaster that wasn’t! Good song though, with lots of punch courtesy of original bassist Keith Collins, and Steve “Dr. Killdrums” Wacholz. The end of the world continues on “I Believe”, humanity’s search for their next homeworld. Another great metal tune, made effective by the hard core metal shrieks of Jon Oliva blasting over the riffs of his brother Criss. When they hit the warp speed, “I Believe” becomes Starship Motorhead! The metal blitz ends the first side on “Rage”, a song that sounds exactly how you think it should.
Mid-paced metal dominates “On the Run”. It’s the first less-than-impressive song on the album, but worse is the BDSM-flavoured speed metal farce “Twisted Little Sister”. Filler without hooks. “Living for the Night” delivers some thrills via the splendid riffage, as does “Scream Murder”. The second side is clearly inferior to the first, but fortunately it ends on a ballad called “Out on the Streets”. They would later re-record this song for the ill-fated Fight for the Rock album, but the original has an innocence and vibrancy the re-recording doesn’t.
Everyone will have their own takeaways from Sirens, but to these ears, there are a few songs in the middle of the album that should have been replaced with others. If Sirens and Dungeons are Calling were distilled into a single 10 track LP, it could have been a landmark of the genre. (We’ll look at the EP next time.) Instead we have an album you’d call “good”. Not “great”, simply “good”. Which is a shame because the tunes “Sirens”, “Holocaust”, “I Believe” and “Out on the Streets” really are great.