Part Two of the Early Savatage series!
More adventures in metal! Savatage recorded Sirens and The Dungeons are Calling mini-album in just one day. The 15 songs could not fit on a single record, so they released two. Did you know you have to buy four separate CDs just to get all the bonus tracks? Ridiculous but true! The Savatage catalogue is a mess of reissues and bonus tracks, all but impossible to keep track of. Yesterday we examined the debut LP Sirens. Today we delve into the Dungeons, before finishing up with the bonus tracks in a separate review.
On their first four releases, Savatage always opened with a terrifying title track. Dungeons is no exception. Soft acoustic guitars lull you in, but eerie keyboards are your warning. Like sleeping beasts disturbed and awaken, Steve “Doc” Walcholz (drums) and Criss Oliva (guitar) then bare their serrated teeth. The Oliva riff is one that could only have been written by him. Nobody else composes jagged guitar thunder like Criss Oliva did. Ass thoroughly kicked, you are now ready to proceed… but only “By the Grace of the Witch”! This slippery metal dirge boasts yet another unmistakable Criss riff. The first side closes with “Visions”, manic thrash metal but with two hands firmly on the wheel.
A nice Priest-like chug serves as the foundation of “Midas Knight”, a song which easily could have been an outtake from Stained Class. It is one of the best constructed songs of the early Savatage canon. And just listen to those cannons they call drums! Then it is time to journey to the “City Beneath the Surface”. A deceivingly intro leads into another thrash ‘eadbanger. Once your neck has recovered, you’ll probably be too worn out for “The Whip”. Not the best Savatage tune, and possibly the worst from the first two records. Nothing wrong with dirty sex songs, but they should be clever. There’s nothing clever about “The Whip” and though it has an excellent riff, the chorus is a stinker.
The Dungeons are Calling is a more well-rounded listen than Sirens. It’s shorter, which helps, but one wonders if all 15 songs were re-arranged, could you come up with a better running order? Regardless, Savatage were off to the races. Major label deals and MTV videos were still in the future, so Sirens and Dungeons are the clearest view of the young and not-so-innocent Savatage. Renowned metal wordsmith Martin Popoff calls them “debuts of frightening skill and authority,” while praising Sirens as possibly the greatest indie album of the genre. There is something here of massive substance that the band would only build upon, but Dungeons goes down easier.
Next time we’ll look at all 12 bonus tracks, from the four CDs you need to get ’em all. As you’ll see, some are quite significant.