Part Four of the Early Savatage series!
Raise the first of the metal child!
If any fans were worried that Savatage would “sell out” after signing to Atlantic in 1984, those fears were swiftly cast aside. Power of the Night, their first on a major label, was produced by metal-meister-to-be, Max Norman. The band had plenty of material demoed (in a session with Rick Derringer) and were ready for the studio.
Nothing was toned down; if anything, Savatage turned it up. Melting the speakers with the title track, a fancy keyboard opening might have fooled some. When the patented Criss Oliva riff commences, you better hold on tight.
“Children of the metal movement,
The legions growing stronger,
Stronger than they believe.”
With Norman at the helm, Savatage achieved a sharp, biting sound. Relentless beats courtesy of Steve “Dr. Killdrums” Wacholz helped them cement themselves as true metal competitors. The foursome from Florida were not to be ignored.
Savatage were improving as songwriters. “Unusual” puts atmosphere over headbangin’ riffs, and effectively so. Singer Jon Oliva became increasingly interested in keyboards album by album until it eventually became the focus of the band. Here it works to cloak you in a dark weave of ominous metal. Then, if you were hungering for more riffs, bow down to the fuckin’ rad* “Warriors”. Another Criss Oliva riff as only he could write them, “Warriors” rivals Judas Priest for absurd fantasy metal thrills. It gets a little silly on “Necrophilia”, but the headbangin’ does not wane. You might break your neck on “Washed Out”, a little speed metal ditty to cure what ails you.
Side two switches the gears a bit with a Scorpions-Dokken hybrid called “Hard for Love”, which generated some faux-controversy in the 80s. It’s the most commercial Savatage song yet, but it works remarkably well due to the sharp edges; not blunted by improved production values. Still riding high with quality metal, “Fountain of Youth” takes things to a wizardly world inhabited by Dio and his cohorts. (Of note: it’s one of the few Savatage songs with a Doc Wacholz writing credit.)
Savatage’s speed metal adventures can be hit or miss. “Skull Session” is a miss, though you may enjoy the lyrics about an “X-rated lesson”. There’s no real melody and the riff isn’t one of Criss’ most notable. Plenty of screams though. A mid-tempo “Stuck On Your” doesn’t get the car out of the mud. It’s just a little dull compared to the scorchers on side one.
Ending Power of the Night on a ballad was a ballsy move, but “In the Dream” is one of the best from the early years. Indeed, Jon Oliva re-recorded it acoustically for one of the many reissues of Sirens/Dungeons are Calling. Dr. Killdrums does a fine job of punctuating the song’s drama with short bursts of swinging limbs.
Steamhammer included two live bonus tracks.** From Cleveland in 1987, a spot-on “Power of the Night” is a furious rendition of a song already smoking hot. “Sirens” live in Dallas three years later is just as furious, though Jon’s voice is more worn. They also included excellent liner notes, lengthy and detailed. Unfortunately the cover art on these Steamhammer reissues is atrociously blurry.
Power of the Night was the last Savatage album with original bassist Keith Collins. Originally a guitarist, Collins’ bass wasn’t up to snuff at all times so Criss Oliva had to play on several tracks to fix portions they weren’t happy with. Now that it’s encoded on a little silver disc forever, the final album is tight and punchy.
Unfortunately, it didn’t sell well enough for Atlantic. Bumpy road ahead!
* “Warriors” is “fuckin’ rad” according to Holen MaGroin
** Like all Savatage albums, different issues have different sets of bonus tracks. These will have to be covered at a later time as a “complete” Savatage collection can be an expensive proposition.