Savatage Ranked: A Collaboration with 80sMetalMan

A collaborative effort with 80sMetalMan!  You can check his list of Savatage Albums – Ranked by clicking here!


12.  Fight For the Rock (1986)

It would be ridiculous for any Savatage fan to complain about keyboards, Jon Oliva’s main weapon.  However before he really started givin’ ‘er on keys with Gutter Ballet, they employed them heavily on Fight For the Rock with guest Dvoskin on the boards.  These keys over-dominate in the mix and sound tacked on and out of place.  Fight For the Rock could have been higher in the ranking if the band weren’t chasing hits by their own admission.  Nothing wrong with the ballad “Day After Day”, and there are quite a few great Sava-songs on this album.  The production tanks it, sadly.  The band would never make another album this commercial again.

11.  The Dungeons are Calling (1984)

Just a mini-album that followed Sirens.  Highlights include the ferocious title track (what a riff!) and the slower, grinding “By the Grace of the Witch”.  Some of the other songs are a bit thrashy, a bit chaotic, so it’s all a matter of taste.  I don’t think “The Whip” is particularly good but if you wanna get your head bangin’, then go for it.  One of the CD bonus tracks, “Fighting For Your Love”, later became “Crying For Love” on Fight For the Rock.  Good tune and maybe should have been on this mini-album, but also would have softened it if it was.

10.  Dead Winter Dead (1995)

I’m really really sorry about this.  I know it’s the iconic album that launched Trans-Siberian Orchestra.  I just think they had better concept albums.  Not the concept is flawed but Savatage is a band with four concept albums (or rock operas) and one of them has to come in last.  Tracks like “I Am”, “Doesn’t Matter Anyway”, and “Dead Winter Dead” don’t hold up against superior material.  There’s also an overly long intro.  “This Isn’t What We Meant” and “This Is the Time (1990)” are emotional and awesome though.  I remember being disappointed that Alex Skolnick couldn’t stick around to record another album, and I really missed his greasy metal tone.  That’s not a slight against Al Pitrelli and Chris Caffery who came in to replace him.  It was nice to have the Mountain King, Jon Oliva, back in the band after two albums “officially” out.

9. Sirens (1983)

Not a bad debut by any stretch, with a monumental monolithic title track.  “Holocaust” is pretty awesome, as is “I Believe”, a rare song about aliens.  “On the Run” ain’t bad. “Twisted Little Sister” is a skip like “The Whip”, but the album ends on a strong note with “Out On the Streets”, another early song re-recorded and polished up on Fight For the Rock.

8. Gutter Ballet (1989)

This is so hard to pick “least favourites”. It kills me to put Gutter Ballet here in this position, since the title track is probably my favourite Savatage song of all time.  “When The Crowds Are Gone” would be in the top 10.  Banger “Of Rage and War” would make the top 30 list.  All of those songs are on side one.  Side two is less memorable, though it does feature Savatage’s first foray into conceptual territory.  The final three songs, “Mentally Yours”, “Summer Rain” and “Thorazine Shuffle” form a suite about insanity.  By the next album they were ready to do a full-blown rock opera.

7. Power of the Night (1985)

Raise the fist of the metal child!  The major label debut, produced by Max Norman.  Similar in strength, speed and heaviness to Sirens and The Dungeons Are Calling, the previous two releases.  Heavier than either due to sharp, lethal production work by Norman.  Some killer songs here:  title track, “Warriors”, and “Unusual” are all top tier.  “Washed Out” could be one of the heaviest songs they ever did.  Demonstrating their diversity, it ends on a decent ballad called “In the Dream”.  Really strong album, front to back, with a variety of heavy metal styles.

6. Hall of the Mountain King (1987)

It’s hard to believe that Fight for the Rock came in between Power of the Night and Hall of the Mountain King!  The two are brother records and it sounds impossible that anything came between them.  Mountain King was the breakthrough, with that incredible music video for the wicked title track.  Now produced by Paul O’Neill, the album sounds crisp and heavy.  Nary a wasted track here, with perhaps only the thrashy “White Witch” deserving the skip button.  “Strange Wings” could be the top track, with then-Black Sabbath singer Ray Gillen on backing vocals on “Strange Wings”.  Top five Sava-tune territory.  But then there’s also “Beyond the Doors of the Dark”, very Sabbathy itself (Tony Martin era).  “The Price You Pay”, “Devastation”…what an incredible album!

5. Handful of Rain (1994)

Tragedy strikes.  Founding Savatage guitarist Criss Oliva was killed in a traffic accident.  His original snake-like style, tone, and compositional sharpness would never be heard again.  Ex-Testament guitarist Alex Skolnick came in to do the album and tour, and ex-singer Jon Oliva worked behind the scenes playing virtually everything Alex didn’t.  The band “Savatage” didn’t really play on it.  Doc Killdrums, Steve Wacholtz, was pictured on the sleeve but it was Oliva who played drums (and bass and rhythm guitar).  Lead singer Zack Stevens did an admirable job all over this album loaded with memorable songs.  Perhaps the best of the new songs was the operatic “Chance” featuring Savatage’s first foray into counterpoint vocals:  layers of different lines singing different lyrics and melodies, but all complimentary and building to an explosive climax.  Meanwhile “Taunting Cobras” and “Nothing’s Going On” covered the heavy side of things.  The closing track, “Alone You Breathe” is easily the most emotional.  It revisits parts their magnum opus Streets: A Rock Opera for added hair-raising impact.

4. Poets and Madmen (2001)

The final Savatage, and fourth conceptual album.  Zack Stevens departed and Jon Oliva sang all the lead vocals himself for the first time since Streets (1990).  By this time we were used to big Savatage counterpoint epics, and this time it’s a 10 minute track called “Morphine Child”.  What a massive, plutonium-heavy riff!  All backed by a dramatic, emotional song.  While we did miss Stevens, Oliva more than handled the complex job with a host of backing singers similar to Trans-Siberian Orchestra.  This final album is about an asylum, but it’s more complex than that.  Many great tunes:  “Commisar”, “Drive”, “I Seek Power” and “Awaken” all slay.  At least they went out on a high note.  That counterpoint is the bomb!

3. The Wake of Magellan (1997)

Don’t see the storms are forming, don’t see or heed the warning.  Third conceptual album, and probably a hair better than Poets and Madmen simply because it has both Stevens and Oliva on lead vocals.  Brilliant songs with a nautical theme.  “Turns to Me”, “Complaint in the System”, “Paragons of Innocence”, “The Hourglass”, all great songs.  Not as heavy as their trashy past but many magnitudes more brilliant.  This time the big counterpoint song is the stunning title track, and it is the pinnacle of their counterpoint experiments.  The rapid-fire lead vocals are challenging, exiting and chill-inducing.  The band themselves found it difficult to perform.  A stellar album, lyrically and musically.  Stevens really went out on a high.  He was replaced by a singer named Damond Jiniya who unfortunately never recorded with the band before they went inactive.

2. Edge of Thorns (1993)

Jon Oliva left Savatage.  A shattering loss.  But behind the scenes, he wasn’t gone.  He still wrote and played keyboards.  He just didn’t want to tour, so Savatage brought in a new lead singer named Zack Stevens.  At the time he was compared to Geoff Tate and James LaBrie, but he soon came into his own.  Oliva personally selected him and trained him.  Taking their time, Savatage honed a fantastic album called Edge of Thorns, with a cutting-edge piano-riffed title track that took the fans by storm.  Sounding like a natural followup to Gutter Ballet, the album was stacked top to bottom with great songs both soft and heavy.  The lighter side included the piano ballad “All That I Bleed”.  On the heavy side, we have an epic called “Follow Me”, a thrashy scorcher called “Lights Out” and a dark stomp called “Skraggy’s Tomb” and another called “Conversation Piece”.  Not a conceptual album, but one that ebbs and flows just like one.  Zack’s best.

1. Streets: A Rock Opera (1990)

Grown from the seed that was “When The Crowds Are Gone” from Gutter Ballet, Savatage and Paul O’Neill conceived their first rock opera.  Leaning heavily on the piano, it was a startling change.  Yet song for song and word for word, this is Savatage at their most powerful.  Delving into Christianty, addiction, and miracles, the album was a surprise trip that really captured the imagination.  It’s more than just the story of a down and out rocker named D.T. Jesus.  It’s a story about believing and forgiveness.  The whole thing culminates with “Believe”, a top five Sava-track for certain.  Most of the highlights have ballady qualities, such “A Little Too Far”, “Can You Hear Me Now”, “If I Go Away”, “Heal My Soul” and “Somewhere In Time”.  Meanwhile “Sammy and Tex” covers the thrashy side.  Many songs had to be cut so it could fit onto one CD.  “Stay” and “Desiree” were later released as bonus tracks on other releases.  Also available is “D.T. Jesus”, a slower more soulful version of “Jesus Saves”. There is also a narrated version of the album including a cut track called “Larry Elbows”.  Though the album was a bit of a flop for Savatage, and many fans expressed disappointed in the softening sound, those kinds of albums often turn out to be the special ones.  Streets certainly is.  It’s so powerful it’ll give you chills.

8 comments

  1. Our ranking aren’t too dissimilar. One amusing note is on “Dead Winter Dead.” While we have it at opposite ends of our rankings, we both agree on the two best songs on that album. Thanks for writing the joint post, it’s been an honour.

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  2. Impossible task. Rating would change on any given day depending on the mood….I couldn’t decide between Mountain King, Gutter, Streets and Edge of Thorns. Loved how good Poets and Madmen was, but it still doesn’t rival any of the 4 I mentioned.
    Power,Fight and Dungeons are the least favorites. What’s wrong with Dead Winter Dead? Listening to it now. Could almost say that any Savatage is good.

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  3. I saw that “Power of the Night” album cover and the memories came surging back. I bought that album, the moment I spotted it in the record store, after hearing early Savatage on the Power Hour and Midnight Metal Hour. I mentioned those old Q107 and ChumFM weekend shows in a comment on another of your posts. Savatage got kind of lost in the shuffle as “in between” kind of band; they weren’t Thrash metal, or Speed, or Death, or Doom, or Power metal and they certainly weren’t on the posing level at the other end of the spectrum. They were “just” a heavy metal band and, even though they were a damn good one, you had to be in a more specific category at that time in order to get noticed.

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    1. Hey Dave, agreed fully with all of this. They verged into the thrash territory with stuff like White Witch but they were never all the way in that world. It’s too bad that they never broke to a bigger level. However they really grew and managed to put out some impressively complex late period work. If they only they had more commercial success maybe Jon would have kept at it.

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