Ear Music

REVIEW: Savatage – Sirens & The Dungeons are Calling – all bonus tracks, all editions

Part Three of the Early Savatage series!

SAVATAGE – Sirens & The Dungeons are Calling bonus tracks

This is where things go a little off the rails, so make sure your seatbelt is fastened securely.  We are about to journey through 12 bonus tracks, which run the gamut in every vector.  In terms of quality and origins, it’s the proverbial “bumpy ride”.  Worst of all, if you wish to partake in this voyage, it will cost you dearly.  In order to acquire all 12 bonus tracks, you will need to purchase four separate CDs, and an Infinity Gauntlet.  Maybe.

When I first encountered the album Sirens and its accompanying mini-album The Dungeons are Calling in the mid 90s, they were on cassette, separately.  There were no liner notes but I surmised them to be the first two Savatage releases.  It was impossible to find quality discographies in 1993, so my first time learning they existed was when I bought them.  These were not the rare Canadian Banzai editions, but the standard US releases on Combat.  (Amusingly, the sides listed on Sirens were Side A and Side Z.)


Metal Blade CD (1994)

Just as nature has its rules, so does music collecting.  Everything owned on cassette must be upgraded to CD.  By 1994 I was working at the Record Store, and the day we received notice that these albums were being reissued on CD was the day I ordered them for myself.  The reissue, by Metal Blade, handily put both records on one CD, with four bonus tracks to boot.  The cover was even reversible.  You could display the CD with either Sirens or Dungeons as the front artwork.  On the back:  a live photo of late guitarist Criss Oliva just giv’n ‘er on a string-bending solo.

There are two bonus tracks tacked onto the end of Sirens, and two more after Dungeons.  They remain the champions of bonus songs in the Savatage ouveur.  One is a hellbent live take of “Sirens” from the Gutter Ballet tour in 1990.  It’s the same version as the bootleg CD U.S.A. 1990.  The amusing thing here is that Jon Oliva clearly addresses the crowd as “Hello Deutschland!”  Well, that ain’t in the U.S.A., just a note to you bootleggers out there!  It’s a little bootleggy and not the same lineup as the rest of the albums, but hey — it was 1994 and this “bonus track” thing was relatively new.  It’s a blistering memento with the classic version of the band:  Jon & Criss Olivia, Steve “Doc” Wacholz, Johnny Lee Middleton and Christopher Caffery.

The other three bonus tracks are studio demos, and two of them ended up reworked on the later album Fight For the Rock.  “Lady in Disguise” is thoroughly different, an acoustic-electric ballad superior to keyboard-inflected later version.  Similarly, “Fighting for Your Love” was reworked as “Crying for Love” on Fight for the Rock.  Demo quality aside, this original has more desperation & ferocity, while the remake sounds forced.  Finally “The Message” hasn’t been issued anywhere else in any form.  This very rough take sounds like a garage recording, but even through that you get one super-snakey Criss Oliva riff and a lung-bursting Jon Oliva chorus.  “The Message” flat out rocks, and could have replaced a number of inferior album tracks had it been better committed to tape.

Metal Blade did an awesome job with their 1994 CD of these albums, filling it to the brim with 76 minutes of metal including top-notch bonus tracks.  Eight years later, they decided to have another go at it.


Metal Blade “Silver Anniversary” 2 CD set – sold separately (2002)

Dipping their hands into the cookie jar once more, Metal Blade came up with seven more bonus tracks (though two are unlisted).  The tracks are remastered, and the covers updated to black & chrome, with the Savatage logo in bold, bright silver.  The original artworks are consigned to the CDs themselves, while the booklets contain (small) rare photos (in black & chrome) and half of a Savatage timeline.  Yes, half a timeline – driving the point home even further, you have to buy both CDs to get the entire timeline (and special note from drummer Steve “Doc” Wacholz).

The Dungeons are Calling

This time, Metal Blade placed The Dungeons are Calling first in line, before Sirens.  (You can tell this by the lower catalogue number and the first half of the timeline included.)  It contains three “lost tracks”.  The first, “Metalhead” has a slick vibe, like 80s Judas Priest on speed.  Criss’ solo is a burner, with these super-wide note sweeps that make your head spin.  “Before I Hang” is lo-fi, solid headbangin’ fun.  Nothing particularly memorable, but unquestionably Savatage.  Purely filler, the kind of track that didn’t get finished because they had better stuff to work on.  The last of the three “lost tracks” is a ballad, “Stranger in the Night”.  If you listen carefully, you can hear that this was completed as something else later on — a little epic called “Follow Me” on 1993’s Edge of Thorns!  Now that’s some serious cool.

Didn’t I mention unlisted bonus tracks?  This one is a gentle acoustic number with spare accompaniment.  It sounds like it was recorded much, much later.  You’ll find it at track #99.  How quaint.

Sirens

The second CD in the 2002 has two more bonus tracks, and one more unlisted…something.  It’s something.  We’ll get to that.

“Target” sounds like idiosyncratic Savatage from the start:  The Criss riff that can sound only like Criss Oliva.  The haunting vocals from his brother Jon.  It’s hard to say definitively when it could have been recorded, but it sounds circa Gutter Ballet in structure, tone and performance.  “Living on the Edge of Time” is sonically thin but is clear enough to deliver a screamin’ chorus.  If that chorus only could have been housed in a finished song!  It’s killer.

What is far, far from killer is the novelty rap that sits at #99.  It’s…about a fat old guy who sits around all day doing coke?  It’s…fucking terrible is what it is.  It’s the kind of terrible that actually stains the CD it’s on.  Like you will have to hit “stop” before anyone hears you listening to it.  One has to conjecture that this “song” originated when Jon Oliva was deep into the white stuff, but it’s the kind of all-advised joke that should have stayed on the inside.


Ear Music “The Complete Session” CD (2010)

Another eight years after Metal Blade butchered these releases, Ear Music took a shot with “The Complete Session”.  What does “The Complete Session” mean to you?  I’ll tell you what it means to me.  It means all the tracks.  All the fucking tracks!  Not “none of those tracks but oh here is a new acoustic version from Jon”.  Not that.

Ear music reissued the entire Savatage catalog in 2010 as an attractive looking set that, when combined, form a Savatage logo.  The albums are remastered by Dave Wittman and feature new liner notes by Jon Oliva.  What’s really pesky are the new acoustic bonus tracks recorded to make you buy these albums all over again, in this case the fourth fucking time.

Originally from 1985’s Power of the Night (their very next album in fact) is the ballad “In the Dream” performed on piano by Jon Oliva, with an (uncredited) acoustic guitar solo to match.  It’s a good ballad; great in fact.  There’s no critique being laid at the feet of the song or the new version.  Just at the damn record companies for not giving a fuck for how many times I’ve had to buy this to get “all the tracks”.


Most people only want to buy an album once and be done with it.  Here’s a rating system below to determine which suits your needs best, price notwithstanding.

  • Metal Blade 1994 – 5/5 stars.  Maxed out the CD’s time with four worthwhile bonus tracks.
  • Metal Blade 2002 – 2.5/5 stars.  Consumer forced to buy two discs separately instead of one to get new bonus tracks, but losing the four previous ones.  Felt like gouging.
  • Ear Music 2010 – 3/5 stars.  Artwork will match the rest of the CDs in the set, but thin in terms of bonus tracks.  Does not even contain a picture of the artwork for The Dungeons are Calling.

Purchase accordingly!

 

 

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REVIEW: Deep Purple – The InFinite Live Recordings Vol. 1 (2017)

DEEP PURPLE – The InFinite Live Recordings Vol. 1 (2017 Ear Music)

The all-time kings of the live album have finally released…another live album!  It’s boldly titled The InFinite Live Recordings Vol. 1, implying that another live set isn’t far off.  The gimmick this time (aside from being 100% live with no overdubs, which is now the Purple norm) is that The InFinite Live Recordings Vol. 1 is only available on vinyl, or by re-buying InFinite in its new “Gold” European edition reissue.  If you’d prefer avoiding the double-dip, then the only way to enjoy The InFinite Live Recordings Vol. 1 is by spinning the triple 180 gram LP set.

So let’s do that.

This album is the complete Deep Purple set from Hellfest 2017 (June 16 2017 in Clisson, France).  The always fearless band opened with the brand new “Time for Bedlam” single.  The intro and outro are dicey (weird vocal sound effects) but then Deep Purple suddenly plows straight into “Fireball”.  Somehow Ian Paice transforms into his younger self and there is nothing lost.  Going back even further in time, it’s “Bloodsucker” from Deep Purple In Rock.

The oldies, like “Strange Kind of Woman” and “Lazy”, are more or less just filler.  Even though they’re always different, you’ve heard them so many times while the newer songs are fresh meat.  “Uncommon Man” is long and exploratory, while “The Surprising” and “Birds of Prey” are more than welcome on the live stage.  In particular, “Uncommon Man” and “The Surprising” are showcases for Deep Purple’s progressive side, sometimes taken for granted.  Both must be considered among the greatest Morse-era Purple songs.  Both stun the senses, live.

While there was a live version of “Hell to Pay” (from Sweden) on the fairly recent single “Johnny’s Band”, another one in the context of the set is cool because it naturally introduces Don Airey’s keyboard solo (listen for a hint of “Mr. Crowley”).  And that solo segues into “Perfect Strangers” after you place the third LP on the platter.

The usual suspects close out the set:  “Space Truckin'”, “Smoke on the Water”, “Hush” (with a detour into the “Peter Gunn” theme) and “Black Night”.  The reason Deep Purple get away with playing generous amounts of new material is because, without fail, they always deliver the Machine Head hits.

These live recordings were produced by Bob Ezrin, so you can count on great audio.  Why should you choose this over the numerous other Deep Purple live albums from the Morse era?  Because it is always a pleasure hearing new songs on the concert stage.  Deep Purple have remained consistent over the decades and each live album offers a brief snapshot of a set you might never hear again.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – The Sound of A (2018 EP)

ALICE COOPER – The Sound of A (2018 Ear Music EP)

“The Sound of A” is in the air…but it took 50 years to get there!

Alice Cooper’s Paranormal was one of the most delightful rock releases of 2017, which really came as no surprise.  Alice has been consistently awesome for several albums in a row.  Any time he works with producer Bob Ezrin, you can count on quality.  The new five track Sound of A EP is quality.

The song “The Sound of A” was written in 1967 by Alice and bassist Dennis Dunaway.  When Cooper reunited with members of the original band for some songs on Paranormal, Dunaway suggested revisiting “The Sound of A”.  With Bob Ezrin’s help, “The Sound of A” has become another in a long line of understated Cooper classics.  It has the sound of Welcome to My Nightmare with a hint of the present.  Another apt (but coincidental) comparison would be “Journey of 1,000 Years” by Kiss.

“The Sound of A” is packaged with four unreleased live songs:  “The Black Widow”, “Public Animal #9”, “Is It My Body” and “Cold Ethyl”.  Of these, the real treat is “Public Animal #9”, an old School’s Out favourite that has never seen release on any Alice live album.  This is from Columbus Ohio in May 2017.  As is often the case, “The Black Widow” is shortened live, but “Public Animal” is damn fine.  Can you believe it took this long to get a live version?  It’s one of the best on School’s Out, albeit in the shadow of a big hit.  Even “Cold Ethyl” is hard to find live.  You can locate it on 2011’s No More Mr. Nice Guy via Concert Live, and the semi-official Extended Versions and Alone in His Nightmare.

Don’t miss The Sound of A.  Consider it a live EP with some stuff you’ll be glad to have.

4/5 stars