Hall of the Mountain King

REVIEW: Savatage – Hall of the Mountain King (1987)


HALL OF THE MOUNTAIN KING_0001SAVATAGE – Hall of the Mountain King (1987, 2002 Steamhammer remaster)

Man, I just love Hall Of The Mountain King! Who can forget that classic video…the little elf running through the mountain trying to steal the King’s gold! Any time in the past that I have thrown an “80’s metal video” party, that one was the star of the night.

Elf or no elf, the album is solid front to back.  Savatage have many different styles, from thrash to ballads to progressive metal, and have housed three different singers over the course of their long but too brief career! Hall Of The Mountain King falls into the first era with original lead howler Jon Oliva, and captures them at their most “metal”.  Which isn’t to say that other influences aren’t audible.  Progressive rock was definitely starting to creep in.  You can tell by the rendition of Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” (here listed as “Prelude to Madness”).  When metal bands start playing classical pieces, you know that rock operas aren’t far behind (and they weren’t: four of them, to be exact).

One important factor that separates Hall from earlier and later ‘Tage albums is the riffage of Criss Oliva (RIP.) By this time, working with producer Paul O’Neill, the writing was becoming very focused and the riffs and melodies very sharp. I don’t think the riffs had ever been honed to an edge like this on Savatage albums before.  They are just crushing.  Criss of course passed away in the early 90’s, and his riffs were never to be heard again. This, in my humble metal heart, is the absolute best of Savatage’s early metallic phase.

There are no bad songs on this album, though “Prelude To Madness” runs a little long and is a tad too synth-heavy. But since it segues right into the title track, we’ll forgive Savatage.

The metal on this album begins with a groove called “24 Hours Ago”.  Jarring riffs, great bass lick and patented Oliva screams — what an opener. Just rips your head off!  “Beyond the Doors of the Dark” is where the album really begins, in my opinion. This is just an awesome, heavy rocker with a riff of carbon steel as only Savatage could forge. One of their all-time best songs.  Joining it is “Legions”, another Sava-classic.  Again, it’s dark and riffy, with great lyrics and melodies from Jon. Definitely makes my desert island.  Closing side one is a bit of a surprising song: “Strange Wings”.  This one is more hard rock, but it’s certainly great. The late Ray Gillen (ex-Black Sabbath & Badlands singer) duets here, and raises the bar up another notch. His vocal soars. Both singers kill it.  Manager Paul O’Neill, who also produced the first Badlands album, was was managing both that band and Savatage!

“Hall of the Mountain King” is the song most people know Savatage for.  Its riff will drill its way into your head, and that is a promise.  I fell hard for this band, and it all started with this one song.  You might want to skip that long intro, unless you’re dying to hear Grieg played by a metal band (and even if you do, Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow also covered the same Grieg piece on Strangers in Us All).

HALL OF THE MOUNTAIN KING_0004Tempo slides back a notch on “The Price You Pay”, this one’s a little more Dokken. Yet with another great Criss riff, and more great vocal melodies from Jon, it’s not filler.  “White Witch” isn’t either, but it’s the weak link.  This is thrash metal like old-school ‘Tage. Reminds me of “Skull Session” or songs of that ilk…fast Savatage with Jon screaming his face off.  Then finally “Last Dawn” is a Priest-like instrumental intro to “Devastation”. The riff to “Devastation” is awesome. Chris was at the top of his game, riff wise, in 1987.  What a way to end the record. So memorable, and classic ‘Tage.

Special shout-outs go to bassist Johnny Lee Middleton and drummer Steve “Dr. Killdrums” Wacholz for some damn fine metal performances. And, of course, producer/manager/co-writer/arranger Paul O’Neill. He changed the band forever, and Hall Of The Mountain King was just the beginning.

The 2002 Steamhammer version contains two live bonus tracks.  From Cleveland in ’87 come “Hall of the Mountain King” and “Devastation”.   While the vintage recordings aren’t as beefy as the album itself, they are a very nice add on.  “Are you metal?” asks Jon.  Yes, yes we are!

Don’t miss this classic. If you enjoyed it, pick up Power Of The Night and Sirens.

4.5/5 stars

Part 206: Rock Video Night!

MUCH

RECORD STORE TALES Part 206:  Rock Video Night!

Last time on Record Store Tales, we talked about Andy and Ashleigh and the discovery of great rock bands such as Rush, Max Webster, and Van Halen.  Andy was even more curious now about what great rock was out there.

Rock music is about so much more than just the songs.  There’s the concerts, the live experience.  There’s the history of the bands, the stories and the context.  And there were the music videos.  How could one possibly talk about a great band like Van Halen without mentioning groundbreaking, defining music videos that they made?  Since a picture is worth 1,000 words, I decided the best way to explain these things was to have a Rock Video Night at my place.

90% of my video collection was from the Pepsi Power Hour.  Back in the days before YouTube, a channel like MuchMusic would have an hour or two a week devoted to the heaviest videos in rock, and I tried to record the show every week.  I had amassed a large collection of VHS tapes, probably about 120 hours of music videos, interviews and concerts altogether.  That’s not including the hundred or so officially released video tapes that I bought over the years.  We had a lot to watch so I had to hone down the set list for the evening.

Since I am and always have been OCD about my music collection, I had a meticulously typed list of every track on every video that I made.  I carefully planned the evening’s entertainment.  There were some videos that I know these kids had to see.  They were all one musical generation younger than me.  They grew up on videos like “Jeremy” and “Fell on Black Days”, not “Jump” or “Go For Soda”.  I had to make them understand my time, when it was OK to have sword fights and dwarves and laser guns in your videos.

Ash and Andy arrived along with my other employees Braddy D and Chris P.  The set of videos that I chose to share with them that evening included:

SAVATAGE – “Hall of the Mountain King”.  Summary:  Dwarf seeks Mountain King’s gold.  Must try to steal it without waking him, while band is playing in the same caverns.  Not sure why the King doesn’t hear Jon Oliva singing.  (below)

VAN HALEN – “Oh Pretty Woman”.  Summary:  Lady in distress has been kidnapped by two dwarves.  A hunchback in a treehouse (David Lee Roth) telephones a samurai (Michael Anthony), Tarzan (Alex Van Halen),  a cowboy (Eddie Van Halen), and Napoleon Bonaparte (David Lee Roth) to save her.  (below)

ARMORED SAINT – “Can U Deliver”. Summary:  Band driving a Buick with armor and an anti-aircraft cannon seek a glowy sword.  Band plays concert in front of rocker dudes and scantily clad babes while wearing leather armor.  (below)

GRIM REAPER – “Fear No Evil”.  Summary:  Band drive a DIY armored APC on a quest to free long-haired slaves from an evil half-man half-something with Wolverine claws. (below)

MIKE LADANO, BOB SCHIPPER and DAVE KIDD – “Nothing But A Good Time”.  Summary:  A highschool video I made, lip synching to “Nothing But A Good Time” by Poison.  We had our English teacher do the schtick at the beginning where he plays the prick boss who gives the kid a hard time before the song comes on.  We made it in ’89 and it was our school’s selection to send to the annual regional Film Awards! (no video until I get a USB VCR!)

Rock Video Night was a great success in many regards.  The kids had a great time finally seeing David Lee Roth doing the splits in “Jump”.  Ash was still not won over by the rock, but that’s OK.  What wasn’t OK is that I had really sour stomach issues that night!  I tried so hard to be a good host, and I kept excusing myself, but…they tell me the smell was wafting down from the upstairs bathroom.

So, Rock Video Night ended on a rather stinky note.

NEXT TIME ON RECORD STORE TALES…

Make ’em say uhhh!