Friday, November 28, 2014

Savatage - The Hall of The Mountain King

Savatage is a band with a lot of history. Forming in 1978 it would be five years before they released their first album “Sirens,” and after that they remained very active by releasing an album every year for five years. It was the fifth year of this workmen’s approach that changed and defined Savatage with the release of their best known album “The Hall of The Mountain King.”

Savatage’s early works were fantasy related rock and roll, but they drifted away slightly from that theme in years three and four with their albums “Power of the Night” and “Fight for the Rock” and enthusiasm for the band was starting to wane, not just commercially, Savatage was largely ignored by the mainstream, but even the members of Savatage were starting to get distraught and disinterested in their own work. At one point the band broke up and the primary reason was because they were not making enough money to stay alive. Times were hard for Savatage.

The Oliva brothers, Jon on vocals and Criss on guitar, were the leaders of Savatage, they wrote basically every song and performed arguably the two most important functions. I have always been under the impression that they grew up with Paul O’Neill, all three are from New York, but regardless their friendship was established forever when O’Neill was brought in to produce Savatage’s fifth studio album “The Hall of The Mountain King.” With O’Neill’s help Savatage returned to fantasy and embraced the power metal stylization they had intended to be all along. The future of progressive metal was born, and most critics consider “The Hall of The Mountain King” as the first ever progressive metal album, yet one more unique subgenre of metal had come to forefront of human musical imagination, much to the betterment of all humankind.

O’Neill is a hell of a producer, rarely is the producer credited for primary song writing but in the case of “The Hall of The Mountain King” O’Neill is credited for co-writing four of the tracks, including the two of my primary admiration, “Prelude to Madness” and the title track. Evidently O’Neill’s creative efforts were very welcomed by the Oliva brothers and he is considered by some to be a member of the band insofar. I believe it was O’Neill’s influence more than anything else that helped shape “The Hall of The Mountain King,” as well as what Savatage would become thereafter, and obviously he was fundamentally important in the creation of The Trans Siberian Orchestra.

Before there was the Trans Siberian Orchestra there was Savatage, and I think this is an important point in retrospect, because a lot of people, including me, discovered Savatage retroactively after discovering the Trans Siberian Orchestra. The combination of hard rock and classical music is a great glorious idea, and it is the 1987 Savatage album “The Hall of The Mountain King” where we see perhaps some of the earliest endeavors by O’Neill and Oliva (Jon) in creating this specific style of music.

The song “The Hall of The Mountain King” would become Savatage’s flagship song, and it is arguably the best guitar work by Criss Oliva, and it is this song along with its intro “A Prelude to Madness” where we see the direct crossover of classical music with rock and roll for the first time (I think) in Savatage’s history. I think it is pretty obvious that Savatage’s “The Hall of The Mountain King” is connected to Edvard Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” why am I so confident in saying this, because the interlude “Prelude to Madness” is a instrumental that is an rearrangement of Grieg’s classic piece with the exception of the intro which is based on Gustov Holst’s “The Planets.” The primary song “The Hall of The Mountain King” has less in common with Grieg’s classical music but in many ways fits together perfectly. “The Hall of The Mountain King” feels like the appropriate rock and roll extended version of Grieg’s classical piece. There are not very many examples of rock bands and guitarists reimagining, reworking, and expanding classical music like this before 1987, so this album and song are not just important because it rocks the world but also because it was an important link in the development of the high art that would later became The Trans Siberian Orchestra as well as hundreds of other inspired talents.

Edvard Grieg - In The Hall of The Mountain King

Savatage - Prelude to Madness

I have often imagine “The Hall of The Mountain King” might just maybe be about Thorin Oakenshield from “The Hobbit,” he was after all the king under the mountain after Smaug was dispatched, but I think it is safe to say that this song is not about anything so specific. Most interpretations of Grieg’s “In The Hall of The Mountain King” suggest that the song is about a troll, or a king of trolls. This makes sense, Grieg was Norwegian and the troll is a mythological creature from that area of the world. In Savatage’s song though I believe it is a being of their own creation. Judging from the cover art and the music video, the Mountain King is a big old dude with a big white beard, and I think it is safe to assume he is meant to be some sort of earthen god. It does not really matter though, what makes “The Hall of The Mountain King” special, at least for me, is the connection to classic music and Criss Oliva’s electric and lively guitar licks.

One of many animated interpretations of Grieg's "In The Hall of The Mountain King"

Savatage is soon to begin another reunion tour, and I hope they come to Calgary. The bucket list of my life is long and Savatage is on it, and the way they keep breaking up and reuniting makes me wonder how many more reunion tours they plan on having.

- King of Braves

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