Review: Savatage “Hall of the Mountain King” [Atlantic Records]

Review: Savatage “Hall of the Mountain King” [Atlantic Records]

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Score 75%
From the useless fight above to the splendor hall below
75 %
User Rating : 3.9 (1 votes)

Let me get something off my chest right away: by no means am I a huge Savatage fan. I enjoy plenty of their early stuff, but even back in the 80’s the band wasn’t exactly a force to reckon with. That’s not to say that this group couldn’t write great songs, but when we talk about great album… Savatage just don’t come to mind. Fight for Rock was the band’s first album to hint disaster, but fortunately the band got back on the right track one year later.

Of course, Savatage were mainly about the Oliva brothers and just like on most of the band’s early stuff, the performances are fine for what they are. Jon Oliva has always been more of a rough-throated screamer who had his obvious limitations and Criss Oliva has always been more of a fancy shredder than a top notch riff writer to me. But hey, credit is given where credit is due, wouldn’t you say so? Jon Oliva’s getting somewhat more neurotic once he attempts to scream higher than he perhaps should, but his tone is still appealing enough – sounding like a maniacal storyteller who hasn’t seen the light of day since decades. His brother, Criss Oliva has the fortune of equipping himself with a sonorous guitar tone and it does wonders! It’s so weighty that it even makes the most static chugs turn into heavy-load of palm muted riffs, yet Criss has rarely been a one trick pony and it shows. “Strange Wings” almost kicks off with an accessible rock riff, not unlike that of Scorpions’ “Rock You Like a Hurricane” and the vibrant, yet galloping stomp of “Devastation” sounds like an Iron Maiden/Black Sabbath hybrid. Oh and who could forget that raw riff opening of “The Price You Pay”? I can’t be the only one who thinks that it sounds like one of those slow-cutting riffs that you’d expect out of early Varathron. Who knew that Greek black metal owed a thing to Savatage?

So, Hall of the Mountain King sees the band getting back in touch with their earlier, metallic identity. Stylistically speaking I’d almost argue that this album sounds like a spiritual successor to The Dungeons Are Calling in terms of epic grandeur and songs that tell a story (not to be confused with anything from the horrible opera called Streets). The addition of acoustic guitars and keys were nothing new for Savatage, but yet again, the band knew how to incorporate these tastefully into their music. I envision a foreboding realm that resides underground and if you think that my imagination is getting ahead, the title track would surely make you think otherwise. With its hauntingly beautiful riffs and blizzard leads, it’s easily my favorite of Hall of the Mountain King. The aptly titled “Beyond the Doors of the Dark” is another great song and it opens up with Jon Oliva crooning over some antique acoustic passage before reaching out for his throaty yells underneath his brother’s onslaught of rough-crafted riffing. “Devastation” makes a killer finale and somewhat feels like a logical successor to “Midas Knight” from The Dungeons Are Calling. It’s an apocalyptic tune that’s as much about Jon Oliva’s sense of imagination as it is about Criss Oliva’s ferocious guitar chops.

As usual, there’s some lesser special material on the record, but I wouldn’t expect anything else of Savatage. “Strange Wings” was one of the singles and sounds out of place on Hall of the Mountain King. With a lightweight rock riff that alternates with some elegant acoustic passages and a welcoming vocal duet circa its chorus, it’s not too impressive stuff, even if I enjoy hearing how Jon Oliva’s ugly screams contrast with Ray Gillen’s angelic soars. “White Witch” is one of those been-there-done-that speed metal songs that Savatage had a thing for and I think it stinks. Criss Oliva was at his best at playing weightier riffs that sounded resonant and left an impression behind. Unfortunately, his speedy riffs sound far too unimaginable here. I also don’t get the appeal of “Prelude to Madness” – perhaps these classical-inspired instrumentals were special in the 80’s, but to me Hall of the Mountain King doesn’t benefits from it.

Hall of the Mountain King doesn’t fall into the classic category in my book, but when all is said and done, it’s a fine example of atmospheric power metal that also happens to be one of Savatage‘s better records.

Release date: September 28th, 1987

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