Long before Savatage turned into a pretentious rock opera band, they were one of the earliest examples of bands playing power metal in the American way. The Dungeons Are Calling is an obvious step forward for the band and whereas the debut makes me think of living a tough street life and the daily struggles that come with it, this record resembles a world of witches, knights – and of course, dungeons.
Make no mistake; the action remains thanks to the maniacal vocals and cutting guitar work, but not every tune reveals its true colors right from the start. With a variety of moody acoustic guitars and atmospheric synths thrown in between the metallic force that The Dungeons Are Calling has to offer, it’s clear that we’re dealing with a much more mature and confident band at this point. Coincidentally enough, we’re also dealing with the Oliva brothers at their best. Jon Oliva avoids the overbearing tendencies that would follow in years to come and while he’s never been too technically skilled, he screams and yells as if he’s living these tunes. Likewise, Criss Oliva may not be my first pick of choice of guitarists, but he’s arguably at his most inspired here; as most tunes are built on a foundation of hard-hitting, yet flexible riffs that allow the tunes to head into a variety of sub-sections with ease. The only exceptions would be the speedier tunes, which sound a bit stiff, even if the results are hardly terrible. ‘Visions’ is a bit too restrained for my taste (in fact, speeding up just a bit makes the tune sound more exciting) and ‘The Whip’ has more of an unintentionally comical effect than anything else; try not to laugh once Jon Oliva hits that bizarre lower note during the chorus!
So, while I obviously prefer the mid-paced tunes over the faster ones, The Dungeons Are Calling makes an enjoyable listening experience either way. The title track picks up where ‘Sirens’ from the debut left off, but takes things even further with its mystique atmosphere and ideal stop-go riffs. ‘By the Grace of the Witch’ gets even further down the groove-driven paths, with Criss Oliva’s riffs chugging and demolishing the narrative. ‘Midas Knight’ almost sounds like the predecessor to ‘Devastation’ from Hall of the Mountain King and you can bet that it’s another worthy number that operates in an epic fashion. The guitars gallop into adventure, solos rapidly come crashing down like thunder and Jon Oliva screams like a wild man here. Ending the EP on a high note, ‘City Beneath the Surface’ is an apocalyptic monolith that introduces some progressive synths and a skull-crushing guitar stomp of Sabbath-esque quality, before a series of tense and frightening riffs start to dominate its main course.
As with most of Savatage‘s 80’s works (Fight for Rock obviously excluded), The Dungeons Are Calling is worth spending your time with. Besides, it’s the band’s best effort after all… so what are you waiting for? Explore the dungeons and enjoy its metallic, yet evocative qualities!
Score: 80/100 – No more street life
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