Retrospective: Savatage – Hall Of The Mountain King (1987)

Savatage‘s Hall Of The Mountain King is rightly considered a gem of mid 80s American heavy metal adventurism. Along with the likes of Queensryche, Fates Warning, and Crimson Glory, Savatage gave birth to an intensely melodic, tastefully crafted strain of heavy metal, filled to the brim with instantly memorable tunes that never shirked on big arena power riffs while always observing a healthy respect for metal’s inherent idealism and insular mentality. As the thrash and death underground surged around them, these bands concentrated more on time honored traits of songwriting within the genre’s evolving framework, trading the more extreme strains’ cynicism for an outlook far removed from everyday banalities. They dared to dream and reproduce the rich tapestry of their fantastical landscapes in sound, an eventide orchestra from beyond the curtains of sleep, still capable of evoking an otherworldly sense of innocent wonder in the jaded listener.

The Olivas brought a fraternal sensitivity to the music, playing off each other’s considerable strengths in songwriting and  instrumental virtuosity; there isn’t a wasted note on this album, each song chiseled away and polished at for maximum impact. Hall Of The Mountain King is an extremely guitar-oriented album, providing the ideal showcase for Criss Oliva’s sadly forgotten genius to shine through. Comprising, at times, of a straight-for-the-jugular attack, at others a more anthemic 80s heavy crunch;  melancholic, then neoclassical, but never disjointed. And always, always that fluid soloing style, moving through the minor modes, often diverging from the rhythm underneath in subtle ways but never divorced from the main theme. The guitar is the leading instrument on this album, creating and elaborating on all basic motifs; joining with Jon Oliva’s maniacal, paranoid banshee-shrieks and Halford-like falsetto, weaving mutually reciprocal diaphonies, each spurring the other on.

Highlights include..well, everything. Hall Of The Mountain King doesn’t contain throwaway tracks; even at its frilliest, it boasts an impeccable ear for hooks. The classic title song, ‘Strange Wings‘s power ballad-isms with balls, the smooth, serpentine intro to ‘Legions‘ that has always reminded me of Guns ‘N Roses‘ ‘Rocket Queen‘, Jon Oliva’s hushed voice on ‘The Price You Pay‘ so reminiscent of Maiden‘s ‘Still Life‘; it truly is an album of sights and smells, of memories thought long lost. Loud, drenched in hi-gain yet ambitious, oblivious to its immediate environs then and entirely unabashed of its datedness now, it is the sort of record that could only have been made when it was made.

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