BY JAY ROBERTS
The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.
SAVATAGE – HALL OF THE MOUNTAIN KING (1987)
As the sixth year of The Cassette Chronicles was ready to kick off, I was trying to think of what album and/or band I wanted to feature in this year’s first article. I could’ve gone any number of ways but in the end, I thought I’d feature the band that I always welcome in the New Year with.
At midnight each year, I always play a Savatage album as the first music of the year. Well, being the old fart that I am, I didn’t really stay up this year so my first music choice of 2022 was delayed until I woke up in the morning.
But no matter how you look at it, I just don’t think you can go wrong with the Savatage album Hall Of The Mountain King. This was the band’s 4th studio album and though it was the first time they would collaborate with producer Paul O’Neill (who co-wrote four of the songs on the album as well), the band hadn’t yet changed their sound to the more symphonic rock/metal style of the second half of their career and when the rise of Trans-Siberian Orchestra happened. Instead, Hall Of The Mountain King fall squarely on the “power metal” side of the ledger and it just doesn’t disappoint in the least.
The first side of the album has four songs which might seem a bit short but each of these tracks is a phenomenal bit of metal. The opening song “24 Hours Ago” is the perfect kind of table setting song. The heavy and attacking musical tempo gels perfectly with a ripping vocal take from Jon Oliva and immediately seeps into your consciousness from start to finish.
Jon Oliva wrote “Beyond The Doors Of The Dark” on his own and after a slightly restrained delivery in the opening portion of the song, it just bursts out into a metallic frenzy. And Oliva sings with a devilish and gleeful evil sound to his vocals on this one. It is a simply killer track.
Both “Legions” and “Strange Wings” are hard-driving metal songs as well. Quickly paced, each track further burnishes the album’s stellar feel. I particularly love the riff that powers “Strange Wings” throughout the song.
One of the other reasons I thought of this album for the first article of the new year is because after more than a few years lost in the merchandising wilderness, Savatage has recently started offering a number of new items for sale through their website. They’ve reissued a couple albums on vinyl and have various T-shirts and other accessories available as well. One thing that I liked (but haven’t bought) was a blanket with the outstanding album cover art for Hall Of The Mountain King on it. As a devoted fan of the band despite their continued hiatus, I can just see myself curling up with that on a cold winter’s night as I listen to the band’s music.
The second side of the album features six songs with two of them being instrumentals. The first of those instrumental pieces is “Prelude To Madness”, which is inspired by the classical music piece “In The Hall of the Mountain King” by Edvard Grieg. Once I found out about that connection, I actually went out and bought a Grieg compilation to hear that original music. I can’t say that I was overly taken with Grieg’s music but it’s nice to have that little tie-in as a part of my collection.
“Prelude To Madness” serves as a lead-in to the album’s title track, which is a wholly original track and not really tied to Grieg’s work. Between the scene setting musical opening establishing a cinematic vibe and the heavy feel to the rest of the music, listeners will get quite a sensory overload. When you add in the lyrics that seem straight out of a great fantasy novel and Oliva’s killer vocal performance of those lyrics, you can understand why the “Hall Of The Mountain King” song still stands out as one of the band’s best creative endeavors.
“The Price You Pay” is another great sounding heavy rocker but I really sink my teeth into “White Witch” each time I hear it. There’s a brutally precise intensity to the song that never fails to draw me in.
The album’s second instrumental is called “Last Dawn”. Guitarist Criss Oliva wrote the brief piece himself. It runs just 1:15. I like it but even all these years later I can’t decide if it is meant to stand on its own or serve as the lead-in to the album’s closing song “Devastation”.
And believe me, “Devastation” lives up to its title as Savatage quite literally lay waste and bring about the end of the world in this tale of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse setting out on their ride. It’s another killer track that grabs me every single time.
The Hall Of The Mountain King album was not my first exposure to Savatage…at least as far as I can remember. I am pretty sure I heard the song before I ever bought the album. But I know that I got the album AFTER “discovering” Savatage with the Gutter Ballet album. But that doesn’t lessen my love of this album in the slightest. I read online that Metal Hammer magazine ranked Hall Of The Mountain King as the 8th best power metal album of all-time back in 2019. I think you’d be hard-pressed to argue with that assessment (or at least to lower their ranking) because here we are during the 35th anniversary year of the album’s release and Hall Of The Mountain King still resonates as strongly now as it did when I first heard it for myself. It’s one of the many reasons why Savatage remains my favorite band.
NOTES OF INTEREST: The album has received three reissues since 1987. It was reissued in 1997, 2002 and 2011 and each time the reissues contained bonus tracks and those extra tracks were different each time.
Singer Ray Gillen (Badlands / Black Sabbath) provides background vocals on the song “Strange Wings”. He’s credited as Ray Gillian in the album’s liner notes. Bob Kinkel played keyboards on the album. He would go on to play a big role in Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
Instead of listing what each member of the band played on the album, the liner notes list singer Jon Oliva as “The Grit”, guitarist Criss Oliva as “The Crunch”, drummer Steve ‘Doc’ Wacholz as “The Cannons” and bassist Johnny Lee Middleton as “The Thunder”.