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Criss Oliva – Even When The Crowds Are Gone, The Orchestra Will Never Stop Playing

With all the memories and tributes to fallen rockers that have passed away during the internet age, it seems that the ones that passed away tragically previously are more or less forgotten by the masses unless they were part of a superstar act or where the superstar act themselves.

And this brings me to the guitarist known as Criss Oliva who tragically passed away on October 17, 1993 when a drunk driver crossed the road and hit Criss Oliva and his wife head on.

The “Gutter Ballet” LP was my first introduction to Savatage. I actually purchased the album based on the excellent album cover by Gary Smith. The picture of the guitar through the top part of the piano was the initial connection and then the picture of the guitar in the trashcan with a rat climbing on it on the back was the final deal breaker that made me decide that I had to part with my money to purchase the album.

I purchased it from a market stall for $10 which was cheap for Australian standards as the retail shops were selling LP’s for $20. Hence, every Saturday, I would catch a train or a bus to the Saturday markets and stock up on LP’s. A lot of the cases it would be LP’s that I had a copy of on cassette and in some cases it would be a “leap of faith” purchases.

Yes, fans of music pirated back then as well. That is why blank cassette tapes proved to be lucrative business for the manufacturers.

I remember staring at the cover on the trip home, then walking briskly up the hill, getting into the house all sweaty from the hill walk, breaking the shrink-wrap and dropping the needle.

I was immediately blown away.

I found out years later that it was the bands fifth full length album. How many bands in 2014 would stick around for five albums? I was reading the album credits, looking for names I might know from previous albums.

Jason Flom seemed familiar, however it was the name Paul O’Neill that made a connection with me as he was also part of the debut Badlands album.

This album was a true turning point for the band.

It didn’t sell in the millions, but a classic album it is none the less. When I talk about Savatage to people, this is the album I put on. The reason why it is so magical is that it captures the transition that the band was going through perfectly. It still pays its respect to their past sound and it also paved the way for their future-direction. And that is what music is all about, a snap shot of a certain point in time.

“Gutter Ballet” also became a leader for a new genre that incorporated power metal with orchestral/symphonic flourishes.

“Of Rage And War” kicks off proceedings with helicopters and other sounds from the various war machines. The whole intro reminds me of Megadeth. The song is about transforming powerlessness into anger.

Better listen to me you son of a bitch
Better disarm those missiles sleeping in the ditch
You have no goddamn right to do the things you do
The world would be a better place if we were rid of you

It’s progressive and aggressive. It’s thrashy and snarly. It’s melodic and chromatic. It is a metal song of the angriest order and it made the impression on me that I purchased a full-blown thrash metal album.

Wasn’t I wrong.

“Gutter Ballet” is the epic six-minute anthem. It starts off with that melancholic piano intro in the key of D minor and then when the guitars come in along with the head stomping drums, the song transitions into a unique groove of “hard rock” clashing with “classical” and “classical” clashing with “symphonic” elements. It leaves an everlasting memory.

After the brutal power of ‘Of Rage and War’, the quiet piano intro surprised me as well as the subject matter that deals with the reality of the streets.

In the end it is the guitar the drives the song along. Check out the whole section before the lead break, then the lead break itself and then the syncopated parts coming out of the lead break. It’s perfect and the legato phrasing is liquid like melodic.

The title “Gutter Ballet” actually came from a play that producer Paul O’Neill had written in the early seventies, which of course went on to become the basis for the “Streets” concept album that followed “Gutter Ballet”.

Another sleepless night
A concrete paradise
Sirens screaming in the heat
Neon cuts the eye
As the jester sighs
At the world beneath his feet

“Temptation Revelation” follows and it is an instrumental. At one stage it was the original title for the LP. The guitar work from Criss Oliva again makes it. It has this Euro-Vibe style of guitar playing. A favourite of mine at that time was John Norum who in 1989 was the ex-Europe guitarist, who was also moving onto a solo career and in between he worked with Don Dokken, Glenn Hughes and other high-powered vocalists.

“When The Crowds Are Gone” is one of the best ballads, ever. Jon’s melancholic voice carries the song as it is filled with genuine emotion. To explain what the song is about, this is what Jon Oliva told Metal Hammer in February 1990;

“It’s the life story of a musician who has been trying to become successful all his life. In vain, of course and so finally he breaks down. How, that’s not the main issue, because this can happen in many different ways. Suicide, an overdose of drugs…

I’ve seen it happen around me, so I know what I’m talking about. And that goes for our producer, Paul O’Neill, who helped me write the lyrics, as well. He also knew musicians who went down because of the lack of success.

The musician that this song is about spent his whole life composing one song, that was meant to be his absolute masterpiece. Finally, he completes the song, but then he’s too old himself to accomplish anything with it. He’s past the height of his glory.

Then finally when the song gets airplay, it is too late, because it is at his own funeral. The way its written, it is of course purely imaginative, but the reasons to write the lyrics the way they were, unfortunately are very true. It has cost me a lot to sing this song. Because it was so personal, and because I wanted it to carry the right emotion, vocally. Listen to the end of the song, then you’ll understand what I’m talking about.”

I don’t know where the years have gone
Memories can only last so long
Like faded photographs, forgotten songs

“Silk And Steel” is another instrumental and it reminds me of “Air” from Jason Becker. Another guitarist that in this case was tragically struck down with a terminal illness. “Silk And Steel” is a highlight as it features Criss Oliva’s at his “Segovia” best. A virtuosic, lively and carefree performance.

Side one ended and I needed to replay it before I moved onto side two. That is how music should be. Replayable over and over again.

“Shes In Love” kicks off side 2. The only song with weak lyrics, however it is important to note its place in the Savatage canon and an ode to the Accept style of Hard Rock/Metal that Savatage also dabbled in.

She likes what she sees
Starts to drop to her knees
Gazing with an appetite
Licks her lips in sheer delight

“Hounds” was an inspiration to me as a guitarist. I used the songs structure as a template for songs that I would write back then. I loved it’s epic feel and under it all there is this doomy technical atmosphere.

The lyrics are pure fantasy, however if you want to attach it to a rock n roll story, look no further than Robert Johnson and the hell hounds chasing him.

Do you hear the hounds they call
Scan the dark eyes aglow
Through the bitter rain and cold
They hunt you down
Hunt you down

“The Unholy” could be from any classic metal album. The whole intro at first reminds me of “Lucretia” from Megadeth.

Another song that deals with fantasy, and about the way evil came to earth.

In distant ages long ago
Before the birth of Christ
Lived a race trapped in soul
Terror on the rise
United beyond the storm
They ruled the astral plane
No one could stop them
They wouldn’t fall
In a while they would soon reign

“Mentally Yours” sounds like an Alice Cooper song. Even the lyrical themes are very shock-rock Cooperish and it kicks off a concept suite, however since I was the owner of the LP version, I never heard the final song until years later.

His tension life
He beats the wife
Doused the cat with gasoline
He’s rather try
The other side
He just has to get away
That’s when it all began
Timmy lost his mind
Was just a matter of time
Before he went crazy

“Summer’s Rain” is another great ballad. In the theme of the concept story, this is how Jon Oliva explained in that Metal Hammer February 1990 interview.

“‘Summer’s Rain’ gets deeper into the relationship between Timmy and his girlfriend from ‘Mentally Yours’ (the previous track on Gutter Ballet). Timmy already is twisted, but when he finds out that she’s cheating on him he totally loses control. In the end, she leaves him and Timmy ends up in a mental institution. Like I said, totally made up, but these things happen all the time here in the States.”

Scars are the wounds that we show
Time only heals
If you’re letting go

Criss Oliva is one of the most emotive and eclectic metal guitarists. The album is littered with so many different guitar techniques.

– Emotive guitar leads on “Temptation Revelation”
– Acoustic Fingerpicking on “Silk And Steel”
– Thrash, angry snarly riffs on “Of Rage And War”
– Classicalisms and hard rockisms on “Gutter Ballet”
– Melodic harmonies on songs like “Summers Rain” and “When The Crowds Are Gone”
– Epic progressive metal on “Hounds” along with a bit of Black Sabbath doom.
– Classic power metal on “The Unholy”.
– AC/DC meets ACCEPT style of hard rock on “Shes In Love”

All in all, if metal is your taste then you need to hear this album. If you are a genre hopping musical fan, then this album is a must for the metal genre.

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Classic Songs to Be Discovered, Derivative Works, Influenced, Music, My Stories

Lifehouse

Lifehouse just seems to hang around in my life. Maybe it is because my wife played the No Name Face album to death at home and in the car when it came out in 2000. While the lead-off single Hanging By A Moment had the traction, it was cuts like Cling and Clatter, Quasimodo and Everything that hooked me in. I especially enjoyed the song Everything and its movement from an acoustic introspective song into a Stairway To Heaven big finish.

No Name Face was the pinnacle. Stanley Climbfall and the self titled album didn’t even come close. I was starting to lose interest and to my surprise so was my wife. Who We Are in 2007 got my attention with the sorrowful Storm, the soul searching rock of Disarray and the Johnny Cash vibe of Broken . Then in 2010, came Smoke and Mirrors. Tracks 1 to 8 are top notch. They should have stopped the album right there. It would have been perfection. The most recent album Almeria has the song Moveonday, which reminds me of When The Levee Breaks from Led Zeppelin. The rest however pales compared to No Name Face and Smoke and Mirrors.

All In is a great song from the Smoke and Mirrors album released in 2010.

It’s a Jason Wade and Jude Cole composition. The soft first fret capo’d strumming in the intro is all an illusion to the rock song that lay in waiting. The chords that are played are F, C, G and Am, with a capo on the first fret. 

The chords then change to C, F, Am – G and F for the verse and the chorus. This is a part of Lifehouse I like a lot. They use the same chords for the verse and for the chorus and they change the vocal melody. This is the extreme opposite to say Dream Theater, who will have a verse riff that is unique and a chorus riff that is unique.

And I’m all in
Nothing left to hide

I’m all in
I’m all in for life

It’s those moments in time when you realise, yeah, I am in love, so let’s do this. My father always said to me that you marry for life. In 2013 my wife and I are going to celebrate 15 years of marriage with our three kids. It’s been a ride. There have been highs and there have been lows. However, I am all in for life.

There’s no taking back what we’ve got
It’s too strong we’ve had each other’s back for too long

There’s no breaking up this time

When I come across people that tell me they never argue and that everything is perfect, I just smile and reply that they are so lucky. However I am thinking that at least one person in the relationship is not telling the truth. Eventually they implode. It could have been a secret gambling addiction, not being truthful about money and so on. There have been times in our relationship were it is easier to just walk away, however we have had each other’s backs for so long, walking away was never an option that came in our minds.

It’s the best song on Smoke and Mirrors.

Falling In would not be out of place on a Daughtry album. It’s the laid back feel that hooks me in. It’s a Jason Wade, Jude Cole, Jacob Kasher Hindlin and Kevin Rudolf composition.

Outside writers can bring a lot to the table, however they can also make the song very formulaic. Kevin Rudolf is known to be the “King Of The Cross Genre”. His resume is diverse, involving song writing credits with Timbaland, Cobra Starship, My Darkest Days, Lil Wayne, Natasha Bedingfield, Flo Ride and so on. As I mentioned earlier, the overall sound of the song would not be out of place on a Daughtry album. I am hearing the pop formula at work.

This is another song where the verse riff and chorus riff use the same chords. In this case they are G, D, Em and C. The vocal melody is designed to carry the song and it does a marvellous job at it.

Every time I see your face
My heart takes off on a high speed chase

Now don’t be scared, it’s only love
Baby that we’re falling in

It’s that moment when you commit. You don’t know what the outcome is going to be, you just know at that point in time there is nothing else you want except the love.

Smoke And Mirrors

It’s the Tom Petty and REM influence that hooks me in. It’s another Jason Wade and Jude Cole composition. The Intro of Em, G and D times 3 is the familiar Chorus progression. This ends with a dissonant Eb6 sus4 chord and then a C/G chord.

The verses move from C to D times 3 and it ends with the same dissonant Eb6 sus4 chord and then a C/G chord.

Now the days roll hard and the nights move fast
They say be careful what you wish

But having everything means nothing to me now
What we had is everything to miss

All the riches we have, we cannot take to the grave. All that will be left is the memories. That is the legacy we leave behind. If people talk about their experiences and the moments they had with you, that is a legacy. No one is going to remember if you had millions or billions in your bank account. This whole song is about striving to be someone you are not, and then when you get those riches, you realise that it really meant nothing to you. The real smiles, the romance, the good and the bad of a relationship are the things that really mattered.

Gonna drive all night ’til we disappear
Chasing down the miles so far from here

As the smoke and mirrors start to fade away
And we’re all we’ve got so let’s hold on tight

When the masquerade is over and all the crowds are gone you are either all alone or you still have your loved one hanging in. Strange as it is, this song reminds me of the Savatage song, When The Crowds Are Gone from the Gutter Ballet album, released in 1987. The message of the song is about a person who is sitting on the empty stage, reflecting on all the unfinished dreams and trying to remember those memories that seem to slip away like faded photographs. Throughout his or her life, they conformed to win over the masses and then when the masses then went on to something else, what is left?

The story’s over, when the crowds are gone

You need to have that other life, that place of sanity, that when the crowds disappear and all the money disappears, you still have that love. When one story ends, the other story still continues.

This is the beauty of music were a song from a different genre brings back a memory of another song that is 26 years old.

When the crowds are gone
And I’m all alone

Playing a final song

For any artist or an actor, that is the way it will end. The crowds and the riches will not be around forever. Look at Johnny Cash, who in his last days was recording his music from a hospital bed, without the crowds and the riches. He just had his family.

Had Enough is an interesting song. First it is written by Jason Wade, Chris Daughtry and Richard Marx. What a combination of Top 10 writers. It also features Chris Daughtry. Furthermore, Bon Jovi has been trying to write a song like this for years, however he just never nailed. Just Older from the Crush album is probably the closest Bon Jovi got.

The intro and verse are built around an Am, F, C and G progression, moving to a Dm and F progression just before the chorus. The chorus is built around a C, F, Am and F progression. I like the movement from the minor key sadness in the verses to the major key “hope” and it’s time to move on mantra in the Chorus.

Loneliness facing up and down these hallways
Second guessing every thought

Mystified, just spinning ’round in circles
Drowning in the silent screaming with nothing left to say

You know the feeling of suffering in silence trying to make things work, but really doing nothing special to make it work.

Every time I reach for you, there’s no one there to hold on to
Nothing left for me to miss, I’m letting go, letting go of this

Lost my mind thinking it through, the light inside has left me too
Now I know what empty is, I’ve had enough, I’ve had enough of this

The part in the relationship where you know that the other side has checked out emotionally and lovingly, however they are still around physically because both sides cannot find the strength and the effort to call full time.

From Where You Are is a Jason Wade composition. According to Wikipedia the song is dedicated to the teens who have lost their lives in car accidents.

The intro and verse is a F, Am and G progression, while the Chorus moves to a Am, F, Am, G progression. The song moves from a major key in the verses to a minor key in the Chorus.

I miss the years that were erased
I miss the way the sunshine would light up your face

I miss all the little things
I never thought that they’d mean everything to me

In the end, no one is going to miss the wealth or the fame. We will miss all those little things that at first glance we didn’t see as important.

It Is What It Is

It’s another Jason Wade and Jude Cole composition.

Play the Capo on the 4th fret and the intro/verse progression is Em | C | G-D | G-D. The Chorus progression is G | D | Em | C and the Bridge progression is C | D | Em | Am.

It is what it is
I was only looking for a shortcut home

But it’s complicated

It’s hard trying to keep a relationship going. There are no shortcuts and its very complicated. So many strings are attached to it. Sometimes in those times of doubt it is better to be without each other. Love is complicated. More complicated than we think.

If the time could turn us around
What once was lost may be found

For you and me, for you and me

Time moves on. Once it is gone, we cannot get it back. To use a plate analogy for love, once the plate is broken, it doesn’t matter how the plate is glued back together, it is never the same.

Nerve Damage

It’s another Jacob Kasher Hindlin, Jude Cole, Kevin Rudolf and Jason Wade composition. It has that Stairway To Heaven feel at the beginning that hooks me in. In this case the song begins in Bm instead of Am. I also love the bluesy feel of the lead.

New circus freak
With black eyes that speak

Life takes it’s toll
You push and it pulls
You’re losing control

The mask that we wear makes us look like circus freaks. Even though this song is about a relationship, I take a different meaning from this verse.

I see the lines “New circus freak with black eyes that speak,” is the aftermath of the violence. The person is so battered and so bruised, they look like a circus freak. The black eyes is the result of the violence.

The lines, “Life takes its toll, you push and it pulls, you’re losing control,” is the result of the bed the person made for themselves. There is an old saying, “you live and die by the life you lead.” In this instance, the person is losing control of their life as the situation they are in takes its toll.

Meltdown’s looking for a new clown
Living in a world that’s make believe
Used up burned out always got a hand out
Ain’t nothing here for free
Now you’re hanging on the edge of tomorrow
Let go let it be

This is what happens when you play a game of being someone you are not. You end up used, burned up and hanging by a thread to this thing called life. The meltdown is like the machine of life, always looking for new souls to keep it running. In the end, nothing is for free. We all end up paying the price for something we have done.

Hell bent looking for a god send
Kicking down the door waiting for a sign

Right side turning on the bright side
That might not be what you find
Wake up move on nothing left to prove
Got nightmares in your dreams

This last verse is about restoration. Get out of the make believe nightmare you created and move on. Let that past life be a nightmare in your dreams from this point forward. Don’t let it drag you down anymore.

Halfway Gone is a Jason Wade, Jude Cole, Kevin Rudolf and Jacob Kasher composition. It is using the same chords as Had Enough, which are Am, F, C and G with a capo on the 4th fret.

You were always hard to hold
So letting go ain’t easy

I’m hanging on but growing cold
While my mind is leaving

You know that it is over in your head, but you haven’t called it quits in the physical realm.

Cause you’re halfway in but don’t take too long
Cause I’m halfway gone, I’m halfway gone

The contradiction. One is halfway in, while one is halfway gone. 

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