Τετάρτη 27 Σεπτεμβρίου 2017

Savatage - Hall of the Mountain King

There are moments when some artists reach bottom (artistic or commercial) or they just were misguided to the "wrong" direction from labels-managers-executives. In a few occasions, some artists return in full glory. Hall of the Mountain King, originally released exactly 30 years ago, on September 28th of 1987, is the perfect example. Let's remember...

by Andreas Andreou
(with a contribution - epilogue by Johnny Lee Middleton)

Atlantic Records signed Savatage in 1984 and the band had already released Sirens (1983) and The Dungeons Are Calling (1984), that were both recorded at the same session. Power of the Night (1985) was the first major-label album and one year later, Fight for the Rock was the release that nearly killed the band. A wrong album for a wrong band. It is not bad, but it is wrong. Forward after the release and the tour; Enter Paul O'Neill.

The band almost broke up and thought the end is near. Paul O'Neill is the "x-factor" that took them by the hand and lead them to a brighter future. He encouraged Criss and Jon Oliva to start writing new material and so they did. This time, the band composed without any label or management interference and once the material was ready, Savatage entered studio and completed the album with Paul O'Neill. As Johnny Lee Middleton has said, "
Never give up on what you believe in and do not be afraid to struggle and suffer through the tough times because quitters never win and winners never quit". 

Besides production, O'Neill gets some credits on songs, too. Later, he will take care of all lyrics also, giving to the band an extra maturity, but from this time and on, he is the only one that will guide the band and he also became a key piece of the Savatage songwriting formula.

While Jon Oliva is inspired and loves The Beatles, Black Sabbath and Ozzy in general, Criss Oliva is mainly inspired by the songwriting of the first two Ozzy albums and Randy Rhoads, and that's very clear to the first songs the brothers composed and recorded in their early years, and how those songs evolved after 1983. Jon has stated that "There's no one heavier than Sabbath; they have surprise songs and different arrangements that you don't expect". For him, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath is one of the greatest albums ever. While recording Gutter Ballet, Paul O'Neill said "I have way more classical and Broadway influences; Jon, on the other hand, has more Beatles influence. But we're both influenced by Black Sabbath". This is one of the main reasons why Savatage sound so different from most of the US metal bands. While most of those bands are influenced by Iron Maiden (and Queensryche), you can barely listen to any Iron Maiden influence on Savatage... If you will add the uniqueness of both Oliva brothers and the later addition of O'Neill, you have Savatage.

[There are many trivia and connections between Savatage and Black Sabbath-Ozzy, but this needs to be another chapter in the play. If I will find some time, I might come with something in the future.]

During 1988, with a major label supporting the band, Hall of the Mountain King had become Savatage's best-selling album and a world tour followed, including support shows with Megadeth and Dio. At that point and after O'Neill's suggestion, Savatage added a second guitar for the live shows to keep the rhythm playing during Criss' leads. Criss had a few thoughts about it in the beginning but in the end, they did it and Chris Caffery stepped in. The tour started with power and success despite being the opening act. Dave Mustaine even thought about the possibility of Criss Oliva joining Megadeth according to Sava-sources. However, Jon Oliva went a "little too far" during that tour, living the "rock n' roll life" just like one of his idols, Ozzy Osbourne and it took no long until he entered a chemical rehabilitation program. This situation stopped the band since they had to cancel a scheduled tour, including the European dates. The future was different for the band and it took them a few more years for a big commercial success, under a different line-up...

Hall of the Mountain King is one of the best metal albums ever, from one of the greatest metal bands ever. An ageless masterpiece with top notch musicianship. Raw, insane, solid and emotional at the same time. Two music video clips were shot, one for "Hall of the Mountain King" and one for "24 Hrs. Ago" with the same titled track getting a lot of airplay at Headbanger's Ball TV show, something that was very important at the pre-internet era and helped the sales and band's exposure.
There is one special guest at that album, singer Ray Gillen, brought in by Paul O'Neill who was his manager at the time because he needed another kind of voice and harmony to serve as an instrument in the chorus of "Strange Wings". That was one of the first recordings of Gillen who previously had performed even punk rock before entering the hard rock and metal scene. During that period, Ray Gillen had replaced Glenn Hughes in Black Sabbath and recorded vocals for The Eternal Idol album, before they were also replaced by Tony Martin's voice in the final release. Paul O'Neill produced (and helped write) the debut album of Badlands, fronted by Ray Gillen with ex-Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Jake E. Lee but also Eric Singer who among others also performed with Black Sabbath. Bob Kinkel, a keyboardist and music engineer, a regular partner of Paul O'Neill, also helped in the debut album of Badlands that was released in 1989 but most important, he was introduced to Savatage during the recordings of Hall of the Mountain King with additional keyboards. Kinkel will be a key person in the following years of Savatage and the formation of Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

Criss Oliva is probably one of the best guitarists in metal music, with a unique and recognizable sound, unmatchable tone and feeling, and personally, I always had him in my Top-5 list. But I have to add, that Jon Oliva is also one of the most unique and emotional singers out there. I love his voice and his performance, and I don't understand why he is not mentioned among the greatest ones.

When I posted this synopsis on my personal facebook account, Johnny Lee Middleton came up to my post with this amazing text about the writing and recordings of Hall of the Mountain King:

"We wrote the songs for this album in a warehouse area of a strip mall on US 19 in Palm Harbor, FL. It was a storage area for a company called Cage Maid that sold plastic bird mess catchers that were placed under a bird cage. The guy who rented the place named Reggie was a friend of the band and he let us use his storage area for free. We could only work at night when the businesses in the strip mall were closed but we had a small monitor/PA system and all night to work on songs. We never invited anyone to rehearsals as we had work to do and did not want to perform for friends. After we had a bunch of songs in the can Paul came down and we got into the final arrangement mode and tightening things up. After a few weeks of working with Paul we were ready for the studio to record this. We flew to NYC and went to work at the legendary Record Plant Studio. All of us stayed in a 2 bed seedy and smelly hotel room I think was called the Times Square Motor Lodge. We took turns sleeping on a bed or floor, lived on Peanut butter and jelly as well as Rays pizza and soup. I think I made $25.00 a day and that was barely enough to survive in NYC but we made it work and did not complain as this is what we believed in and we wanted it to be a record that was ours and something to be proud of. I was born and raised in Florida and living in the Hells Kitchen area of NYC in the mid eighties was nothing like the beach where I grew up and to say I was scared would be an understatement. 16 hour days and sleeping on a floor were the norm in our world and many times I slept in the vocal booth of the studio because I was afraid to go to the hotel at 4 AM. As the recording process progressed our relationship with Paul grew stronger and we finally felt we had a leader and a friend that believed in us. It was a tough time in our lives and we sacrificed everything to make this record and with the grace of God and a bit of luck we got something we could believe in. Never give up on what you believe in and do not be afraid to struggle and suffer through the tough times because quitters never win and winners never quit".

Madness Reigns.

Tracklist: 1. 24 Hours Ago, 2. Beyond the Doors of the Dark, 3. Legions, 4. Strane Wings, 5. Prelude to Madness, 6. Hall of the Mountain King, 7. The Price You Pay. 8. White Witch, 9. Last Dawn.

Savatage: Jon Oliva (lead vocals, piano), Criss Oliva (guitars), Johnny Lee Middleton (bass guitar), Steve Wacholz (drums).

Additional musicians: Robert Kinkel (keyboards), Ray Gillen (backing vocals).

Produced by Paul O'Neill.

Album cover by Gary Smith.

During the Hall of the Mountain King sessions, one more song was recorded, titled "This Is Where You Should Be" that didn't make it to the album but it was available in the From the Gutter to the Stage best-of collection. That song, was a power ballad, like many of those Savatage recorded in the later years.

Κυριακή 17 Σεπτεμβρίου 2017

Ozzy Osbourne - No More Tears

On this day (September 17th of 1991) "No More Tears", Ozzy Osbourne's sixth studio album was released.

With a recording line-up of Ozzy, Zakk Wylde (guitars), Bob Daisley (bass), Randy Castillo (drums) and John Sinclair (keyboards), "No More Tears" is one of Ozzy's favorite albums and it also marks a new era free of heavy alcohol and drugs use. While the '80s had been a turmoil for Ozzy, there are no weird myths or drama behind this album.

Song writting and recording sessions were very easy for this one. It was produced by Duane Baron and John Purdell, Ozzy was sober and Zakk Wylde came up with some great ideas. Daisley had some lyrics but finally they weren't used and at this point, long-time Ozzy's friend, Lemmy (Motorhead), came up with lyrics and ideas for some songs. Ten songs were recorded for the album and while Ozzy was auditioning the tracks, Mike Inez came up with a random bass line (Daisley recorded the album but he wasn't part of the band). Ozzy's magic ear heard that line and they built one more song around it. This one was "No More Tears"... so they entered studio again, recorded one more song, the album got a title and the world got another classic hit.

The following tour was named "No More Tours" and it was supposed to be the last huge Ozzy tour according to the management, but Ozzy himself had serious doubts about it later. Even during the tour, he was mentioning to the audience that he won't stop. And he didn't.

At this time, Ozzy's fame surpassed by far Black Sabbath and he is established as the most successful solo artist in metal music. It will take few more years for Sabbath to be recognized by all (especially with their influence in the '90s and other genres besides metal, like grunge and stoner) even if their impact in metal music was already undeniable. In the early '90s, three albums, by Metallica (Black Album), Ozzy (No More Tears) and Queensryche (Empire) were by far the most successful heavy metal releases in the United States, and these specific albums gain multi-platinum status with millions of sales, keeping some of the highest positions, even until today. Keep in mind that bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest didn't have any album reaching these sales in the States.

No More Tears stood the test of time. Even if upon its release it wasn't received very well by few Ozz die-hard fans in Europe. This album gave to Ozzy's career a new big burst and introduced him to a new generation of fans (mainly in the United States). However, the angel wings on the cover marks another a change from the past... Ozzy is no more the "prince of darkness" and even if there is a strong metal edge in No More Tears, the '80s sound started to fade over the next years.

Track list:  1. Mr. Tinkertrain, 2. I Don't Want To Change The World, 3. Mama, I'm Coming Home, 4. Desire, 5. No More Tears, 6. S.I.N., 7. Hellraiser, 8. Time After Time, 9. Zombie Stomp, 10. A.V.H., 11. Road To Nowhere

Τρίτη 12 Σεπτεμβρίου 2017

Ozzy Osbourne - Blizzard of Ozz

Ozzy Osbourne's first solo album, Blizzard of Ozz, was released on September 20th of 1980. Let's remember...

Black Sabbath no more. Ozzy is on the edge of the abyss. 1979. Enter Sharon. A blizzard is coming.

Blizzard of Ozz is a monumental release for heavy metal music and one of the albums that inspired what we love in metal during the glorious '80s. Let's agree on that. This wouldn't be possible without the proper team that included phenomenal guitarist Randy Rhoads, bass player and lyricist Bob Daisley, drummer Lee Kerslake and Don Airey on keyboards. The album was recorded between March to April of 1980, it was produced by the band and engineered by Max Norman. Most likely it was produced by Max Norman but he wasn't the one who started to work on the album from the beginning... However we will speak soon for his complete work at next Ozz albums where he takes full credits.

Now, keep in mind that we are still in 1980, when Iron Maiden and Angel Witch just had their debut albums released, Saxon just started riding on wheels of steel, NWoBHM was all over with countless new bands (some great, some average, most of them with few songs and lot of rock attitude and sound), Motorhead were doing their thing, and just a handful of groups were trying to play heavy metal with the "SOUND" it is meant to be and not with just some distortion or just few (actual) metal songs in hard rock or rock-driven albums. In fact, two other albums that were the bridge from '70s to the '80s metal sound were also released in 1980, and defined-unlocked the "SOUND". These are Heaven and Hell and British Steel. Of course, Judas Priest was already the second greatest metal pioneer (after Black Sabbath) with their '70s metal albums but the production of Tom Allom in British Steel and Martin Birch in Heaven and Hell is the turning point for what followed. From that year and on , heavy metal already had the "SOUND" and the structure. It wasn't "hard-rock-ish", "rock-driven" or "proto-metal" (funny term of the last years, if you want my opinion), or whatever; it is pure Heavy Metal now, in all terms, and that is more than obvious in the '80s, despite that thunder during February the 13th of 1970. There was heavy metal in the '70s of course, but from 1980 and on, there is a real explosion and Blizzard of Ozz is among the albums that settled the template for '80s heavy metal.

Back in Blizzard of Ozz. Its production is not such a defining moment as the two albums mentioned above, but there are some monumental songs in this album; no doubt about it. There are parts that inspired a generation of metal fans, among them musicians that created bands and albums we love. Ozzy, Randy and Daisley were putting most of the music together. Usually Ozzy had a song title, some lines and a vocal melody. He was singing the vocal melody with random words, Randy came up with most of music and Daisley with the majority of the lyrics and some music, with most of the songs completed by the end of 1979 - early 1980. None of those songs was laid on paper or partitures and they were created on jamming and countless rehearsals, by ear and mutual approval.

Randy Rhoads was free to play and compose on classical scales and arrangements. Since 1979 you could hear "this" in some hard rock guitar players and songs but he was probably the first heavy metal artist using classical phrasing. Guitarists like Blackmore, Schenker and Van Halen were a revelation for countless young musicians, but now we are in 1980 and a 100% heavy metal album sets new standards. Also, according to Ozzy, "one day Randy came to me and said that most heavy metal songs are written in an A to E chord structure. Randy said, 'let's try to change that', so we made a rule that almost every number that we recorded on an album was never played in the same key". Just imagine how things would evolve if Randy was still with us. Most likely he would surpass guitarists that are now considered "greatest". 

Ozzy still gives the greatest credit to Randy and he always remembers him. According to Ozzy, Randy was the first one that gave him time and had the patience and time to hear his ideas and work with them. Randy Rhoads (who surprisingly didn't like Black Sabbath) admired guitarists like Leslie West (Mountain), Glen Buxton (Alice Cooper Band) and Jeff Beck, and he was a fan of David Bowie's music, but his playing was mainly a result of classical study; a unique revelation that inspired many guitarists like James Murphy, Joey Tafolla, Criss Oliva and Phillip Sandoval, just to name few, besides the indirect inspiration to countless more.

However, Ozzy's first choice for his solo band was Gary Moore, but this didn't happen because Gary wanted to start his own band. According to the Randy Rhoads audition story, Randy was tuning up, doing some arpeggios and Ozzy stopped him and said, "you got the job". Of course this is a lovely myth (or half of the truth, if you prefer) and a couple of days later, Ozzy auditioned Randy again because he wanted to make sure that it would all work out in a band situation. Frankie Banali played drums and Dana Strum was the bass player in those early auditions that took place in Los Angeles. When Ozzy returned to UK, the label and management (Jet Records and Don Arden) wanted to keep Ozzy's new band all British, so Bob Daisley entered the band and finally they accepted Randy because Ozzy wanted him without any further discussion.

At a time when bands and musicians saw for first time the cover of the album and the layout only upon its release, when Blizzard of Ozz hit the stores, Daisley and Kerslake weren't very happy because they were "promised" that this would be a band and they wouldn't just support a solo artist.

The first song written for Blizzard of Ozz was "Goodbye to Romance", a farewell to Black Sabbath and a commitment to the future, with Ozzy writing and singing "I've been the king, I've been the clown, still broken wings can't hold me down, I'm free again". "Mr. Crowley" is a neo-classical heavy metal piece of art in the true essence of this description, before the term "neo-classical" start to appear in metal music. "Revelation (Mother Earth)" is a milestone of lyrical heavy metal before the term "lyrical" accompany the music of some beloved underground US metal acts in the years to come. No need to mention the heartbreaking performance of Ozzy in this song...

1980. Heavy metal is already here. Complete as we know it. In form, stracture and sound, stronger than ever before. The doors are opened.

Blizzard of Ozz is a true groundbreaking album that has sold over 6,000,000 copies worldwide and has been certified 4 times Platinum in the United States, with sales keep going on.

Track list: 1. I Don't Know, 2. Crazy Train, 3. Goodbye To Romance, 4. Dee, 5. Suicide Solution, 6. Mr. Crowley, 7. No Bone Movies, 8 Revelation (Mother Earth), 9. Steal Away (The Night)