The Criss Oliva Requiem Web Page


In case anyone is wondering who I am and why I made this page...

     My name is Tracy, and I first heard Savatage in 1993 when Edge of Thorns came out, and I heard the title track on the radio (Y108 and the Blaze in Chicago). I soon also heard "All That I Bleed," "Sleep," "Somewhere In Time/Believe," "She's In Love," "Mentally Yours," "Hall of the Mountain King," and "Strange Wings" on the radio, and that is when I started to like Savatage. I didn't actually get the CDs for awhile because back then I just didn't buy as many CDs as I do now, but they were one of my favorite bands that was being played on the radio. Then one night I heard on Y108 that Criss Oliva had been killed by a drunk driver. Even though I had just started getting into Savatage at the time, I was devastated. I don't even know why I was so affected at the time because I knew hardly anything about Savatage at that point and only knew the few songs that I had taped off of the radio, but I guess at some level, perhaps subconscious, Criss's music, life, and death had already had a hold of me. A few months later, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain (who, in my opinion, was a purveyor of musical crap and was unworthy of being called either a real guitarist or singer) decided to kill himself and recieved a plethora of tributes from MTV, radio stations, and even local newspapers. During this bombardment of Kurt Cobain tributes, I kept thinking "Where the hell were the tributes to Criss?" Criss was the greatest guitar player and was totally underappreciated. I knew long before I took any college courses on the media that the media do not base their coverage of people on talent and will proclaim that the music that appeals to the lowest common denomonator is great, while ignoring people who are truly talented, because that is what gets the highest ratings and cirrculation. But, I digress...

     Finally, after the demise of Y108 and the Blaze, it was time to expand my CD collection. The first thing I did was get Savatage CDs. I got Gutter Ballet first because that happened to be the only one at the store I was at. I got EOT, Streets, and Hall of the Mountain King next, I don't remember the exact order. My first reaction to Savatage, either the songs I heard on the radio or the whole CDs when I got them, was neither love, hate, or dislike. I liked them, but I also thought "hmm..." They were different from anything I had heard before, and it took a few listens before I could completely appreciate them and love them as I do now. One must to listen to every detail to fully appreciate them. I had already been affected by Criss' death and thought he was underappreciated, but as I got into the CDs, I loved him even more. By this time, Savatage was my favorite band, and my musical taste had forever changed. Bands that I liked before I heard Savatage now sucked. Other bands I would come to like would have to meet higher standards. Also sharpening my ability to listen to music discerningly was an "Appreciation of Classical Music" course that I took at Indiana University Bloomington in the fall of 1994. I can now say that Savatage and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart have made the best music that I have ever heard, for the music of Savatage and Mozart are the only things in which I have heard such brilliance.

     I now know that the brilliance I heard in Savatage was due to Criss Oliva. What really made me love Savatage as much as I do is Criss's guitar playing. His guitar playing was uniquely powerful, precise, innovative, and emotional. Also, rather then boringly chugging along in the background of a song until "It's time for a solo," Criss's guitar playing in Savatage songs is never of less importance, prominence, emotion, or meaning than the vocal lines and lyrics. This is similar to the way each instrument and voice in Mozart's works always has an important part, interesting to listen to in itself and making the whole piece so much better. To take away Criss's parts or make them substantially different makes the songs no longer perfect.

     Perhaps nothing could have made me realize how important Criss's role in Savatage was than the fact that the band continued without him. I cannot think of the current band as the same Savatage because I think it is fundamentally different without Criss. It was only after hearing Savatage without Criss that I came to feel this way (since I didn't know much about the band back then anyway). When Criss died, I thought his death meant the end of Savatage. When I heard that Savatage would continue and that former Testament guitarist Alex Skolnick was joining the band for their next album, Handful of Rain, I thought he would be good in Savatage. I got HOR as soon as it came out. I think Alex was good in Testament, but I'm not into the bluesiness on HOR or the crunchiness on "Taunting Cobras" and "Nothing Going On." About a month after getting HOR, I found Power of the Night and Fight for the Rock at a local record store. I was so happy to have more old Savatage! I've always loved FFTR. Maybe the fact that I didn't hear it until after HOR had something to do with it, because with the differences from EOT to HOR, I didn't have any particular expectations, so it's not like I was hoping for something like Sirens. Next, I found the reissue of The Dungeons Are Calling. I didn't know it had been reissued, so I was so excited when I found it, the people at the store probably thought I was crazy. Finally, I found the Sirens reissue, and my back catalog of Savatage albums was complete.

     Next, I got Japan Live '94. Alex was fine on the HOR songs, but then when it came to "Gutter Ballet," "All That I Bleed," "Conversation Piece," "HOTMK," etc., ...hey, wait a minute, they were different! Not wrong, as in bad notes - if you didn't know the originals, you wouldn't know that they were not played as they are supposed to be - but different. Not just different from the inherent differences that come with a different guitar player, but different in a way that substantially changed their style and spirit from the originals. For example, "All That I Bleed" and the "Gutter Ballet" solo were made bluesy. But they were perfect the way Criss played them! Now, in these different versions, I didn't love them anymore. Hearing these songs played differently just made it all the more obvious how great Criss was. If these songs had originally been like these other versions, Savatage would not have been my all-time favorite band. On the other hand, I have seen and heard several live video and audio tapes from previous tours and was blown away by all of them. Even with shows from the Edge of Thorns tour, I did not think that the band was in any way not 100% Savatage even though they had a new singer.

     When Al Pitrelli joined the band for the next album, Dead Winter Dead, I thought, "Good, he's used to playing in other people's bands, maybe he'll be more appropriate." Nope. I don't think the guitar playing on DWD is at all Criss-like. I lack the guitar and musical knowledge and terminology to explain, but when I listen to DWD, I can imagine the guitar playing sounding more Criss-like in my head. Maybe it's different scales, notes, accenting - I don't know - but musically, something does not sound Criss-like. And all those cool guitar things that Criss did just aren't there (sorry again for the lack of terminolgy). I personally don't feel any emotion from the guitar playing on DWD or like the guitars are telling the story every bit as much as the singing is, the way it is on Streets, for example. To me, with the wonderful singing of Zak Stevens, DWD is like the Savatage album that "could have been" if only Criss had been a part of it.

     With the release of Savatage's next studio album, The Wake of Magellan, I feel that Savatage has become a combination of the projects that Jon Oliva left Savatage before the recording of Edge of Thorns to pursue - musicals and Doctor Butcher. Savatage is now more like a combination of Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Doctor Butcher than it is like the Criss-era Savatage. However, this is not surprising since the current band is actually comprised of a combination of Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Doctor Butcher.

     In conclusion, I feel the the current Savatage pales in comparison to the Criss-era Savatage. I will never understand why it seemed that there was so much concern over Jon stepping down as lead singer before EOT, but there does not seem to have been much concern about whether the band is still truly "Savatage" without Criss. Hearing comments like "Dead Winter Dead is the best Savatage album ever" or proclaiming the glory of the songwriting team of Jon Oliva and Paul O'Neill, with no mention of Criss, is like having a knife twisted in my heart.

     The Criss Oliva Requiem Web Page is dedicated to Criss Oliva and the preservation and promotion of Criss-era Savatage.

(Dec. '97)

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