RockHard magazine, Germany, dec. 1993
Author: Matthias Breusch
Translated by Ellen Bakvis
Savatage-guitarist Criss Oliva is dead. He died on the 17th of october (1993 ) near his hometown Clearwater,Florida in the remainders of his car, when it was hit head-on by a drunk driver. His wife Dawn survived badly injured. Criss was only 30 years old.
With this tragic accident the metal scene lost one of the most creative and technically innovative musicians , compared to the early death of Ozzy-guitarist Randy Rhoads.
Our U.S correspondent Chris Leibundgut, from whom we got the message, thereby rightly spoke of "one of the most underestimated guitarists there have ever been". Criss Oliva belonged to the few really gifted musicians of the rock- and metalscene. He was an axeman; his playing could be recognized from thousands of other string-artists without any problem. His style, a mixture of inimitable power-riffs and exquisit lead-guitars, was the unique backbone of the Savatage sound. Together with his brother Jon, Criss formed one of the strongest songwriter-duo's in 25 years of hardrock history.
At that time Savatage were pioneers, since 1978 when the band ( then still under the name of Metropolis, later Avatar - Criss was only 15 years old ) played it's first clubgigs in Florida, they have played their own original style without any compromise. Whichever wave was going by, whether it was Thrash, Sleaze, Speed , Crossover or Grunge, the music of Savatage remained untouched by it. Never any coverversion - nowadays the flight of so many bands from an obvious lack of inspiration - was needed on either one of their total of eight albums.
Criss, Jon (v), Steve Wacholz (d), and Johnny Lee Middleton (b) plainly embodied the heavy metal of the eighties, formed an axle like Paice/Blackmore/Lord of Purple or Harris/McBrain/Dickinson of Maiden. Together with their producer Paul O'Neill on classical albums like 'Hall of the Mountain King' , 'Power of the Night', 'Gutter Ballet' and the brilliant rock-opera 'Streets' they created sounds and songs that, just based upon their imposing bombast, together with an enormous technical potential, will forever be unreached. Each attempt to copy this band would be doomed to fail right from the beginning.The last album 'Edge of Thorns', recorded with the new singer Zak Stevens , also belongs in this sequence. It delivered the finest melody-metal, lead by guitarplaying of which Criss in his last interview with us said that it represented "the best I have ever accomplished".
Hardly any other formation has filled a concept like US-metal - as opposite to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal - with life as did the band that founded the Florida-scene. And anybody who has seen one of their grand shows on the 'Gutter Ballet' or 'Streets'-tour in this country ( Germany ) will confirm the fact that they did not just carry conviction by perfection and megapower in the studio, but also on stage. Being able to fill more than one-and-a-half hour of liveshow with highlights exclusively has only been reserved for the great.
The imponderables of the buisiness nevertheless have lead to the fact that Savatage, in spite of their artistical potency, have never found their way into the shopping bags of the big mass of hardrock- and metalfans, and that they have been effortlessly overtaken by artistically weaker bands on the point of recordsales. It may have been to blame on their partially doubtful management, on the stephmotherly ;'support' of their label Atlantic ( exception: the German department ) or on the fact that they never had the chance to a big headliner - just once, in 1988, they were allowed to accompany Megadeath and Dio as 'warmup' on their Us-tour. Symptomatic for a band that never really got lucky and has been vexed in the true sense of the word, eversince they signed their first record-contract with Par Records in Florida in 1982.
We will miss you, Criss. Thank you for the music.