Sound: This is Savatage's crowning achievement; never again would they be this "metal". Now despite being released in 1984 these songs were staples of the bands set list from before they were even Avatar, so circa 1979. When the band was still Metropolis, the tracks Visions Of Hell, The Whip and City Beneath The Surface were well-known tracks of theirs. Listening to these types of songs City back then was unreal, there was nothing as brutal, heavy or metal then this was. With Sirens and this album, the band pioneered and spear-headed an entire movement without even realizing it. You can hear the traits, ideas and even formulas of the first wave of Death Metal bands in every song here.
It was the delivery of that music that proved influential to bands such as Possessed, Death, Morbid Angel, Deicide and Cannibal Corpse. The off-kilter yet somehow rhythmic percussion along with the thunderous bass provides a menacing backdrop to Criss, the show stealer. His riffs are blistering and dynamic, consistently getting heavier and bruising. He could take even the opening acoustic riff of Midas Knight and make it heavier than anything at the time. The unusual grouping of Coda's and Segno's makes the songs incredibly unpredictable and their infectious time signatures keeps the listener entertained long after the album concludes. Never again would Savatage be this brutal, menacing and for good reason, they had accomplished perfection with these six songs.
Their debut Sirens' only weakness was it featured the more "predictable" heavy metal tracks, whereas there is nothing typical about any song featured here. You never know when a solo is coming or when and if the next verse will be. Each song is unique and shows all the attributes they would be remembered for in later releases: Keyboards, unique guitar leads, unusual tempo changes and deep evading lyrics. // 10
Lyrics: Speaking of lyrics, they center on tales of Mysticism, Spirits, Purgatory, Cannibalism, it allows for the music to be as heavy and brutal as needed. There are only two songs here that feature a slow section and those are the two best songs, not only on the album but of the bands career. The first is the title track, which has a beginning you might hear in some horror movie, eerie atmosphere that sets the tone for the rest of the album. The song soon breaks in with an unbelievable three-note riff, which is brutal and catchy. Jon sings the song in a demonic tone of voice, while unleashing some otherworldly screams, like on the end. The solo here is extremely brilliant, faster than almost everything "Metal" at the time. The solo is very inspired and has a strong sense of phrasing, ending with another great scream by Jon. The end of the song was the perfect closer, which brings me to my only complaint for the whole record. // 10
Overall Impression: Had "By The Grace Of The Witch" started the album, with it's fade-in and this title track ending the album with the dirge-like organ and the slamming of what one would assume had been a dungeon door, it'd fit better. But oh well, this works well on playlists...
The second of the two songs to feature a slow intro was the best on the album, City Beneath The Surface. The only song to ever come close to mastering this, aside from the title track, was I Believe on their debut. The song ends with a superb conclusion, so profound and heavy, before fading into a synthesizer, that it leaves you breathless. Just listen to the incredible notes on the synth afterwards to grasp the power and energy of this piece. These two tracks would make even the master of the metal riff, Tony Iommi, stand back in surprise and awe.
The four other tracks, on the original and the three bonus tracks, on the silver anniversary collectors edition are all great, but of these seven remaining tracks The Whip is the fastest and best of them all. Another favorite right from the beginning, while Midas Knight is a great song with excellent screams throughout.
A definite masterpiece often overlooked but never matched again by Savatage, at least not in "Metal" terms. Sirens and this started something very unique, a movement that became known later as Death Metal, a whole new style in which many have followed. // 10