Criss Oliva

Criss Oliva

"He lived for that guitar. I would go over to his home for a visit and no matter what he was doing, on the phone, eating dinner; Criss would always have a guitar in his hands." Criss' father

Criss Oliva was a gifted guitarist who helped to develop Savatage from a standard heavy metal group into one that could merge divergent styles and produce accessible and skillful concept albums.

Born in 1963, Criss Oliva formed the band "Metropolis" at the age of 16 with his brother Jon. Destined to become a progressive rock group it went through a number of name changes before becoming "Savatage" (from a combination of avatar and savage).

Criss' skill lay with the guitar and so with his brother taking vocal duties he concentrated on developing a style for the group based around the music that influenced them. The initial series of albums released by the group leant heavily on the approach used by bands such as Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath. While the albums were good solid recordings they were not going break the mold of standard heavy metal.

It was 1987 when Savatage really hit their stride and Criss' guitar playing got the recognition it deserved. The recording was "Hall Of The Mountain King" and showed them developing a style that incorporated both rock and classical influences, particularly on the title track where they reinterpreted the Grieg classic. With the record giving them their first taste of commercial success and with their style now defined the group's momentum continued. They released a concept album "Gutter Ball" and this was followed in 1991 with the rock opera "Streets A Rock Opera". Streets showed the ambition of the group, taking nine months to record and based on the fortunes of a fictional musician, DT Jesus, who becomes embroiled in the world of street drugs.

While Criss was comfortable with both touring and recording he preferred the studio aspect of the work due to his dislike of traveling between gigs. However with albums to promote the group did regularly take to the road. After the Streets tour however Jon was forced to step down as vocalist due to vocal problems.

With Jon replaced by Zak Stevens Savatage recorded their next album, "Edge of Thorns" (released in 1993). While this was still a concept album the style was more AOR, the band began to get radio play and a world tour beckoned. Criss was happy with the direction that the band was taking; they were developing new audiences without leaving their original support behind. Criss had however played his last part in Savatage as on October 17th, 1993 he was killed by a drunk driver

  • Vicious Rumors dedicated "Thunder & Rain" (on their "Word Of Mouth" release) to Criss.

  • Amongst others, Savatage toured with Metallica, Kiss, Ted Nugent, Motorhead, Megadeth and Iron Maiden.

  • At one point there were rumors that Megadeth wanted Criss as their new lead guitarist.

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