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Brothers Jon and Criss Oliva formed the band Avatar in 1978. Created out of the ashes of their former bands Alien and Tower, Avatar was the first band that brought the brothers together, musically. In 1980, Steve Wacholz met up with and joined the Oliva brothers, where they played the local Tampa and Clearwater clubs together and built a loyal underground following. A year later Keith Collins joined the band, taking over for Jon on the bass guitar. All went relatively smoothly until 1983, when Avatar encountered copyright issues regarding their name. This challenge became an opportunity and, by combining the words “avatar” and “savage,” the band changed their name to Savatage.
   Savatage released their first two albums – Sirens and The Dungeons Are Calling – on the independent label Par Records. By 1985, they’re growing popularity scored them a contract with Atlantic Records, and in the same year they released their third album, Power of the Night. After the release of their fourth album in 1986, Fight for Rock, Savatage toured with Metallica, KISS, and Motorhead. It was around this point that Keith Collins left the band, and Johnny Lee Middleton was brought in.  
    Their first commercially successful album came in 1987, with the release of Hall of the Mountain King. The record had the same heavy sound as on previous records, but they were now working under a new producer and co-writer, Paul O’Neill. When O’Neill met Criss and Jon, he felt an instant enthusiasm and reverence towards their unmistakable musical talents. He encouraged the band to experiment for the first time with a more orchestral approach – a move that gave birth to Savatage’s distinctive sound.
    This introduction of a new musical style influenced by O’Neill featured symphonic instrumentals and continued to shape the band’s future recordings. O’Neill contributed a substantive amount of lyrics on Hall of the Mountain King, as well as a majority of the lyrics. On their next album, Gutter Ballet, his collaboration with Jon gave them a more conceptual edge.
    Gutter Ballet, which took it’s title from a rock musical that O’Neill had written, was released in 1989 and could be considered the band's true turning point. Thereafter, the band and O’Neill became a more progressive outfit, writing longer songs with more complex melodies and differing vocal styles. The songs "Gutter Ballet" and "When the Crowds Are Gone" illustrate this influence, and their next album expanded even further by employing a more operatic style. Chris Caffery, who had been playing with Savatage on their 1987 tour, was introduced as a new band member in 1988. He left after the Gutter Ballet tour (prior to the recording of Streets), but would later return to the band. In 1991, the band recorded their first rock opera – Streets. Streets was based on the same musical by O’Neill that had influenced the album Gutter Ballet.
After a tour in support of Streets, Jon Oliva left the band to concentrate on his album Doctor Butcher, as well as to work with O’Neill on his new musical projects. Throughout this time he continued to co-write Savatage material with his brother Criss and producer Paul O'Neill. O’Neill and Jon carefully hand-picked his replacement, former Wicked Witch lead vocalist Zachary Stevens, with whom the band recorded their follow up to Streets, called Edge of Thorns. In 1993, Steve Wacholz left the band and, on October 17 – shortly after the release of Edge – a drunk driver hit and killed Criss Oliva. Temporarily Savatage ceased to exist. Then Jon and Paul decided to revive the band confident that through Savatage, Criss’s music would live on.

In 1994, Alex Skolnick and Jeff Plate joined Savatage for the release of their ninth album – Handful of Rain. Handful was written by Jon Oliva and Paul O’Neill. The song "Chance" was the first Savatage song to employ the usage of counterpoint vocals, a style Paul O’Neill had wanted to try for many years and permeated all of their following albums. It was during this time that Alex Skolnick chose to leave the band in order to pursue other interests, bringing Christopher Caffery back to Savatage, along with new member Al Pitrelli. Pitrelli was known for his previous work with Alice Cooper and Asia, among other artists.
In 1995, Savatage released their second rock opera – Dead Winter Dead. This proved to be an even more ambitious endeavor than its predecessor, Streets. The album’s story focused on a Serbian boy and a Muslim girl who fall in love under the conditions of the Bosnian War, fought during the time of the album’s writing. This record gave the band an unexpected radio hit in “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)”.
Savatage’s eleventh album, The Wake of Magellan, was released in 1998. On this album, O’Neill’s lyrics and story reflect on the concepts of the worth of a life through suicide and drug abuse, drawing on real-life events, such as the Maersk Dubai incident and the murder of journalist Veronica Guerin. In 2000, Al Pitrelli left the band in order to accept an offer to join Megadeth. This was followed by the departure of vocalist Zak Stevens in 2001, who left citing family reasons. Savatage then released Poets and Madmen, highlighting the return of Jon Oliva to lead vocals. Jon chose Zak's replacement in Damond Jiniya, of the band Diet of Worms, to perform Zak's parts on the tour. This allowed Jon’s vocal role to build itself back up slowly. The tour also brought the short-lived addition of Jack Frost, who played guitar during the tour but did not stay with the band. Jeff Waters, of Annihilator, replaced Frost in the summer festival appearances of 2002.