6 November 2013

Oliva - Raise The Curtain

Jon Oliva is/was the vocalist/keyboardist for American power metal legends Savatage.
I don’t have one favourite band but if I could narrow it down to, say, a top three then Savatage would most certainly be one of the three. The last Savatage album was Poets & Madmen in 2001 and while they haven’t officially split it seems unlikely that anything will be heard from them again with Jon Oliva releasing four albums with Jon Oliva’s Pain and guitarist Chris Caffery finding success with his solo albums too. Not to mention Trans-Siberian Orchestra's huge success in America. TSO feature past and present members of Savatage along with various other guests and performers.

When I heard Jon was releasing a solo album I was unsure why as J.O.P. are essentially a solo project anyway but, looking into it, he sings and plays almost all the instruments on this. It’s also slightly different musically; Later Savatage songs were often written in a very Broadway kind of style, albeit still very metal whereas the Jon Oliva’s Pain stuff was much more Proggy, Raise The Curtain has a classic 70’s rock feel to it, maybe even a touch or two of stoner rock. It's not massively different and could probably have been the fifth J.O.P. album but I understand his reasonings for it not being.

There’s some nifty Hammond organ through a lot of the songs and others feature a brass section which is an interesting addition and works quite well. It’s not a complete departure from his earlier stuff and there are often echoes of early Savatage metal in a few songs. This might be down to the fact that some of the music was written by Jon and his late brother Criss Oliva who formed Savatage with Jon back in 1978.

One thing that works really well with Raise The Curtain is the variety of the songs on it. Every song sounds different to the last and the following though it still flows as an album and doesn’t sound disjointed. Maybe it’s Jon’s voice that hold it all together; If I can’t decide if Savatage are my favourite band there’s no doubt that Jon is my favourite singer. He sings the heavy stuff with a throaty roar but on the ballads his voice sounds quite weak on first listen but carries with it a vulnerability and a weary emotion that I’ve not heard anyone else adequately convey.  He sounds as good on Raise The Curtain as he has on anything in the last 30+ years

 The opening title track is a near instrumental that begins with a couple of minutes of swirling Hammond organ reminiscent of The Doors before the title is gang chanted over and over again. It’s a great opener that creates a sense of the dramatic. The second song is Soul Chaser which is a hard metal (not counting the Hammond organ that chirrups all the way through it) track which could have been on any of the J.O.P.  albums or, perhaps, the last Savatage album.

Next is Ten Years which, like Father Time that follows, is about getting old. It’s a bouncy song with a great chorus and is brass heavy in a dirty jazz kind of way. Father Time is the first real  departure, it’s built around a guitar riff that sounds for all the world like a Doobie Brothers song! It’s steeped in 70’s prog too, the vocals are oddly subdued throughout.

Armageddon and Big Brother are the heaviest things on the album and most closely resemble Savatage though with considerably more parpery than before. I Know and Soldier are both ballads, the latter is the old Soldier-returning-from-war chestnut that's been done to death but manages to avoid the cheese and be quite touching.

Stalker has an almost grunginess air about it whilst The Witch is pure 80’s hair metal. Album closer Can’t Get Away has elements of both 60’s and 70’s pop rock and great horn-led chorus. There’s also a short bonus track on the album called The Truth which is a little country tune featuring some nice accordion. I’m not sure what the Mountain King would think of it but it’s a pretty song all the same.

Raise The Curtain is, understandably, not going to be for everyone but if you’re already a fan or wanting to try something different then this is one of his most adventurous albums and all the better for it.

9 out of 10 – Almost Perfect. Almost

You can listen to Raise The Curtain on Spotify HERE

You can buy it on Amazon HERE

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