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Previous experience indicates that Jon Oliva is a pretty damn good composer. I enjoy SAVATAGE, and TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA even more, but I had yet to be exposed to Oliva's solo project. While I do not extensively enjoy his voice, there's generally a lot more than that to be appreciated throughout his various projects. This is as clear as ever on “Festival”, which is a wonderful smorgasbord of catchy, potent, and gritty metal.
Yes, I like this album, and it came almost immediately. It's unusual for a track to nab my attention quite as quickly as “Lies” did, and just as unusual for the strength of the compositions to retain my attention most of the way through the record whilst I work at my desk. Work took a backseat for a while as I eagerly explored Oliva's latest venture, this time into the world of his own nightmares.
“Festival” is somewhat dark, but what's more, it's heavy. Definitely compared to the last effort “Global Warning”. The first few tracks are churning and riff-laden, coming one after the other with no let-up. “Lies”, “Death Rides A Black Horse”, and “Festival” are all great tracks, and should put the album on the map even without the help of the rest of the album. “Afterglow” begins slowly, but about a minute and a half in, Oliva lights the fuse, and the whole song turns into a borderline masterpiece, swaying effortlessly back and forth between an acoustic ballad and a proggy slugfest. “Living On The Edge” brings the record back to a fast pace, though it's not quite as solid melodically as the first few tracks. “Winter Haven” is the last track on here that is especially worthy of mention, though every track is mildly enjoyable at worst. “Winter Haven” is half tranquil, emotional storytelling, and half bombastic metal goodness.
I sometimes wish that Jon Oliva had a different voice, but it's really part of the power and charm on his albums. That being said, I sometimes feel that a smoother voice might suit his music better. Now that that's out of the way, I don't feel that anyone has anything to apologize for here, the instrumental work is great, the occasional choral-like vocals are well-done, and the songwriting is really top-notch.
There's a lot of SAVATAGE memories that come drifting through during this album, and I think that “Festival” is as good as anything from that era. I nominate this as my favorite JON OLIVA'S PAIN album, and maybe some of the best work he's ever accomplished. Bloody good, one of the year's best releases thus far, and highly recommended to any metalhead. Absolutely essential for Savatage/Oliva lovers.
Originally written for www.metal-observer.com/
Some have defined insanity as being the act of performing the same behaviors over and over again while expecting different results every time. But when different results are actually realized, which perspective is truly insane? 2008's "Global Warning" was a decent album with some good tracks, but I kinda thought that it was slightly brought down by its more experimental nature. As a result, I was rather nervous to check this release out when I heard Jon Oliva himself mention in an interview that it would be even more of the same. Now imagine my surprise when "more of the same" turns out to be one of the best albums of the year!
As previously established, this is easily the most experimental JOP album to date and quite possibly in Oliva's entire career. I know the move to more symphonic material back in the day was pretty risky, but I don't think he's ever had another move this drastic! You've got many layers of different instruments at work, some odd tunings, and a sound that has little to no resemblance to that of the old Savatage style. In fact, the only place you can even hear it is on "Living On The Edge" and I'm pretty sure that's only due to it being another outtake from the 80s! Hell I think I hear more influence from the Beatles and Porcupine Tree than I do his old band, especially on songs such as "Looking For Nothing" and "Now." Personally, I think that was the best move that he could've possibly made and properly keeps the band from crossing over into completely sterile territory...
I think the album's songwriting is the biggest factor that keeps the progressive elements from getting too out of hand. While "Global Warning" had some several tracks that either felt like they had been thrown together or just weren't fully developed, this effort features a whole slew of songs that feel simultaneously unified and unique. You've got your faster tracks ("Lies," "Living On The Edge Of Time"), more mid-tempo songs ("Festival," "The Evil Within," "I Fear You"), theatrical numbers ("Death Rides A Black Horse," "Afterglow," "Winter Haven"), and the previously mentioned ballads ("Looking For Nothing," "Now").
While I enjoy the heavier tracks for your standard reasons and admire the ballads for being a little more subtle than usual, I think "Afterglow" is a track that truly steals the show. While it starts as a ballad with particularly dramatic verse/chorus contrasts, it eventually goes into mindfuck territory as a heavier segment comes in with a jazzy/ragtime solo section close behind. Definitely one of those things that sounds strange on a metal album but is heartily welcome regardless!
The band's chemistry also adds on to the album's enjoyment with the group sounding more like a unit than they had on previous installments. Strangely enough, Oliva himself seems to be the odd one out on his more aggressive moments but still manages to shine with his croons on the more melodic material. The riffs may also not be as defined as previous releases, but the melodies that the guitars and keyboards present do more than enough to compensate for this. The solo sections are also quite strong with the most memorable appearing on "The Evil Within," "I Fear You," and the previously mentioned "Afterglow."
The lyrics also appear to gone through some improvement over the last few years. While they don't stand out as much as the two albums before this, I'm just glad that they aren't as repetitive as they were on the last release. Of course, the music itself might just be doing a good job of distracting me from looking further into the matter...
Like "Ironbound" before it, this is another of those albums that properly blew me away and exceeded my expectations more so than I could ever imagine. Hell, I think this stands just below "The Dungeons Are Calling" and "Hall Of The Mountain King" as one of the best albums that Oliva has ever been attached to. And seeing as how this has already blown away most of the albums that I've heard in the last decade, it'll take an act of the gods (Metal or otherwise) to make an album to top this one in 2010!
My Current Favorites:
"Lies," "Death Rides A Black Horse," "Afterglow," "Living On The Edge," and "Winter Haven"
The name struck me. That’s what got me to give this new disc a go. I mean, looking back at that which has had Mr. Oliva’s name on it, be it the thrash operas of SAVATAGE or the Christmas metal anthems of TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA, you know that you’d be in for a musical smorgasbord of sophistication. That’s just how the little bugger operates, it seems. Plus, I’d already been thrown by ANOTHER group called “PAIN”, so I ask…could lightning strike twice in that regard?
I put in the disc and awaited for it to wash over me…
Much like the first PAIN I’d come across in this batch of recordings I got into it rather easily, though unfortunately it’s not quite as thunder-striking as the former. From soup to nuts what the listener gets into with this disc is what I’d call traditional Oliva Metal, wherein overall compositional ability takes a metallic format versus two-dimensional heaviness and “trueness”. This version of PAIN crams more musicality in only a few songs than other bands can do in entire albums, taking an approach that’s somewhere between vintage SAVATAGE and “Into the Electric Castle”-era AYREON with a carnival of horrors setting befitting the cover art (and, I’m sure, overall album theme). The performance is very top notch, where crushing guitars, soaring leads/solos, synthetic noodlings, and punchy percussion take any and all on a wild ride through a dark and wicked landscape of escapist delight…but sometimes it’s a bumpy ride. Much of this can be attributed to the raspy and very unbecoming harsh vocal approach that grates on the ears and bothers in its attempts to make itself more noticeable over the metallic cacophony. It serves more as an unnecessary distraction from the full-on performance and honestly I could REALLY do without it. In this case, paying more attention to the music itself works far better wonders as there’s a lot more to take in, from the madness of “Death Rides a Black Horse”, to the prog-from-Hell of “Afterglow” and the maddening “The Evil Within”.
So all in all this disc is a pretty fantastic foray into progressive chaos. It would’ve been much better had the group went with a different singer, but I guess in this case beggars can’t be choosers, and you take what you get. Recommended if you don’t mind taking your metal with a mindfuck chaser.