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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/