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Having carried on the spirit of Savatage in the wake of the band's unfortunate hiatus, Jon Oliva's Pain has come out with what may be their most ambitious effort to date. This album isn't quite as aggressive as the previously released "Maniacal Renderings" was, but it manages to showcase the band's more experimental side and helps bring in some of the theatrics that made the Oliva brothers' original baby as unique as it was.
While this group's last two albums seemed to walk on a tightrope between the heavier sound of Savatage's early days and the style of their progressive era, this album seems to fully embrace the symphonic sound with open arms. The opening title track plays like a dramatic overture from the "Dead Winter Dead" time period and several songs are filled with even more strings, piano, and choral backing vocals than on previous albums. Thankfully it's never as over the top as the TSO material and Paul O'Neill's rather cutesy poetry is nowhere to be found...
Of course, there are still traces of the heavier sound left on here in the form of the fast paced "Adding the Cost" and the mid-tempo stomp known as "You Never Know" (both of which feature Iced Earth/Deicide guitarist Ralph Santolla, oddly enough...). Other emerging styles that are worth noting on here include the industrial dominance on "Master"and the folk touches that appear on "The Ride."
Like "Maniacal Renderings" before it, this album also includes several songs that feature posthumous contributions from original Savatage co-mastermind Criss Oliva. But while the previous album just included a riff that he came up with here and there, this release basically seems to merely serve as a way to provide some updates on a few old outtakes with a few new songs thrown in. According to the notes in the CD's booklet, "Look at the World" was briefly considered for inclusion on "Streets" and "You Never Know" was originally written for "Gutter Ballet." Also, highlight "Before I Hang" is actually a combination of two tracks composed during the "Streets" era with some new jihad lyrics written for good measure. It's certainly not a bad idea to bring a few should've-been classics out into the light, but I can only hope that the surviving Oliva brother won't grow too dependent on the old shoebox...
In addition to the newly emphasized theatrics, this effort also seems to focus more on the lyrics than the last two did. It's certainly not an all-out rock opera, but the lyrics seem to focus on a particular theme of warfare (Kinda like Iron Maiden's "A Matter of Life and Death") with other topics such as the Internet ("Master") and the afterlife ("Walk on Water") coming up as well. The writing certainly isn't bad but I feel that it may lose some of its dramatic effect due to most of us being sadly dehumanized to this topic. That and a few phrases do tend to get repeated a little too often between songs. Hell they even sneak in an "Of Rage and War" reference on "You Never Know!"
I'd also like to make a quick note on the album artwork. Yes I know it's completely irrelevant to the music at hand, but it's a hell of a lot cooler than the other covers that have graced JOP's material...
All in all, I think this is a good album that is more interesting than "Tage Mahal" but doesn't quite measure up to the power of "Maniacal Renderings." Definitely recommended for the Savatage fans who are still disgruntled at seeing the band's complete lack of activity.
1) A cool new direction and some successfully experimental songs
2) Oliva's voice is still strong and the band itself sounds great
3) A few songs from the past are given new life
1) Slightly repetitive lyrical themes and phrases
2) A few lesser tracks towards the end
3) I hope Jon isn't too dependent on just working with Criss' riffs and old songs...
My Current Favorites:
"Adding the Cost," "Before I Hang," "Firefly," "The Ride," and "Walk On Water"
Depending on who you ask, Savatage is either one of the most progressive metal bands of all time or a bunch of arty-farty sellouts who went from making genuinely evil music to dabbling with quasi-theatrical 'piano metal'. I'm hanging out in the former camp, and so it's cool to see how most of the guys have had fairly productive careers post-'Tage. Chris Caffery has risen to the level of virtuoso, and released two guitar-heavy solo albums, Zak Stevens has got Circle II Circle going on, and linchpin Jon Oliva (aka the Mountain King) is all about his Pain these days.
Global Warning is the third release from Jon Oliva's Pain, following the nostalgic 'Tage Mahal and the maliciously heavy Maniacal Renderings. Here, he's once again channelling the feel of latter-day Savatage fare like Poets and Madmen to great effect, threading together a grand spectacle that takes you through a gamut of emotions. I'm a big fan of this style, all the Broadway-esque flourishes thrown in here and there, punctuating the ballsy rockout segments, the sweet tinkle of the heartstring-twanging piano sections and the occasional experiments with different sounds like electronica. While the Mountain King's pipes aren't what they used to be – don't be expecting those inhuman high screams from his Hall of the Mountain King era – they still have that distinctive scratchy rasp that the tr00 'Tage fans love, and his constant effort to keep adapting his delivery to fit the mood of the song is mucho commendable, as always.
After repeated spins, I've grown extremely fond of Firefly, their contemplative ballad (it actually reminds me of the classic When the Crowds are Gone here and there) and the awesome The Ride, which starts off like some Hootie and the Blowfish song (except with a lot more juice), then sucker-punches you with a hell of a rocking chorus and takes off into proggy heaven from there.
Kudos all round – the Mountain King seems to be singlehandedly responsible for keeping the Savatage sound alive and kicking these days, and the rest of the band is getting better all the time. Seeing that this is probably the most complete album this particular outfit has released, it gets my seal of approval. For those people who don't a healthy dose of theatrical pomp with their metal, this is a sweet deal.