Anyone who knows anything about 80’s metal knows the name Savatage as well as the voice behind the band Jon Oliva. After the tragic death of Savatage guitarist Criss Oliva and subsequent break up with the band, Jon kept his brother Criss’ musical legacy alive with his music projects Doctor Butcher, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and of course Jon Oliva’s Pain. Now in 2013, Jon has released his first ever solo album, appropriately titled Raise The Curtain. The making of this record was Jon’s way of dealing with yet another sad loss, the passing of JOP guitarist Matt La Porte. So the writing of Raise The Curtain was cathartic for Oliva, who has stated that in writing this album, he has used the last known recorded riffs from his late brother Criss.
If you listen to this album, don’t expect to hear a typical JOP record. To be be clear, Mr. Oliva plays almost every instrument on the record joined by his musical partner in crime JOP drummer Christopher Kinder. Oliva stretches his musical influences to include progressive elements, funk, rock, ragtime, and and everything but the kitchen sink to create an eclectic mix of metal/hard rock yet still maintains the genius that is The Mountain King.
The album opener Raise The Curtain is a proggy ode to 70’s bands such as YES and ELP with a theatrical flair. The band launches into Soul Chaser. Interestingly enough, I was there to witness as this song took shape and even participated in the recording of the gang vocal (along with 250 other fans) during the chorus. For those who don’t know, Jon Oliva and Chris Kinder had a Songwriting Workshop last year at ProgPower USA in Atlanta, Georgia. In between Jon’s amusing anecdotes about songs he has written over the years, he performed several Savatage classics, and the duo recorded the skeleton of what would become Soul Chaser by recording the basic guitar, bass, and keyboard tracks as well as recording the audience doing the “OH…NO” gang vocal during the chorus. So I am proud to claim that in my small way I am on a Jon Oliva recording! How awesome is that?
For people who are expecting a straight up metal record from your Mountain King then the song Ten Years will throw you for a loop! Featuring a horn section and a ragtime time feel, this is not your typical Jon Oliva, yet somehow it seems right. Anyone who knows the song Jesus Saves from the Streets album knows that Jon is not afraid to experiment with horns within his music. Open your mind and you’ll enjoy this one. Father Time is another twist with a Doobie Brothers-esque funky guitar riff and 70’s proggy keyboards. The chorus is pure Savatage , melodic and aggressive. The next track titled I Know is an eerie ballad with a Savatage meets Pink Floyd vibe. Jon is in full spine-tinglingly creepy evil voice here. The keyboard- frenzied intro to Big Brother is jaw droppingly awesome heavy rock tune with a 70’s influence. Armageddon sounds like it would be right at home on a JOP record, a sinister sounding Oliva leading a carnival of metal madness. Another song I had a sneak prieview of at last years songwriting workshop is the stunning ballad Soldier. Recalling when Jon played the song live with just keyboards, it brought be to tears. The song is powerful and a beautiful tribute to our troops. The album version is great as well but I could have done without the addition of the flute throughout the song. It’s too distracting for this listener. Jon adds some Middle-Eastern influences within the song Stalker. Oliva’s vocal performance on this song are at it’s raspy best. For some reason the main middle-eastern guitar melody reminds me of classic King’s X. On The Witch, Jon shows his prowess on the piano keys until the song morphs into a Rush-style prog rock jam session. Can’t Get Away starts off as a bluesy Jimi Hendrix style song and quickly changes styles and is easily the most diverse and eclectic song on the record with some tasty blues guitar licks and jazzy horn section. The bonus track The Truth is another curveball ballad with Jon adding an accordion to the mix and showing his love of The Beatles in a short but sweet moment. It may be an odd way to end the album but listening to the album as a whole piece of work, it’s strangely appropriate.. this album won’t please all of the Savatage fanboys but it’s a look into the demented mind of a genius. Long live The Mountain King!