Jon Oliva's Pain
posted on 5/2010 By:
Savatage was a huge part of my formative days—Hall Of The Mountain King, Gutter Ballet and Streets were all huge records for Younger Me. As the 'Tage went on, even with the departure of one Oliva and the tragic loss of the other, I've stuck fast beside those bombastic Floridians, and like every other Sava-fan the world around, I'm waiting for the next chapter, wintering this seemingly neverending Christmastime until the spring returns and madness reigns once more.
And I’ve found that, in the absence of the one true Savatage, Jon Oliva's Pain fills the gap nicely.
Between the classically infused arrangements, Jon's signature vocals and the beyond-the-grave songwriting contributions from Criss (culled from unused Sava-tracks or from riff-tapes that Jon discovered), the Pain catalog has been both literally and metaphorically a continuation of—and a tribute to—that distinct Savatage sound. Festival is no exception. These tunes are grandiose, epic, driving, melodic, and damn good. Opening with the Criss-driven riffage of "Lies," which Jon says is inspired by shady business partners from the Savatage days and is musically borrowed from the Streets outtake "Beyond Broadway," Festival expands into the expected symphonic overtones of "Death Rides A Horse" and achieves greatness in the dark carnival atmosphere of the title track. (The open-A-minor riffs in that particular song are stellar, easily the best on the record.)
Despite some great tunes all around, the album does slack off somewhat in the back half. "Afterglow" rides a dreamy acoustic lilt that segues in and out of heavier riffs, including brief and unexpected jazzy moments, before things return to a typical Sava-chugging form in "Living On The Edge Of Time." (Parts of that track date back into the Savatage days, as well.) Those two tracks are both solid, but after that, things start to feel a bit redundant, as the dynamic of "acoustic track into pounding rocker" is repeated immediately in the drifting "Looking For Nothing" and the energetic but second-tier "The Evil Within." The Beatles-esque acoustic-and-synth intro to "Winter Haven" belies another epic-metal highlight, seven minutes of symphonic glory, and the album closes on the ballad "Now," which deals with the loss of a loved one and I’m assuming is at least partly directed towards Criss. Jon has always had a gift for beautiful balladry—although that’s been something of a double-edged sword, as there was a time when it seemed that those ballads overshadowed Savatage’s metallic crunch—and "Now" is as close to those career peaks as Festival gets. It’s certainly no "If I Go Away" or "When The Crowds Are Gone," and even as Criss-tributes go, it’s no "Alone You Breathe," but it’ll do, I suppose.
Pain’s ranks are filled by ex-members of Circle II Circle, another Savatage offshoot, and their performances are worthy, but this Pain is and will forever be Jon’s show (hence the name). I do find myself missing the solos of Pitrelli and Cafferty, and like Jon, I, too, miss Criss, whose nimble-fingered leads were always great exercises in tasteful shredding. Recorded at Tampa’s legendary Morrisound Studios, birthplace of countless metal classics, Festival sounds shiny and tight, as expected.
The Mountain King may be older now, but his voice hasn’t been diminished by the passing of time. (I mean, listen to that classic Jon Oliva screech on "for all e-TERRR-nity" on "The Evil Within.") Most importantly, Oliva’s penchant for creating high-quality theatrical and progressive metal remains truly unmatched and completely untarnished. While perhaps not quite as excellent as earlier Pain efforts, Festival is still damn good in its own right and more than worthy for fans of all things Oliva.
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