Oliva // Raise the Curtain
Rating: 4.0/5.0 — Of jazz hands and Genesis
Label: AFM Records
Websites: None
Release Dates: Out now!

jon_oliva_raise_the_curtainI’ve been following Jon Oliva’s career since I was a wee metal lad. I loved the classic Savatage albums like The Dungeons are Calling and Hall of the Mountain King and while I didn’t enjoy their eventual metamorphosis into a Broadway-like, show tuney act on later albums like Gutter Ballet and Handful of Rain, I always had a soft spot for Oliva’s singing. I also enjoyed a lot of the Jon Oliva’s Pain material even though it could be inconsistent. It was somewhat of a surprise to see him appear with this new eponymous act, but apparently Mr. Oliva felt the new moniker was more appropriate since this features music written by his deceased brother and former Savatage bandmate Criss Oliva. While the material here isn’t vastly different from later period Savatage or  the Jon Oliva’s Pain discography, it’s a more masterful fusion of metal, progressive rock like Yes, and old Genesis and Broadway-style, jazz handy wackiness, though thankfully, the Broadway elements are mostly kept in check. Jon Oliva is a metal institution, he has one of the most distinctive voices out there, he’s performing music with a deep personal connection and since he helped create Trans-Siberian Orchestra, he’s pretty much Father Fucking Christmas. Needless to say, I was really intrigued to hear Raise the Curtain. It turns out to be quite the insidious grower and achieves a lot of what Savatage strived for on later albums, but couldn’t quite get right. It’s also one of the nicer surprises of the year and a whole lot of fun too.

The first thing one notices is just how much this is like 70′s prog-rock. There are layers upon layers of Hammond organ swirling and churning on the title track and it calls to mind the work of Yes and Queen mixed with Paradise Theater era Styx. It’s a festive sound and has a big  “opening night” vibe. Even the endless refrains of “Raise the Curtain” can’t stop the fun as this rocks along in a proggy fury. This leads into more traditional, crunchy, Savatage-like metal with “Soul Chaser” and on to groovy, funky rocker “Ten Years” which adds Bebop jazz horns to the musical stew. All work and all are catchy as hell.

The standout comes with The Doobie Brothers meets Kansas meets metal sound during “Father Time” which pops andJon+Oliva++3 sizzles with crisp playing and vocal hooks. I love the chorus and can’t get this one out of my head. Equally solid is the melancholy yet oddly ominous pseudo-ballad “I Know” which could have been on Savatage‘s Edge of Thorns album. Also notable is the surprisingly touching ballad “Soldier,” the interesting Middle Eastern vibe in “Stalker” and the laid back, quasi-country rock of “Can’t Get Away.” Of the bunch, only “Armageddon” feels a bit undercooked, but even that isn’t bad.

Raise the Curtain is such a wild ride because of the constantly shifting moods and vibes. This is truly an “all over the place” kind of platter and as diverse as the styles get, the album feels cohesive and makes sense somehow. It feels like a lot of thinking went into the compositions and arrangements and it manages to be experimental, complex and accessible all at the same time.

Mr. Oliva handled most of the instruments himself and only looked outside for help with guitar solos by Howard Helm and some drumming assistance from Christopher Kinder (Jon Oliva’s Pain). CrissMany of the ear turning moments come from the wild keyboards and Oliva really outdoes himself capturing that special 70s prog-rock sound. He also gives an impressively diverse vocal performance ranging from metallic rasping, Joe Cocker-esque, herky-jerky groaning and smooth, clean singing. He conveys tender emotion when needed and he can still sound damn nasty when necessary.

The sound is rich, full and not unlike a 70s Yes album, but with way heavier guitar tones. The keyboards are very central and upfront in the mix and at times they overpower the guitars, but it’s a minor issue as the overall sound is quite pleasing to the ear.

I don’t know how much of what ultimately comprised Raise the Curtain was written by Criss Oliva, but whatever the percentage, Jon surely did right by his brother and this is an impressive homage to him and the music they both loved. I can’t think of a finer way to celebrate him and I’m glad his music is finally seeing the light of day. Good on you, Jon and R.I.P. Criss. Check this out.

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  • Kalsten

    I am not a follower of Oliva’s work, but I have to say, his work in the song Death is just a feeling of Avantasia is amazing (Kai Hansen should be ashamed of his live performance of this song, seriously).

    I think I have to give him a try more deeply. I have the hunch that he is the typical composer/singer that you need to listen a lot before really enjoying him.

    • http://Angrymetalguy.com Steel Druhm

      That’s likely true. I suggest the Jon Oliva’s Pain songs “Death Rides a Black Horse”, “Festival” and “The Dark” as good entry tracks.

    • Madam__X

      That’s why his voice feels so familiar – I love that Avantasia track!

    • http://themetalpigeon.com/ The Metal Pigeon

      Hall of the Mountain King by Savatage, start there.

      • http://Angrymetalguy.com Steel Druhm

        I was going from his solo efforts, but if we were doing Savatage I would say the same thing as well as “Gutter Ballet” “Grace of the Witch” and “Power of the Night.”

  • Madam__X

    Father Time rocks! This album’s a lot darker than I expected, so far I’m enjoying what I hear. Great review :)

    • http://Angrymetalguy.com Steel Druhm

      Thanks X! I love that song muchly.

      • Madam__X

        I’ve been looking for something quirky to add to my playlist, you found it!

  • http://blog.punman.net/ punman

    Edge of THORNS, btw.

    Also a huge Savatage fan, they really did walk that line between power cheese and prog. They are like Devin Townsend in his Addicted! or Epicloud mien, obviously not in tone or sound, but in production and feeling. Kinda hard to explain but I’m not even through the first coffee yet, so I hope that comes across like I meant it.

    • http://Angrymetalguy.com Steel Druhm
      • http://blog.punman.net/ punman

        It was for emphasis as to what was incorrect … however, I have corrected the post based on your style guidelines. Thanks!

        • http://Angrymetalguy.com Steel Druhm

          OOPS!! My bad. Corrected.

      • Realkman666

        Aw, I missed it. :(

        • http://Angrymetalguy.com Steel Druhm

          HA!