ALBUM REVIEW: Oliva raises the bar with ‘Curtain’

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First Posted: 7/8/2013

Jon Oliva spent nearly three decades at the cutting edge of progressive metal as the vocalist and lifeblood for Savatage, the band he formed, championed, and later morphed into a multi-million-dollar fairytale with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, yet he’s never released a solo album until now. Oliva takes a career’s worth of musical ideals, influences, and personal atonement and smatters it against the canvas to produce a dynamically personal musical statement for his solo debut.

Noteworthy to this project is that Oliva used the remaining music his brother Criss had left over. Criss Oliva, the legendary Savatage guitarist, who had many of his riffs recycled and immortalized in TSO songs, had his career cut short by a fatal traffic accident back in 1993. Jon Oliva scoured the archives Criss left behind to compile tracks like “Father Time,” which reveals a bouncy, groove-oriented nod to classic R&B, then segues into brilliantly harmonized guitar leads and Hammond organ that is straight out of an Emerson, Lake and Palmer playbook. Tracks like “Soul Chaser” are more reminiscent of Jon’s classic Savatage work, with caustic, minor-key guitar passages and rhythmic shifts – not to mention Jon’s patented evil-toothed vocal snarl.

Tracks like “Armageddon” are unsettlingly dark, more akin to Oliva’s Trans-Siberian Orchestra contributions; the track rides a militaristic, marching-type seesaw while howling, bomb effects, and otherworldly phantom instrumentation seems ripe for a conjuring, while Oliva scowls out lyrical imagery like “an arrow in the brain, showing us our reality.” Musical curve balls are thrown around every corner, however, like on “Can’t Get Away,” a Nashville-ripped soul ballad laced with wry Oliva attitude. Jon, ripping open the contents of a long-bottled heart, spills, “I never could quite find the time to tell you, I’m still holding on to you.”

Equal parts the overblown, 1970’s theatric-rock spectacle of Styx’s “The Grand Illusion,” infused with prototype English hard-prog a la Wishbone Ash/Robin Trower, with the underlying poetic breath of a true storyteller, “Raise the Curtain” is Jon Oliva leaving no doubt as to what drives him.

‘Raise the Curtain’ Oliva Rating: W W W W V

-Mark Uricheck, Weekender Correspondent