Savatage is dead, long live Savatage! That´s about the gist of how I have been feeling on the subject for the past twelve years. After the quite passable (but not brilliant) Poets and Madmen, the curtain fell for the American band, which all but continued as the travelling Christmas troupe Trans-Siberian Orchestra, of which there are now two versions touring the United States in December, raking in the dough for messrs O’Neill (for many still the reason behind Savatage’s demise and Oliva.
In the time between Christmas and, well, Christmas, we have been regularly treated to outings from Jon Oliva’s touring group Pain, which is just Savatage with other musicians. Those albums have been extremely solid, and sound more like the former band’s old days than just about everything Savatage brought out since hiring Zak Stevens (although those albums have almost all been great). This, for the largest part, can be attributed to the fact that a lot of the material derives from boxes and boxes full of tapes with unfinished material by Jon’s late brother and guitarist Criss. Raise the Curtain allegedly houses the last of that material, which is such a special occasion to Oliva, apparently, that he had to release it under his own moniker instead of with Pain.
One thing becomes obvious from the first tones of Raise the Curtain: this is by far the most frivolous thing Oliva has released in a long time, if ever. The opening song starts with a roaring Hammond organ (an instrument that’s remarkably omnipresent on this record). Oliva experiments with organs, horns and old seventies’ rock, and manages to mix all of those things into a surprisingly coherent entity that exists somewhere between old Savatage, Jon Oliva’s Pain and what I always thought his solo work would sound like.
There’s some very apparent Doobie Brothers on the excellent Father Time, for example. It’s a very old-fashioned rock song, sounding as if it could have been released a very long time ago. The Hammond gurgles throughout, but some excellent twin guitar work keeps the song grounded very much in this day and age (as does the production). There’s also some great up-tempo stuff on Raise the Curtain, with the frantic Big Brother or the heavy Soul Chaser. Another real highlight is the ominous Armageddon, with its sweeping keyboards and monstrous breaks, whilst Soldier is a quiet and contemplative, moving ballad about the brave men and women who give their lives for peace every day. Raise the Curtain ends with The Truth, the bonus track that’s on virtually every version of the album. It’s quiet song that just oozes The Beatles, which cannot be a surprise for those who have come to know Jon Oliva over the years.
At the end of the day, Raise the Curtain is an album that sounds joyous and fresh, something I have not said about any release by Oliva since Criss got killed in that car accident back in 1993. Maybe releasing the last of Criss’s material has been in part some sort of healing process for the Mountain King, or perhaps Oliva just saved the best material for last. In any case, we’re being presented with a rock solid album, and in the end, that’s what counts. Highly recommended for fans of Savatage and Jon Oliva’s Pain, and traditional rock/metal fans out there.
Label: AFM Records
- Raise The Curtain (5:12)
- Soul Chaser (4:08)
- Ten Years (3:38)
- Father Time (4:32)
- I Know (6:29)
- Big Brother (4:12)
- Armageddon (4:45)
- Soldier (4:53)
- Stalker (4:42)
- The Witch (4:37)
- Can’t Get Away (6:48)
- The Truth (2:46)
- Jon Oliva – lead vocals, piano, guitars, keyboards, drums, bass
- Jim Morris – guitars
- Dan Fasciano – piano, keyboards
- Christopher Kinder – drums, percussion
Review by Ralph Plug