It’s been just about a year since this album was released in Europe, so why not commemorate the occasion with this long overdue review?
This is the latest solo endeavor by Savatage vocalist/keyboardist and man-Mountain King, Jon Oliva, whose past credits also include Dr. Butcher (with ex-Savatage guitarist Chris Caffery) and the gloriously overblown Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Pretty good track record for a guy who at one time was told he’d never sing again.
A brief history just for fun. The name “Tage Mahal” goes back quite a way, when Jon’s brother, late Savatage guitarist Criss Oliva, declared that if he ever did a solo album, that’s what he’d want to call it. Jon took the name for this project in honor of him, but was stopped soon after due to legal matters with blues legend Taj Mahal. So it became an album title again, and Jon Oliva’s Pain was born. With a desire to work with local musicians, and in a bit of irony, Oliva picked up the recently dismissed members of Circle II Circle, the band led by ex-Savatage vocalist Zachary Stevens. Not a crucial matter, but a fun bit of trivia for me and the rest of the metal nerds.
Whatever Oliva does usually sounds at least a little bit like Savatage, and this is no exception. Hardly ashamed, he wrote “People Say – Gimme Some Hell” as a tribute to his fans, piecing together key Savatage lyrics and album titles together with the crowd-rallying chant that gave the song its name. Anyways, this album tends to be more in the prog-metal vein that they have been dabbling with on their recent albums. There is a lot more keyboard in the mix and everything is written and performed on a bit grander scale, including the use of a full orchestra, something Oliva says he can’t do with Savatage.
For all of that, though, there is no real way to describe the music beyond what has already been said and what you probably already expect. That is not to say that this project is derivative and dull, and there are in fact quite a few standout tracks here. Aside from “People Say . . . “, which grooves along with a steady bass-driven verse before bursting forth with the triumphant chorus, there is “The Non Sensible Ravings of the Lunatic Mind”, heavily orchestrated with a dual-vocal chorus that truly captures the essence of the song. “Pain” works along the same lines musically, but finds Oliva screaming the chorus solo in a way we haven’t heard in years. “Fly Away” and “Father, Son, Holy Ghost” show off his softer side in a manner that is well-executed but a bit of a downer given the rest of the album. Which leads me to the primary flaw here, and that is that there are tracks that just seem too long, and it just takes the wind out of you trying to make it though the album.
If you like Savatage, and if you’re reading this I’m betting that you do, this album will tide you over until that band reconvenes for a new album. In fact, combined with Chris Caffery’s latest, W.A.R.P.E.D., and the reissue of their Dr. Butcher albums, you can probably last at least another year before the Floridian legends create the follow up to Poets and Madmen. If you don’t like Savatage, though, why the hell do you care about what Jon Oliva is doing in his spare time?