JON OLIVA’S PAIN – ‘Tage Mahal


Release Date: October 25, 2004

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Savatage fans can indeed be happy these days. First, Zak Stevens released an album last year with Circle II Circle, Watching In Silence, assisted by Jon Oliva and Chris Caffery. The latter then decided to put out two records to mark his debut as a solo artist (see the review here at Metal Express), and finally, Savatage’s main man and founding member, Jon “The Mountain King” Oliva, steps up to show the world his pain.

His pain displays Zak Stevens’ second circle (the first of course being Savatage); the band that recorded Watching In Silence (Zak has had more circles than anyone can count over the last year and a half, in true Savatage style) – featuring Chris Kinder on drums, Kevin Rothney on bass and backing vocals, John Zahner on keys, and Matt LaPorte on guitar. A recent addition is Jerry Outlaw on guitar – not to forget the man himself on piano, guitars, vocals/voices and sick facial expressions.

Ok, that was the introduction. Confused? As much as Savatage fans are happy these days, they are confused, and rightfully so. Sandwiched between Circle II Circle, Caffery’s Faces and God Damn War, and Oliva’s Tage Mahal, there is a tremendous Savatage record — one that would indeed have been their best since 1993’s Edge Of Thorns. The problem is, Savatage is a heavy ship, and after sitting on their asses waiting for the phone to ring for too long, the creative forces found out that they are better off in an easier-to-navigate smaller boat. This doesn’t mean the end of Savatage, although anyone holding his breath in anticipation would have a hard time getting life insurance …

This record sounds fresher than anything Oliva has done since the Doctor Butcher record, that nice “collection of love songs” first released back in 1994. In fact, Jon Oliva’s Pain’s Tage Mahal is the best Savatage record released since Doctor Butcher! Collect the best 13 songs off Caffery’s releases, and you have a disc that is just as strong – but that’s a Caffery record — this is more like a Savatage record.

So you may wonder: Why is Oliva establishing a Savatage outside of Savatage — why is he competing with himself? Well, read that heavy ship vs. small boat comparison again, and the fact that Oliva is not involved with touring the Trans-Siberian Orchestra every year, while Caffery, Plate, and Middleton are, and that answers why there are no current Savatage members in his Pain-band. Jon wants to be able to show his pain whenever he wants to, not whenever someone else’s schedule lets him do so. Got it?

Ok, those were the facts. If you’re still with me, let’s move on to the content of his pain, the CD named Tage Mahal. First up is “The Dark,” a brother of “Commissar” from Poets And Madmen(2001). The song is full of trademark Oliva bombast and huge choruses. It’s a good opener, and has a really cool guitar solo; all in all, kind of a modern Savatage song. After four minutes, the song changes pace from up-beat to more laid-back, and you’ll hear a very melodic guitar solo, presumably performed by Jon himself.

Jon is somewhat involved in every aspect of this CD, not just the vocals and piano. The lead guitar sound is very close to what his late brother Criss developed on his last four records, and proves that this unique and crisp-clean Metal-sound was not only in his brother’s hands – but in the blood of both of them. Yet further proof is “People Say – Gimme Some Hell,” where Matt LaPorte administers his fingerwork a la “Hounds”/”Legions,” as well as that typical Criss Oliva “motorcycle sound.” “People Say…” also has a “Legions”-like bass riff, and takes the listener on a lyrical journey throughout Jon’s Savatage career. Those who claim that this song should have been saved for Savatage’s 25 years anniversary record, or whatever way the hangar ship chooses to turn next, have a valid and strong point. Then again, when you come up with such a cool song, you can see why you don’t want to put it in the closet. “People Say…” is the stand-out song on the record — also the one that will go down as the best live (proven at ProgPower in Atlanta), with its cool drum sound and dominant bass lines, the over the top bombastic horn section, and Jon’s amazing vocal performance. Ever wondered how the word “hell” should be pronounced? Check it out here …

“Guardian Of Forever” is an old Savatage title, from the pre-Hall Of The Mountain King-days. However, this is a completely different song, starting off not too different from “The Hourglass.” “Guardians…” sounds like it’s coming from a band that really enjoys playing, though. It’s a dark tune in tempo, mood, and lyrics, and Oliva indeed sounds like he’s in pain. The blend of Zahner’s keyboards and Jon’s piano makes for a massive sound; an atmosphere that makes you breathe heavily when the song is over.

“Slipping Away” is “You’re Alive” (Streets – A Rock Opera, 1991) mixed with Yes and Led Zeppelin, ending with “The Dungeons Are Calling.” In the end, it’s amazing how you can pick the record apart and say it’s a Savatage record, or this reminds you of that, etc., but Tage Mahal is so much more.

Jon really lets his 70’s inspirations shine through; John Lennon, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath, as well as a little Pink Floyd, and some of the Progressive bands. When you hear “Walk Alone,” you know from where Jon is coming. This one is another song Jon wrote about his brother, by the way, along with the last piece, “Fly Away.”

Without going into details on every song here, the diversity of the record makes it hard to leave any of them out, “The Non Sensible Ravings Of The Lunatic Mind” is what should have been the title track on Poets And Madmen, and since Savatage now comes up again – original ‘tage drummer Steve “Dr. Killdrums” Wacholz sits in on “Nowhere To Run” and “No Escape,” a few kind of the “old school” Savatage numbers that could have fit on Power Of The Night(1985). “Nowhere To Run” features the verses from “Target,” a “Gutter Ballet” demo (shit, I’m divulging that I’m a total Savatage nerd here…).

“Pain” is groovy Oliva with Doctor Butcher vocal effects – one of the coolest and most straightforward Metal songs on the record. Speaking of vocals, this is Jon’s best vocal effort since Streets. It’s a fact that Oliva blew out his voice back in the days of heavy touring and even heavier partying, and it has taken him a while to get back in shape. Poets And Madmen wasn’t written around his voice, and that explains why this one is better vocally. Isn’t it amazing how this multi-talented musical genius can heal his soul?

The Mountain King is back with full force – in a small speed boat, cruising faster than he has in a long time, and though the heavy hangar ship called Savatage possibly will rescue him one day, I can’t wait to see how many times he cruises in circles around it before getting picked up. More seriously, this is a bloody good record that will make more than Savatage fans happy with its diversity and strong performance. If you’re fed up with the typical Heavy Metal album, try this one on for size! Jon Oliva’s Pain offers timeless music outside of typical genres – this is a CD you’ll never end up putting back in your rack.


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