OLIVA – Raise The Curtain [Digipak +1] (2013)
Jon Oliva’s first ‘solo’ album arrives with the release of “Raise The Curtain”, and under his own moniker OLIVA. While some will argue that the ex- Savatage already went solo with his other band Jon Oliva’s Pain, others could say this is the first album on which Oliva plays almost all instruments.
But it’s much, much more than that.
Oliva’s work in Savatage, Doctor Butcher and Jon Oliva’s Pain left us with ground-breaking music that pushed the envelope of progressive metal and rock opera compositions. Whether you agree or not, Jon Oliva’s Pain was more of an extension of Savatage to a certain extent.
So my initial thought with “Raise The Curtain” was honestly to question whether it would be that big of a difference from Jon’s past releases. After listening to it, I now understand the BIG difference.
Jon dug into the last unexplored demo tapes of his brother Criss (RIP), and some of those riffs were his first inspiration to create these songs. The guitar on the artwork cover is a direct reference to Criss… But Jon knew that he needed the help of a few chosen ones in order to get a perfect result.
Dan ‘Doc’ Fasciano gave him a hand at songwriting and helping to push the keyboards (an instrument that Oliva has been studying for years) to a place never previously heard on a Jon Oliva disc. There’s tons of keyboards on this recording. Howard Helm is responsible for the guitar solos, while old friend Christopher Kinder played drums and also was in charge of the production. Indeed, the production is part of the magic of this record.
And what about the music? Be prepared for a magical ride.
First of all, “Raise The Curtain” is NOT a metal album. There’s several edgy hard rock tracks, but the concept is much more rich. This is a really ‘solo’ album finding Oliva revisiting his influences from ‘70s prog and theatrical rock. Melding those ideas with the sound he created with Savatage, Oliva has produced a fascinating, diverse sounding recording.
The CD opens with a theatrical ’70s prog-rock number complete with foggy Doorish Hammond keyboards on steroids. I threw away all of my preconceived notions of what to expect on the rest of the disc after the first 60 seconds… It’s a compositional piece that fits right at a home as an opening track to an album with a storyline or theme. But as “Raise The Curtain” progresses, the explorative nature of the music and the lyrical themes are not particularly tied to one theme or storyline.
There is an emotional element at work here, as Oliva taps into his brother’s unheard music. His lyrics are poignant and heavy, and his voice carries the weight of his emotions. While the keyboards are an integral part to the music, as whole, there are some fairly heavy songs such as “Soul Chaser”, complete with Oliva’s infamous shotgun vocal delivery. The main bouncing Peter Gunnish theme keyboard riff intertwines nicely with the more complex guitar & key solos. And yes, the chorus is there raising hell in all their brief, two-word glory.
Other rocking numbers are the dark “Armageddon” which reminds you Alice Cooper when still rocked with class, and “Big Brother”, one of the heavier tunes and a few with a little Savatage sound. You will smile the moment you hear the keys hit. It brings back memories of Boston’s ‘Foreplay’.
Then Oliva surprise us with the unexpected. “Ten Years” has a groove that is driven by a horn section. This is just one hell of a toe-tapper with a catchy chorus and crazy keys. Did I mention the horns? In fact, there are horns provided by the USF Musical Department on several of the tracks. It’s just that this is the first track where they jump out and smack you in the kisser.
“I Know” is Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. I’ll be damned if it doesn’t pull you in. It starts with a duel between the sinister tone you would expect from Jon and a soaring heartbreak of a chorus. It then morphs into an acoustic-driven dreamy psych ballad with balls.
“Father Time” has an infectious hook with an extremely rhythmic guitar riff and a pushing melody again reminiscent of Alice Cooper yet much more proggy with lots of Hammond swirls. I love this one.
With a bit of a Middle Eastern motif in “Stalker” and the early Rush vibe of “The Witch”, Oliva brings to the table an enviable set of dynamic changes. “Can’t Get Away” is a bluesy number with a certain British retro influence, melodic, vintage and melodious.
“Soldier” is excellent. This ranks up there with the best ballads Jon has ever written. It honestly could have fit alongside the songs from Savatage ‘Streets’. It’s both beautiful and gut-wrenching at the same time. His Lennon influence shines here more than anything. Btw, the USF folks contribute an almost ethereal flute. This is just a wonderful piece.
This Digipak edition offers the bonus “The Truth”, mixing some pastoral prog and blues-inspired motifs, with acoustic guitar rhythms and a soft vocal melody. You can’t tell this is Jon Oliva who rocked your ears some years ago with Savatage.
“Raise The Curtain” is an amazing piece of art. Oliva takes us to a world in which his influences and inspirations have helped to build his musical talent.
Throw away preconceived notions as to how a Jon Oliva album is supposed to sound, and enjoy this as the album that he set out to record. While Oliva has created a particular style of music in Savatage, Pain or Doctor Butcher, on “Raise The Curtain” he allows himself to travel down musical roads listeners have yet to hear him explore, and that should be what fans want; not another rehash of music that he already has done before.
This is a creative singer/songwriter’s disc that speaks loudly of Jon’s musical inspirations and his current vision. I also like to believe it as a reflection on a legendary career intertwined with how he wants to ride off into the sunset on his own terms, not what some office in NYC tells him.
From theatrical rock to blues, from hard rock to metal, Oliva is everywhere to be heard and seen. I was so fortunate to listen to this piece of music; I suggest that you would find your time to do the same.
01 – Raise The Curtain
02 – Soul Chaser
03 – Ten Years
04 – Father Time
05 – I Know
06 – Big Brother
07 – Armageddon
08 – Soldier
09 – Stalker
10 – The Witch
11 – Can’t Get Away
12 – The Truth (Digipak Bonus track)
Jon Oliva – Vocals, Guitar, Bass, Keyboards, Drums on 3 tracks
Howard Helm – Guitar solos
Christopher Kinder – Drums
BUY IT !