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Jon Oliva's Pain: 'Tage Mahal

Savatage fans who want the perfect balance between the Gutter Ballet/Streets era and the more symphonic mid 90's albums like The Wake of Magellan or Dead Winter Dead will certainly be pleased with the first release from Jon Oliva's Pain titled 'Tage Mahal. Oliva has crafted some heavy, intelligent, and symphonic metal here, along with his co-horts Christopher Kinder (drums), John Zahner (keyboards), Kevin Rothney (bass), and Matt Laporte (guitars), all four musicians previously with the band Circle II Circle, ex-Savatage singer Jachary Steven' band. Also on board for drums on two cuts is original Savatage drummer Steve 'Dr. Killdrums' Wacholz.

The opening tune "The Dark" sets the stage perfectly, a heavy & bombastic piece that screams vintage Savatage. "People Say-Gimme Some Hell" references many classic Savatage songs, and has some killer guitar riffs from Laporte. In fact, much of his fluid lead work has been multi-tracked on various cuts that will remind the listener a lot of the way Savatage arranged their songs back when the late Criss Oliva manned the guitar slot. There's a multitude of keyboards on the album, which will certainly please those listeners with a more progressive pallatte-listen to Zahner and Laporte trading classicaly inspired licks on the moody "Guardian of Forever", a real epic flavored song.

"Slipping Away" has a strong arena rock anthem feel to it, while "Walk Alone" is a very heavy ballad, with Oliva's strong vocals and Zahner's gentle piano the highlight. Don't fret though, there are plenty of mind-knumbing crunchers, like the brutal thump of "No Escape", where Oliva & Co. take you to Sirens era intensity, as well as the headbanging steamroller "Pain", led by Oliva's multi-layered evil vocal spews and Laporte's lethal guitar riffs.

Had I had a chance to really digest this CD earlier it would have easily made my Best of 2004 list, but alas it was a late release and unfortunately sat in the "to be reviewed" pile for a few weeks. 'Tage Mahal proves that Jon Oliva still has a lot of tricks up his sleeve, and, along with Chris Caffery's Faces, and the latest from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, there still seems to be a lot of great ideas and music being produced within the Savatage camp. Here's hoping that we might see something from the band in 2005.

Track Listing
1. The Dark
2. People Say Gimme Some Hell
3. Guardian Of Forever
4. Slipping Away
5. Walk Alone
6. The Non Sensible Ravings Of The Lunatic Mind
7. No Escape
8. Father, Son, Holy Ghost
9. All The Time
10. Nowhere To Run
11. Pain
12. Outside The Door
13. Fly Away

Added: March 8th 2005
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Jon Oliva's Website
Hits: 3730
Language: english

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Jon Oliva's Pain: 'Tage Mahal
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2005-03-08 13:39:43
My Score:

Savatage fans have been waiting for a solo album from Jon Oliva since 1994, if not longer. Jon always said he wanted to do a solo album where he would play each instrument himself but never seemed to find the time for it. Eventually, with Savatage being on hold and producer Paul O'Neill focusing on TSO, Jon Oliva hooked up with former Circle II Circle members and re-recorded the already written songs to make this more of a band effort. Personally I was really expected to hear Jon play every instrument, including the guitar solos, but since the music on this album is excellent in its own way I am quite pleased with it.

Accompanying Jon Oliva on the instrumentation are Matt LaPorte on guitars, Kevin Rothney on bass, Christopher Kinder on drums and John Zahner on keyboards. Zahner had also toured with Savatage back in 1992 on the Streets tour so he definitely shares and understands Jon's vision. The guys also do a lot of backing vocals to bring more depth to the harmonies, which is a welcome change. Jon's initial plan was to name this project Jon Oliva's Tage Mahal but because of legal reasons they had to change to Pain. The reason they picked the name Tage Mahal is because Criss Oliva (RIP), founding member and guitarist of Savatage, was planning to release a solo album and title it Tage Mahal before his untimely death.

This album is the first chapter of the trilogy (which means we probably shouldn't expect another Savatage album any time soon) and it mainly catalogs Jon's major influences. Bands like the Beatles, Black Sabbath, Queen and Deep Purple all hold an important place in the evolution of Jon's music and with this release he openly pays homage to most of these great bands as well as revisits the old days of Savatage. The songs were all written by Jon Oliva himself with the exception of "The Nonsensible Ravings of the Lunatic Mind" and "Outside the Door" co-written by Chris Caffery. While the former is highly reminiscent of the band's songs on the last Savatage album Poets and Madmen, the latter is a nice laid-back track with a bluesy guitar feel to it. Former Savatage drummer Steve Wacholz also graces two songs, namely "No Escape" (with a Criss Oliva-like tapping solo) and "Nowhere to Run". This was Wacholz' first recording in the last 10 years and it's great to have him back!

Jon picked a perfect song to kick things off. "The Dark" is one of the most powerful songs on the record featuring a guitar solo that brings Criss Oliva's playing to mind and Jon Oliva going back to his late-80's days with face-ripping vocals. I bet everyone thinks that "People Say Gimme Some Hell" is the album's most Savatage-inspired track as it makes various references to older Sava tunes both lyrically and musically. This is a very unusual song though; it even has some saxophone and trumpet work on it with groovy bass work by Rothney. The vocal melody at 2:08 always gives me goosebumps; as the song carries on, Jon shifts his vocal stylings too and it's simply amazing. The longest song "Guardian of Forever" begins with a soft piano intro that we would hear on Sava's masterpiece Streets. The arrangement, however, is more in the league of Poets and Madmen. One thing that is extremely cool is the guitar work and solos on some particular compositions. I always knew Jon even composed most of the guitar solos on piano before the guitarists (Pitrelli, Skolnick) came in and improvised over those melodies. The solo in "Guardian..." is almost identical to Al Pitrelli's work on the DWD/TWOM albums. Similarly the guitar work on "Walk Alone" could sit well on HOR as it seems like it was taken out of Alex Skolnick's book. This is audible proof that Jon Oliva has always been the main songwriter of Savatage, and yes, that includes most guitar solos. Then, any Sava fan knows that some of the Criss-era solos were penned by Jon on piano too.

"Slipping Away" is one of the songs we would never hear on a Sava album because it kicks in with naked Beatles vocal harmonies sung by the rest of the guys and it's incredibly awesome. I have to give props to drummer Christopher Kinder here for his killer tone; I keep listening to this song on headphones and his work is phenomenal. I'm not just talking about the crazy run-out drum solo but his entire feel in this track. Great, great dynamics. "Nowhere to Run" conveys thoughtful lyrical messages and seems like it was built on some Streets outtakes. The melodies here are definitely Streets, not to mention the chorus in "Pain". I could swear this is an altered version of Sava's "Agony and Ecstasy". "Father, Son & Holy Ghost" features vocal melodies we'd normally hear on John Lennon's last couple of solo albums. Jon's interpretation of the harmonies however is mind blowing! "Fly Away" is the perfect album closer starting with acoustic guitars and slowly and carefully developing into a visceral Heavy Metal anthem that puts a smile on my face. Another favourite tune on this CD for me is "Walk Alone". I know this is one of the first songs Jon wrote for his album. It's a rather simple track but the song encompasses passionate vocals side by side with lush piano and rock-solid guitar riffs during the chorus. Fantastic indeed! Truth be told, there is nothing new on this album. Whichever song you listen to, you will compare it to one of Jon's (or Savatage's) previous works but it's more in your face -- without the Paul O'Neill touch that is.

Jon Oliva's Pain: 'Tage Mahal
Posted by Ken Pierce, SoT Staff Writer on 2005-01-26 07:20:31
My Score:

Hear Ye! Hear Ye! The "Mountain King" has returned to the Legions of Metal with a solid piece of music for all to enjoy. Yes, Jon Oliva the original voice power behind the influential power metal band Savatage is back with the debut CD from his new band "Jon Oliva's Pain". Entitled 'Taj Mahal the piece starts with Jon solo on the keyboard before the band kicks in. When they do it simply rocks. Given Jon's past history with Savatage, the CD holds a very similar feel to it. As a matter of fact I instantly was reminded of the Savatage epic Streets-A Rock Opera when I started playing it. That CD was one of my favorites in the back catalog, and is a worthwhile companion piece of music tothis one.

The group is made up from former members of Zack Stevens band Circle II Circle. While I am not sure of the real reasons for this being the case, I am more than happy to report that they sound fantastic under Jon's direction. The lineup is built up of Jon of course on vocals with Matt LaPorte (guitar), John Zahner (keyboards), Kevin Rothney (bass) and Christopher Kinder (drums). I admit a little surprise in noticing that Jon was not credited on the album for playing keyboards. Everytime I witnessed Savatage in action, Jon played, and did it quite well.

My high rating was the result of repeated listens and a difficulty in picking out one or two very favorite tracks. My copy had no lyrics page as it was an advance and I would have enjoyed to see the content of the tunes. The fans of Jon as a performer and writer will enjoy this CD. There is just so much of the Savatage vibe going on here and this sound has been missing in Metal for a couple of years now. My research has also found out that some of the tracks were supposed to be Savatage songs but were used for this piece instead. If this is misinformation, the bottom line is no matter what is written there will always be a feel of Tage in it, because that has made up Jon for over 2 decades. It is not easily lost, and I prefer it that way.

I have seen statements from Oliva, stating that there are plans to release some additional music, as well as a live DVD. It is my hope that when the live shows happen that there will be some Savatage music in there. Whether Savatage is set to return sometime is anybodys best guess. This year also saw the release of Chris Caffery's debut CD Faces. That review can be read elsewhere on this site. Given these projects that everyone is involved it, it makes you wonder. Since this was one of the major players that helped to define the term Power Metal, I hope something comes from the camp sooner rather than later. Until then, enjoy these killer CDs from the members.

2004 Sea Of Tranquility
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