Released: 2010, AFM Records
Funny observation: in stark contrast to the pared down Jon Oliva who wrote jumbo tunes and ‘do you want fries with that?’ music for Savatage, the plus-size Jon Oliva now writes hard-hitting, focused, (relatively) stripped down hard rock gems for his own band, Pain – and that’s a good thing. Even though I absolutely love Savatage, the things Jon Oliva has been doing with JOP is fantastic as well, and he returns in 2010 with the rest of the Circle II Circle crew with “Festival”.
Jon Oliva has always been adept at controlling moods and flow on the albums that he has written. On “Festival”, three stomping rockers kick off the album: ‘Lies’ has a fantastic old-school gallop to it and Oliva’s distinctive vocals; ‘Death Rides A Black Horse’ has a bit of the old “Streets” feel to it, with the classic rock musical/Andrew Lloyd Webber specialty coming through; ‘Festival’, the title track starts off with carny music that steadily turns sour – the main riff is instantly memorable and fantastic Blue Oyster Cult-ish guitar duelling (that is all too brief, sadly), but an unimaginative chorus lets the song down. ‘Living On The Edge’ has Jon sounding remarkably like Chuck Billy from Testament!
‘Afterglow’ does a 180, with a doom-y Black Sabbath intro seguing into a relaxed piano/acoustic guitar driven ballad, with mournful cello floating around behind the vocals, before alternating between stomping groove and soft melodies (and look out for the blues-y break towards the end!) – probably the best song of “Festival”. I have a weakness for rock ballads, and to my mind Jon Oliva wrote some of the most moving ballads during his Savatage days, so much so that I especially look out for them in any of his new material. The second ballad on “Festival” is ‘Looking For Nothing’, a wonderfully gentle and laid-back acoustic guitar number that reminds me of the exceptional Grateful Dead song ‘Brokedown Palace’…while the beginning of the verse to ‘Winter Haven’ just brings to mind Ozzy’s ‘Tonight’. The final ballad ‘Now’ closes out “Festival”, and is simply magnificent: piano, soaring vocals, and massive power chords in the chorus that just bring to mind classic Savatage ballads like ‘Believe’, ‘When The Crowds Are Gone’ and ‘Alone You Breathe’.
“Festival” shows more of a hard rock edge than any of its predecessors; the theatrics are toned down and although the Savatage flair is still there, fans should expect something slightly more different. With TSO’s “Night Castle” out last year, Jon is certainly keeping himself busy!