Released: 2005, SPV
4 years have elapsed since the last Savatage release and every single Savatage fan has been (b)itching for a new album, just a quick look in an interview (Chris Caffery seems to be more interested in a new Savatage release than I am!) or at a message board will prove that fact. This then begs the question, is it really time for solo projects? Savatage guitarist Chris Caffery released his double disc in September and now Jon Oliva has finally released his own in North America. Will Jon’s album satisfy the Savatage fans? Will it just create a bigger demand for a new Savatage album? Is it worth buying?
‘TAGE MAHAL, with its obvious reference to Jon’s past, is exactly what one might expect, new era Savatage styled prog/heavy metal, maybe even to a fault (more on that later). Jon’s voice is still in top form, going from the lone sombre singer one song to a menacing madman the next. Piano and keyboards of course play a big part in the overall sound of this album, along with a lot of multi-layered vocals and nods to classical music. There is something that may become a problem for some fans, there’s not a whole lot of creativity in the album, there’s definitely nothing we haven’t heard before on a Savatage album. Although at the same time, Jon has stated that this material is basically songs that didn’t make the Savatage albums which I guess begs the question, why a solo album for it?
The album starts off with a great build up in “The Dark”, beginning with a bluesy piano and vocal combo before the drums and guitars build up and things go off from there into open guitar riffs and touches of piano. The whole song is a build up for the rest of the album, ending on a soft note before sliding into the bass line of “People Say- Gimme Some Hell”, which, on my initial listen, was one of the few songs that really jumped out at me. The self-referencing lyrics (“I told you about the sirens”, “By the grace of the witch I bring you this song”, “We enter the halls of the mountain king”, “From the streets to the gutter” etc.) to the heavy groove laden chorus with it’s background chants and accenting brass section all add up to a great song that is reliant on a great bass groove. “Guardian of Forever” is a grandiose epic song, much in the vein of “Commissar” from POETS AND MADMEN, nothing more, nothing less while “Walk Alone” starts out pretty typical (going from soft piano/vocal verse to epic and heavy for the chorus) until after the solo. This is the point where things get interesting. Jon’s more sinister and over the top approach really propels the song forward. As far as moments on the album, it’s probably my favourite even though it rests in a rather boring and predictable song.
“No Escape” is a heavier number, a very groovy and not so traditional riff, even modern (in a metal way of course). “Nowhere to Run” leaves something to be desired, the main riff is great and Jon’s voice is awesome but the soft sections just don’t sit well with me. The main riff is too “rocking” for me and I don’t think it flows well with the soft sections as it seems to be a bit too much of a contrast in overall feeling and mood. “Pain” opens up with a bouncing riff and Jon’s menacing delivery, reminds me of something that might have been written for Doctor Butcher with its very straightforward, heavy approach.