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Jon Oliva's Pain - "Festival" (CD)

Jon Oliva's Pain - "Festival" CD cover image

"Festival" track listing:

1. Lies (6:18)
2. Death Rides A Black Horse (5:28)
3. Festival (4:22)
4. Afterglow (6:50)
5. Living On The Edge (5:10)
6. Looking For Nothing (2:42)
7. The Evil Within (4:36)
8. Winter Haven (7:38)
9. I Fear You (5:11)
10. Now (3:51)

Reviewed by on April 16, 2010

"Oliva is clearly trying to keep emotional and musical relevance with a modern extreme metal audience and mostly fails."

Jon Oliva has been peddling in the heavy rock opera market for well over 30 years now. Initially with Savatage and now with his eponymous band Jon Oliva’s Pain, Oliva has been has been telling dramatic and heart rending stories of gritty life for quite a while. His band’s third and newest release, “Festival,” delivers ten tracks of rock opera that sound just like Oliva always has – committed, overly dramatic, and inconsistent.

The ten tracks on “Festival” all feature deep layers and melodramatic melodies and choruses. “Lies” and “Death Rides a Black Horse” both sound like they are straight off Savatage’s “Gutter Ballet” or “Streets” – that late-1980s-into-grunge sound is unmistakable. This is not much a surprise, as Oliva originally wrote much of the music for his band as a solo artist and then re-recorded it with his new mates.

Coming from metal band Circle II Circle, Oliva’s backing players are tight and competent, but don’t really have much say in what they play. Oliva’s gravelly croon is mixed far upfront on almost every song. A little bass action here and a guitar solo there break the trend, but the band is named after Oliva for a reason. Oliva’s keyboards also take a central role, carrying much of the melody and drama while guitarists Matt LaPorte and Tom McDyne are relegated to dual rhythm duty.

With overdone fireworks and layered passages driving most of the musical direction, the album plays as one cheesy drama-filled day at Hard Knock High School. To wit: the title track can’t carry off its carnival horror goals and seems more like a kindergarten Halloween party, and “Living on the Edge” is anything but, with the hard charging riffs being almost humorous in the faux intensity. The synth break and solo outro on “The Evil Within” may as well be a bad movie soundtrack from 1982. But there are a couple decent hard efforts too - “Winter Haven” is solid from front to back and builds through the entire seven minute run nicely. The bluesy chug of “I Fear You” works well with Oliva’s vocals and is a good heavy pounder – but without the synth solo it would have been great, not just good.

And if there is one thing Oliva was always good at, it is ballads. Most European power metal outfits could use some lessons from the ballad master. “Looking for Nothing” is a gorgeous lullaby amongst the swirling clichés, and album closer “Now” is a true tear jerker. In fact, “Now” is so good as an album closer that when it is coupled with “Winter Haven” and “I Fear You” the whole album seems like a success, even though the entire first half of the album is a misfire.

Oliva arguably perfected his brand of dramatic hard rock during his time in Savatage – “Streets,” “The Wake of Magellan,” and his tribute to deceased brother Criss, “Handful of Rain,” are all excellent metal opera concerts. But with Jon Oliva’s Pain, Oliva is clearly trying to keep emotional and musical relevance with a modern extreme metal audience and mostly fails. Fortunately “Festival” has a couple fantastic ballads that can heal him up right quick.

Highs: Ballads “Looking for Nothing” and “Now” are fantastic.

Lows: The first five songs are all banal melodramatic clichés.

Bottom line: Former Savatage co-founder writes mostly melodramatic filler and two fantastic ballads.

Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls
2.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)