CD Review: Oliva – Raise the Curtain

CD Review: Oliva – Raise the Curtain
AFM Records
All Access Rating: A-

Oliva - Raise the Curtain 2013
Jon Oliva makes a grand entrance on Raise the Curtain. Out of the shadowy wings of the stage he steps, drinking in the triumphant, twirling synthesizers and well-sculpted guitar lines of a grandiose title track that could introduce royalty at some gala event. 

In a voice as radiant and angelic as Jon Anderson’s, the Savatage co-founder and vocal wizard demands the crushed velvet drapes be pulled aside so the drama can begin. Somebody’s been listening to Yes, the Rick Wakeman era in particular.

Oliva’s solo debut, Raise the Curtain is a great experiment, a wildly diverse progressive-metal epic that combines all of Oliva’s musical tastes in one extravagant movable feast, where the keyboards are as prominent as guitars and Oliva's theatrical indulgences are properly sated. On the menu is a generous helping of ‘70s prog, heaving surges of power metal and flourishes of jazz – the colorful and ebullient “Ten Years,” with its full-throated horns, being most reminiscent of the Broadway-style arrangements found on Savatage’s transformative fifth album Gutter Ballet.

Some of the most compelling material on Raise the Curtain also happens to be the heaviest stuff, such as “Soul Chaser” and “Big Brother.” The bass lines in both are remarkably strong and thick, circling around and around with sinister intent as driving guitar grooves push the action forward. An evil carnival of apocalyptic images, doom-laden sounds and crazily spinning instrumentation, “Armageddon” is by turns majestic and hellish, but “Soldier” is an affecting, melodic ballad, fleshed out with heartrending flute and piano, that sympathizes with a warrior finding it difficult to return to normal life. “Can’t Get Away” is similarly cast, but a little bluesy and more wistful, a modest cut with subtle charms.

Delighting in subverting audiences’ expectations with completely unexpected twists and turns, Oliva and crew – including Jon Oliva’s Pain drummer Chris Kinder – pull off a bait-and-switch on “Stalker,” as the mellifluous intro gives way to thorny, menacing verses that hack their way through incredibly intricate guitar work. And it continues to go off into different directions, once again becoming a wonderful flow of keyboards and six-string magic. Somewhat more Gothic, “The Witch” embarks in a similar journey, going down strange and wonderful paths and then running off into dense sonic thickets before emerging in bright, expansive clearings.

Composed and created with the help of friend Dan Fasciano and born of his still lingering sadness over the death of Jon Oliva’s Pain guitarist Matt LaPorte in 2011, Raise the Curtain also purges the vault of Criss Oliva’s final writings. Although it comes off as unnecessarily fussy and overblown on occasion, the album’s sheer bombast is awe-inspiring, even brilliant. Amid the prog pageantry are powerhouse riffs and forceful, evocative vocals that ground these shape-shifting works. Take a bow, Jon Oliva.
– Peter Lindblad

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