Review Summary: Savatage is dead. Long live Savatage.
Jon Oliva may be the most unheralded mainstay in the metal world. Having led Savatage on their journey from second-rate American power metal, to innovators of Broadway-inspired hard rock, to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Oliva has had his hand in the metal world for twenty five years, rarely receiving the acclaim his legacy has afforded him.
Jon Oliva's Pain has been the culmination of the multiple facets of his career, attempting to blend his work with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra to the earlier, more metal work of Savatage. The results have been uneven, the schizophrenic sound of a man not sure how to embrace the past without having to relive it. The first two JOP albums were throwbacks to the early Savatage years, so much so that many wondered why the name remained under lock and key. Oliva didn't want to dwell on the past, and he didn't, turning out the more experimental Global Warning, an album that finally found him able to integrate his metal heritage with the more nuanced and experimental songwriting he had become accustomed to.
Festival continues the streamlining of his mentality, the best illustration yet that the Savatage legacy lives in full bloom. Festival is, above all else, fully a metal record. The keyboards and acoustic guitars that color the album do just that, they serve as accents to characterize the muscular tracks. "Death Rides A Black Horse" can be confused with nothing else, much of the album following the same course. "Living On The Edge" and "I Fear You" are both among the heaviest pieces Oliva has written in years, carrying enough melody to keep them from turning sour on repeated listens.
As with Global Warning, the more experimental moments are where Oliva shines. Stepping outside the comfort of rehashing songs he has written for two decades, the progressive tinge of "Afterglow" feels fresh in the face of the comfortable. The dissonant chords of the title track set the off-kilter atmosphere, building the stage for the fleet-fingered main riff, maybe the best one Oliva has ever written. Bringing everything together, Oliva pulls out "Winter Haven", a song that could fit seamlessly onto a Trans-Siberian Orchestra album, made all the heavier by the band's aggressive playing.
Festival may still live in the shadow of the best Savatage records, but it is the first JOP album that can poke its head out of the darkness. This is the best record Oliva has made in years, the first one since the death of Savatage that would honestly not feel out of place in the canon. The name may have changed, but the spirit of Savatage is still alive and well, and it runs throughout Festival.