Review Summary: A weak first release with a few interesting songs.
Jon Oliva is one of my favorite metal artists. I think that he is a gifted composer with a wide range of musical styles, and a distinctive, emotive voice. But a lot of fans forget that being a fan doesn't mean you have to like everything an artist puts out. And so it is with JOP's first release, "Tage Mahal." I really wanted to like it, but in the ehd, it's just a collection of what feels like Savatage songs that ended up on the cutting room floor, or generic power metal with no real purpose. There's lots of filler here, and no really memorable tracks like "Gutter Ballet" and "When the Crowds are Gone."
The album starts out very strong; "The Dark"'s opening sounds like something out of a film noir, and the lyrics are pretty well written. We also get the two sides of the Mountain King's voice: the soft, sad sound vaguely reminiscent of Paul McCartney, and his metal banshee voice. Still, the track goes on way too long without really saying anything. This can also be said for "Guardian of Forever," a track with nice orchestration that suffers from its length and vacuous lyrics. "No Escape" and "Nowhere to Run" sound like a refugee from the 80s era of the band, but they lack the enthusiasm that made early Savatage appealing. "Nonsensical Ravings" was a song written by Oliva and Chris Caffery for the "Poets and Madmen" album; thankfully, it was left out. It might be one of the worst non-"Fight for the Rock" songs Oliva has ever written.
When Oliva decides to experiment a bit instead of going with the tired and tested power metal formula, things get interesting. "People Say (Gimmie Hell)" is easily the best track. It is a tribute to Savatage, with all of the lyrics made up of old Savatage tune titles:
"Let me take you through the Halls of the Mountain King
Through the Doors of the Dark
Flyin' on Strange Wings
From the Streets to the Gutter
Neath the Summer's Rain
Do you hear the Hounds they call"
TONIGHT HE GRINS AGAIN!"
Really fun stuff. The other stand out track is "Outside the Door," a bluesy song about Oliva running from time, death, drug abuse, and whatever else he has been running from. The rest of the album is fun, but not really the stuff that I'd want to replay over and over.
If you're just starting out with JOP, I'd skip this release; as the band mates got more comfortable with one another, the albums have improved. Check out "Global Warming" for some interesting experimentation, or "Festival", Oliva's most metal effort of the bunch. For the fan, I'd pick it up just to add to the collection. Don't expect long-lasting material.