More 'Tage than 'Tage itself

It's just over a year since I reviewed Jon Oliva's debut solo offering 'Tage Mahal'. Its high score of 11/13 was due to Oliva's brushings with classic Savatage and less of the rock opera which had infected Savatage's later works. With the rock opera shenanigans being dealt with by Paul O'Neil and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, the original Savatage elements are once again exploited by the guy who began the Savatage crusade in the early 80s. That's not to say there aren't any rock opera touches on this new offering from Mr Oliva, but like the Savatage release 'Gutter Ballet', they are dealt with tastefully, adding to the metal rather than overpowering it. Perhaps a good analogy would be; 'Maniacal Renderings' is rock theatre rather than rock opera.

Whereas 'Tage Mahal was great songs mixed in with the decidedly average, 'Maniacal Renderings' is wonderful from start to finish. Not only does it progress on the sound of 'Tage Mahal,' but it once again takes the listener back to the glory days of Savatage. This is due in part to the discovery of Criss Oliva's (R.I.P) demo tapes found in a shoe box by his wife, of which Jon has plundered and utilised to develop the material on this album. Perhaps this is the spark, the chemistry that has been missing in Savatage since Criss's death in 1993, because 'Maniacal Renderings' is perhaps the perfect album to follow Savatage's 1991 album 'Streets'.

Whether or not Jon Oliva would be pleased to have so many references to his other, albeit currently redundant band is down to how much he wants to break free from the Savatage shackles. For myself, listening to this long player, I got the impression that Oliva has re-discovered his passion of metal and his love of old Savatage. This is non more apparent in the album's opener 'Through The Eyes of The King,' which is very similar in feel and structure to Savatage's 'Hall of the Mountain King,' even down to the stopping chorus which waits for Jon to belt out the song's mantle. It's wonderful stuff, and for a metal fan who discovered Savatage with that very album, it's quite a nostalgia trip.

But it is more than just nostalgia that will keep fans putting this album into their CD players; it's the quality of the music that will really impress. The title track especially is a meandering groove driven track with a hint of prog rock slap bang in the middle of it. 'Time to Die' could have come straight from the vastly underrated Doctor Butcher album, and is perhaps the biggest link between this release and 'Tage Mahal'. The ballad still manages to rear its ugly head in the guise of 'The Answer'. But this is no ordinary ballad. Anyone familiar with 'Believe' or 'When the Crowds are Gone' from the 'Tage back catalogue will love this track. 'Push It To The Limit' ups the pace somewhat and contains a tour de force vocal performance from Jon. It's been a while since he really let his falsetto shred the airwaves, and hearing him scream 'TO THE LIIIIMIIIIT!!!!' is pure metal joy.

After all is said and done, this album still fails to be the first disc to get a 13/13 from this reviewer. The production, although fairly solid, is lacking in basic cohesion, sounding like rough cuts at times, especially on 'Push It to the Limit.' But the production is something you warm to, but if I had a choice, I would like to hear the guitars sounding bigger and the solos with a richer edge to them. The structure to 'Timeless Flight' and 'Holes' are basically the same, with a slow first couple of minutes with a fist pumping ending. They're great songs, but with another slow track to finish off the proceedings and a slow bonus track, it would have been nice to get one last rush of metal blood to break up the similar veins of songs.

Jon Oliva really shows off his skill as a song-writer on this release. The melodies and the guitar licks are all first rate. Even the performances from guitarists Matt LaPorte and Shane French are exemplary, and eclipse their work on the previous CD. The whole experience seems more rounded and balanced than anything Oliva has done since Gutter Ballet. After several listens, 'Maniacal Renderings' sounds like a re-invention of Savatage, as if the old Savatage had lost its way, leaving its creator to go back to basics to rediscover what made Savatage great in the first place. Buy it or die!!