Welcome to the musical meandering insights of Aaron Joy. Here you'll find 600 reviews of CDs & DVDs of rock & metal in all its variations, mainstream & indie. What they all share is that the album or band is unique in some way & not every submission was reviewed. Please share these reviews or link to them if you like what you read. Reviews are no longer being posted here but feel free to e-mail Aaron & post comments. (Formerly the Roman Midnight Music Blog) (last update 5/23/2017)

December 11, 2010

Trans-Siberian Orchestra ~ Christmas Eve & Other Stories

(Click on heading to visit official website.)
Style: holiday, heavy metal, instrumental, hard rock
Label: Atlantic
Year: 1996
Home: n/a

Members: Bob Kinkel ~ keyboards
Al Pitrelli ~ guitars/bass

Paul O'Neill ~ rhythm guitars
Johnny Lee Middleton ~ bass
Jon Oliva ~ keyboards/bass
Jeff Plate ~ drums
Tommy Farese, John Margolis, Marlene Danielle, Michael Fawcette, Ken Williams, Babi Floyd ~ lead vocals

Additional: Mary Wooten ~ cello
John Clark ~ french horn
Chris Caffery ~ rhythm guitar
Zak Stevens, Nancy Jackson, Peggy Harley, Latasha Spencer, Danielle Lander, Jeffrey Stackhouse, Timonty Carosi, Peter Valentine ~ b. vocals
Joseph Murray, Adrian Ross, Nigel Tangredi, Warren Wilson, Beth Butler, Cabiria Jacobson, Rachel Rosenfield, Caroline Ross ~ children's choir

In the 80's if anyone had said that the struggling Florida metal band Savatage would eventually become one of the most popular, let alone physically largest bands in music with two independent groups on the road, everyone probably would have laughed including the band itself. But, it's one of the more unique histories, transformations & successes in the rock archives, let alone spawning one of the most popular Christmas rock albums a musician could hope for. Briefly, with new New York guitarist Al Pitrelli, who would later spend two years kicking it the thrash way with Megadeth, Savatage recorded the excellent concept album Dead Winter Dead based upon the Bosnian War, which Atlantic Records largely considered the last chance for the band to break into needed commercial heights. The instrumental "Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)", musically representing a brave lone celloist in the middle of a battlefield, gave a modern metal edge to the traditional holiday song "Carol of the Bells". This wasn't the first time the band had given traditional &/or classical music metal flourishes, let alone the tradition extended back to Led Zeppelin, Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer & others. The single became the success the band was looking for ... sort of. It's climb up the charts was marred by the band's metal sounding name that frightened radio DJs. TSO was created to boost the single past preconceived notions, though it was actually the same line-up but with rotating vocalists, a slightly less venonomous stage act & a prominent composing role for Savatage session keyboards Bob Kinkel. "Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)" was reissued & given a new story about an angel looking for something done on Christmas Day that represents everything good. At one point he flys over Bosnia & hears a lone celloist. Christmas Eve & Other Stories pushed everything Savatage had tried before to a new level - a complex storyline as always courtesy of Paul O'Neill, a positive moral message of a strong Christian nature, radio friendly metal, operatic vocals & well-known classical/traditional songs given a metal twist. The jury has remained out, despite numerous albums later both holiday themed & not, on what exactly TSO is. Many metal fans don't consider it's heavily choreographed light show & radio friendly tunes true metal, while purist classical fans cry sacriledge ... albeit, honestly, it doesn't take much for either group to cry out in discontent. As for everyone else listening the band has been praised to the highest & what is undeniable is that TSO appeals to the widest age bracket that any band could ever hope for, from children to grandparents, creating something for everyone ... even the purists if they give it a chance. Christmas Eve & Other Stories was focused on re-releasing "Sarajevo" a second year & hoping it would be a chart success again, but was essentially a one-off project working alongside Savatage. As much as Savatage wouldn't have been able to predict the creation of TSO, none of them would have predicted that Savatage would also eventually completely morph into TSO. But, there's no Christmas album like this & it remains a favorite holiday album over a decade later & the highlight of the TSO catalog, let alone one of the best Christmas rock albums made ... so it's really no surprise that TSO would eclipse its root band. The lyrics are sometimes a bit maudlin & cliched & the storyline takes itself too serious, but there's no questioning the widest range of musical styles any metal band could ever experiment with on a single album, let alone the high caliber of playing & singing across the board. The biggest loss, though, is Savatage vocalist Zak Stevens relegated to the chorus, as he's one of the most under-rated powerhouses in rock & his operatic vocals are perfect for this project. But, luckily, he's found new success in Circle II Circle where he also gets more time in the spotlight. Speaking of lyrics, the biggest hurdle with the album is that the 2 page synopsis in the linear notes often puts emphasis on events that get only a passing reference in song, if not skipped at all, while the songs often focus heavily on events passed over in the synopsis, which also suffers from stilted writing. The story can't be fully understood via music along, but this is a problem shared with all the Savatage/TSO albums finding a climax with Savatage's "The Wake Of Magellan" where the songs were written & then a story put over it afterwards. On later albums & on future tours TSO would eventually flesh out its ranks before expanding into two bands to bring the show to as many cities as possible in their short touring season, but on this debut it was still a small band. You don't have to wonder who is playing guitar or piano on what track as would be the case later. TSO is still a small musicial unit plodding forward with joy but also not yet sure of how far they can go with their new experiment. It's quite a contrast to 2009's double album Night Castle with 26 musicians, strings & a large choir. But, that being said, for Christmas albums this is an undoubtable highlight because it has just enough solos for the rockers but is melodic enough for everyone else, while everyone wants to sing along.

(featured on the Roman Midnight Music CD Reviews & Interviews podcast: episode 9 "Xmas Headbanging Special", December 2010, click here to listen & featured on the World Of Trans-Siberian Orchestra podcast: episode 28 "Christmas Eve & Other Stories", July 2011, click here to listen

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