Monday, November 23, 2009

Trans-Siberian Orchestra - Night Castle


Trans-Siberian Orchestra has a well-deserved reputation for blending hard-driving metal rock with symphonic classical music into something glorious for the holidays. As a fan, I count The Christmas Attic as one of my favorite CDs. The first thing I had to do however, when reviewing this double CD was to overcome the disappointment that this wasn't that long-anticipated and hoped-for (five years) Christmas album from a group that knows how to make the holidays, well… magnificent.

If you’re looking for the perfect gift for a heavy metal/acid rock fan; this is it.

I should warn you ahead of time however, that it is very hard for a great musical group to top themselves once they’ve released something incredible. The best example of this would be Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” album in 1977 making them superstars. In an attempt to keep their fans happy and “top themselves” the band released an over-bulked double album entitled “Tusk,” in 1979, which promptly fell on its face. In attempt to avoid FM’s example, Trans-Siberian Orchestra has become afraid of losing or not living up to its own notoriety. In the process of trying to top themselves, TSO has become guilty of over-producing, over-repeating, over-creating and over-performing themselves, and possibly worst of all over-confidently forsaking the format that made them famous to begin with.

Band leader Paul O’Neil apparently has never been told that too much of a good thing will sometimes give you a stomach ache, because the net effect here is that the instrumentals, vocals, and over-extended story are so over-perfected as to have become too sterile to be touched by human hands.

The simple, yet beautiful tale of a young girl and her grandfather’s castle on the beach has been bulked up into a mini-novel encompassing a 66-page booklet that is required reading if you have any hope of understanding the story. The tale is extended across two CDs in lead vocals that are drenched, inundated and over saturated with anguish, pain, anger, resentment and righteous indignation… in other words-opera on a triple overdose of steroids. Some songs are extended long after their usefulness by screaming guitar riffs competing with drum solos competing with vocal yodeling appropriate for live albums… but not here.

Even worse, in an attempt to outthink themselves, TSO has compartmentalized their performances so that rock and classical genres are presented equally but separately, with the two seldom blending, forsaking their own claim to fame.

Then there are the glorious sound effects. The helicopter flyover for no apparent reason other than that it sounded good. There is the storm that invades, inhabits and tests every speaker in the room, or places the gale within your mind via a good set of headphones. The wind storm rivals those contained in Alan Parson’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” or The Door’s “Riders on the Storm," but then it’s all wasted on a magnificent, yet bastardized and savaged version of Savatage’s version of "Hall of the Mountain King”

In other words Night Castle is so magnificent that after about track 7 of this 26 track work, it becomes tedious. The magnificent electric guitar performances are so perfect; they appear to be done by computer with a mechanical precision with some riffs repeated repeatedly as accurately as the first. There are magnificent choral arrangements too inconceivable to be performed by human voices, and programmed magnificent synthesizer meticulousness that outclasses any keyboardist alive. In short the musicians have perfected their parts to the point of being sterile and robotically devoid of human expression.

In conclusion, this magnificent collection is like that sixth serving of rich and chocolate mousse that your great Aunt Margaret proudly insists with a loving smile that you finish up; it’s worth the lip-smacking anticipation on the drive over, it’s worth waiting for all through dinner, it’s delicious chocolate comfort food is worth dipping your spoon into the first, second and third serving, but after that…

There are eight pages devoted to bandmember credits on this double CD. Some tracks have double or triple personnel on each instrument. On some tracks there are seven vocalists and twenty-nine back-up vocals... and that's not including several choirs and a multitude of guest appearances. The core of the band is the writer, producer and guitarist Paul O’Neil who gave a good effort, but tried too hard here.
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©-2009 by Jet Gardner/

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