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Music Review: Trans-Siberian Orchestra – Night Castle

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Trans-Siberian Orchestra has a well-deserved reputation for blending hard-driving metal rock and 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 1977  album Rumours, which made 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 an 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.

Perhaps worst of all, is TSO 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. The net effect is that the instrumentals, vocals, and story here are over-perfected and extended to such a point they may 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. The 66-page booklet is required reading if you have any hope of understanding the plot. The tale is extended across two CDs that are full of lead vocals drenched and 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 the sort of vocal yodeling appropriate for live albums…but not here.

Even worse, in an attempt to out-think themselves, TSO has compartmentalized their performances, so that rock and classical genres are presented equally but separately, with the two seldom blending, thus 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 Parsons' “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's overdosing magnificence fades after about track 7  and instead becomes tedious. The magnificent electric guitar performances are so perfect, they appear to be done by computer with a mechanical precision.

There are magnificent choral arrangements too inconceivable to be performed by human voices, and programmed synthesizer meticulousness that outclasses any keyboardist alive. In short, the musicians have perfected their parts to the point of being robotic, and devoid of human expression. In other words, they sound too… well… magnificent.

In conclusion, this collection is like that sixth serving of rich 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 that is worth dipping your spoon into the first, second and third serving. But after that…

The core of the band is the writer, producer and guitarist Paul O’Neil who gave a good effort, but tried too hard here.

Paul O'Neill – Composer, lyricist, producer
Jon Oliva – Composer
Robert Kinkel – Co-Producer, Keyboards, music director
Al Pitrelli – Guitars, music director

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About Jet Gardner

I like collecting books, music, movies, chess sets and friends
  • it’s not that I didn’t like the CD-I did-it’s just the disappointment that it wasn’t a long awaited Christmas album.

    Also the thing is so over produced as to be like a huge artificially made diamond from a lump of coal. it looks nice, it’s a real diamond, but it’s just not natural to be so perfect.

  • A word of warning to my fellow writers. When a publisher only gives you 5 tracks in order to review a 26-track double-cd by a major group, there’s probably a good reason that they’re hiding something.

    I found this out after getting the final version.

  • …and you also might’ve just pissed off a contact by saying so publically rather than in private. Word to the wise…best notto bite the hand that feeds.


  • Trust me, I’ve done it too and learned the hard way.


  • There are so many hands that feed so if they give you crap, give ’em crap back.

    Too many PR sources think it is okay to pull this stuff. Off with their heads I say!

  • I calls them as I sees them… Thanks Chris

  • Oh Please? Our automatic software filters have blocked your comment, either because of something within the comment, or because of who we believe you are.

    It’s nothing personal.

    If you feel your comment has been blocked in error, you may find relief by contacting Akismet, who provide one of the several means we use to identify comments to block.

    The comment?

    Happy Thanksgiving everyone 🙂

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    No Offense, Jet…

    BUT, TSO has always been an overly polished gimmick. They are like the Mannheim Steamroller of generic Hard Rock/Metal. Honestly, I think the musicians are talented but they use all the cliches & tricks which makes their music sound cheap no matter what studio magic the engineers use.

  • Non taken Brian, and I agree. This CD personifies their stage show where you can’t see the band because the laser show takes over with smoke and fog. Every member of the band is trying to outplay every other member of the band and the net result is an overload.

    Their christmas cds are done much better and with a much more thorough blending of clasical with rock.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    I can definitely understand why people like TSO’s Christmas cds. They put their own spin on it. Still, I have a hard time listening to them. It’s way too homogenized and the human factor is missing. Ultimately, I think TSO is really just about entertainment and their CDs don’t hold up to any critical listening. It’s background music for “get-togethers” and cellphone calls.

  • Mark

    It sucks, period!

  • Well… basically that’s what I was saying, but I was trying to be diplomatic about it.

  • Nice to see you writing more often. I always enjoy your reviews.

  • Rob

    Let me guess, not a one of you has ever written a song, more less played an instrument? Well, if you can’t do it yourself, criticise soemone else. Right?
    The only thing that sux are your attitudes.
    This is a phenominal piece of work!!! Get it?

  • Rob there’s a difference between raving about Beetovan’s 5th and “I’m cuckoo for cocoa puffs”