Trans-Siberian Orchestra - 'Night Castle' Hot

Added by Central Electronic Brain     February 28, 2011    
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Lengthy and pompous in the extreme but in equal measure incredibly impressive and enjoyable.

Despite trawling through my back copies of Fireworks, several times, I'll be damned if I can find a review of this album from when it was first released in the US back in 2009, which seems amazing when so many of us correspondents would have been vying for the privilege.

Amazingly, the album hadn't received a European release until now and I assume that it has now for the same reason as the re-release of 'Beethoven's Last Night' (BLN) which is in anticipation of the band's first trip to play live in Europe during March when they will play BLN in its entirety and then presumably feature material from this album rather than the usual Christmas based themes they ply every year in the US (three of their five albums having been Christmas themed). So big are they, that there are two versions of the touring band, one playing the East Coast and the other the West, often selling out major arenas twice a day.

As always with TSO there are no half measures with two CDs chock full of material, a massive booklet and a cast of thousands. Well, the last bit is an exaggeration but as usual the mastermind behind the band, Paul O'Neill, has drafted in some superb talent. The band list names eighteen players including the likes of Jon Oliva, Al Pitrelli, Chris Caffrey, Alex Skolnick and then there's the lead vocalists where the inimitable Jeff Scott Soto (JSS) will be the most recognisable name to our readership. I'm not going to count the backing vocalists, strings ...

In case you acquired the US release it should be noted that the difference between the two is the inclusion on this version of two recently recorded live tracks ('Requiem' from BLN and 'Toccata' from this album). In the unlikely event that you are unfamiliar with TSO a short premise would be that they are a Prog band that liberally adapts well known Classical themes into their material. The band was spawned as a kind of offshoot of Savatage so it is no surprise that there is an easy comparison between the two. Consequently, everything is grandiose, overblown, huge and not a little cheesy, but it's all very impressive in both structure and execution that makes it great fun.

Fireworks - The Ultimate Magazine For Melodic Rock Music

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Verdi and Delibes themes are used in the opening number 'Night Enchanted' and anyone familiar with the British Airways commercials will recognise the latter, albeit with female vocals added. This theme recurs several times across the album, not least an alternative version called 'Child Of The Night', which is one of the bonus numbers.

Elsewhere there's a distinct Broadway/West End style to some of the songs, I can envisage the like of 'Childhood Dream' (sung by Jay Pierce) or the title track (sung by JSS) being equally at home in that environment. On that note, this is JSS singing in a style I've not heard from him before and shows his great flexibility as a performer. 'Sparks' ups the Rock stakes and features the gravelly tones of Tim Hockenberry that compliments the fine riffing. Throughout the album the guitar work is absolutely fantastic with great riffs and solos, not least on 'Mountain', an adaptation of Edward Greig's 'In the Hall of the Mountain King'.

With 28 tracks on offer (albeit one is a short narrative piece) I could write pages, but the tracks I have described thus far provide a good flavour of what to expect from the entire album, although I have to mention a few other tracks specifically. 'The Safest Way Into Tomorrow' and 'Dreams We Conceive' are both wonderful power ballads. 'There Was A Life' draws liberally on Billy Joel's 'Goodnight Saigon' whilst 'Time Floats On' sees JSS in top form on a superb melody. The instrumental, 'Epiphany', is monumental and the female voiced (courtesy of Jennifer Cella) 'Father, Son & Holy Ghost' features some great guitar and piano themes.

TSO have carved a niche that has proved to be hugely successful in their homeland and it will be interesting to see how well it goes in Europe and whether the live shows will trigger a similar fervour. This is quite an album, lengthy and pompous in the extreme but in equal measure incredibly impressive and enjoyable.

Gary Marshall

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