Trans-Siberian Orchestra – The Christmas Trilogy / The Ghosts Of Christmas Eve

     As mentioned in the last Post for Savatage – Dead Winter Dead, the band, under the guidance of producer Paul O’Neill morphed into Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I say morphed because they didn’t change their name, Savatage released other albums later on, and TSO was not only Savatage although they remain the entities key players:
     Paul O’Neill – Producer/Composer/Lyricist
     Jon Oliva – Composer/Vocals
     Al Pitrelli – Composer/Guitar/Musical Director
     Johnny Lee Middleton – Bassist
     Chris Caffery – Guitars
     Jeff Plate – Drums

     Trans-Siberian Orchestra took off before their was even a Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Maybe it was denial by the general public but they just did not want to accept that the cool heavy rock sounding Christmas song was played by a band named Savatage. Regardless of names, the public loved the song: Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24) and mainstream radio added it into their holiday play lists.

 
     Christmas Eve & Other Stories is the debut release from TSO.
     The album was a bestseller soley based on the song Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24) and it received very positive reviews for its innovation and approach to Christmas holiday music.
    Not only were TSO writing new Christmas songs, they were reimagining old ones for instrumental pieces.

     The album begins with a storyline that you have to read (you don’t need to if you don’t want to follow the story the songs are telling and just want to relax and enjoy the music). I don’t want to get into the back story as it is long but you can find all the stories from the Christmas trilogy and the bands other releases here: http://trans-siberian.com/.
     Of course Christmas Eve in the title refers to that song but what is important is “& Other Stories” as many of the songs from beginning bring the listener to the importance of the the last story (the story within the story).
     Lets start.
     An angel is told by God to go down to the Earth on Christmas Eve to find out what good people have done in the name of the day; Christmas.
     yes, the angel discovers alot of music and holiday cheer but he also finds sadness and despair but even within those emotions he feels the dreams and hopes of the human spirit.
     Along his travels, the angel feels a prayer from a father whose child (daughter) is not home this holiday season. The story never says why she is not home, why she is wandering the streets of New York City; only that the father does not know what has driven a divide between he and his daughter.
     Through celestial manipulation, the angel brings the only person nearby the girl to help her. He is also a workaholic who cares about nothing but his business and profits. The girl gets home to her father who rejoices that she is home.
     Realize that this is a condensed retelling of the story of The Pordigal Son without all the sinful details but it also speaks of the human condition and if it seems a bit far-fetched; it really isn’t. I know. 
     The stories end with the angel returning to Heaven and giving what he found to God. Within the last song, after the angel is back, Kyrie plays. A fitting end to an innovative album.

Tacklisting for Christmas Eve & Other Stories:
01: An Angel Came Down
02: O Come All Ye Faithful/O Holy Night (instrumental)
03: A Star To Follow
04: First Snow (instrumental)
05: The Silent Nutcracker (instrumental)
06: A Mad Russians Christmas (instrumental)
07: The Prince Of Peace
08: Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24) (instrumental)
09: Good King Joy
10: Ornament
11: The First Noel (instrumental)
12: Old City Bar
13: Promises To Keep
14: This Christmas Day
15: An Angel Returned
       Post Script
16: O Holy Night
17: God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman
        On Special Releases
18: Whoville Medley (Perfect Christmas Night/Grinch)

      Trans-Siberian Orchestra‘s second release, The Christmas Attic, again tells the story of an angel sent to earth, but this time he is to leave one thing that will benefit mankind.

     It’s never that simple with TSO. They relish in stories within stories within…

     This one differs in that a young girl is on the brink of losing childhood innocence. Seems that other children at school have instilled doubt in her about whether Saint Nicholas (Santa Claus) is real or not.
     She cannot ask her parents as she has been told they are part of the entire Christmas conspiracy. So, like any child, she decides to wait up for Santa to make his appearance in the one room closest to the roof where he lands his sleigh – the attic.

     While in the attic, the angel gets her to notice an old storage chest and the magic is released.
     It doesn’t really hold magic but it does hold something just as powerful; mementos and memories that with the right amount of childhood innocence and imagination become magical.

     As with the first album, this release too has its sad moments. Although there is not as many instrumental pieces as the first release; it is the sadness in some of the stories that makes this album so poignant.

     Trans-Siberian Orchestra can be accused of Aesopian storytelling. Every album focuses on moralistic points (even their non-Christmas themed releases). Forgiveness, hope, that it is never too late, innocence over jaded viewpoints, and cherishing life no matter what kind of life you have. This release gives homage to the innocence of children. Not very Metal? They’re doing what they want and that is very Metal.

     The Christmas Attic garnered another huge hit for TSOChristmas Canon. It is Pachelbel‘s Canon in Dmajor redone with a children’s choir for vocals. It is also the third bestselling digital Christmas song. Another version done with guitars, sans children’s choir, appears on a late release. I know a lot of people who, having heard TSO‘s version on The Christmas Attic, have used for their wedding song.

     All being said, The Christmas Attic is, like its predecessor, Christmas Eve & Other Stories, a mostly light and airy release. It is a Christmas album.

track listing for The Christmas Attic:
01: The Ghosts Of Christmas Eve
02: Boughs Of Holly (instrumental)
03: The World That She Sees
04: The World That He Sees*
05: Midnight, Christmas Eve (instrumental)
06: The March Of The Kings/Hark, The Herald Angels Sing (instrumental)
07: The Three Kings And I (What Really Happened)
08: Christmas Canon
09: Joy/ Angel’s We Have Heard On High
10: Find Our Way Home
11: Appalachian Snowfall (instrumental)
12: The Music Box
13: The Snow Came Down
14: Christmas In The Air
15: Dream Child (A Christmas Dream)
16: An Angel’s Share
17: Music Box Blues

     I remember reading a review for The Christmas Attic in which the author wrote that there is nothing new on the release, nothing different from Christmas Eve & Other Stories. I wonder how much of the music the writer actually listened to? Yes, the music is along the lines of Christmas Eve & Other Stories, but songs like The Music Box, Dream Child, An Angel’s Share, Christmas Canon, Music Box Blues, The Three Kings And I… There was no songs like them on the first release.

* released only on later versions of the album.

     For all those who pined for a more serious release. A more symphonic release (as if the other two releases were not symphonic enough), this is it.
     I will note that it is, at times, melancholy, but very introspective.

     As the story continues…

     Again the angel is sent to Earth on a quest by God. This trip he has to bring him the name of the person that best continues the work of his son on Earth.
     Aside from the daunting task, the angel can only use his power of flight twice. Once to descend and again to return to Heaven.

     Okay, this album has its light and airy moments but for the most part it is dealing with heavy issues. Emotions permeate many of the songs, and many can be deemed on the Gothic side.
     First off, take the cover. See the guitar in the snow globe? Homage to Criss Oliva, original guitarist for Savatage, brother to Jon Oliva, whose life was ended by a drunk driver? Maybe. It is who I thought of upon first seeing the cover.
     And then there is the music.
     From the start there is a melancholic feel to it. Like the second album, The Christmas Attic, this release, too, deals with ghosts and spirits, though more depth is used, in turn making the songs longer, a bit more progressive, less Rock sounding and more Metal.
     Don’t let the mood stop you from listening to this release. Christmas, and holidays in general, are not only times of happiness. There are many people who suffer through them with memories of once good times but now, because life gives you what it gives you and rarely what you want and plan for, holidays mean remembering what is now lost or gone in their life, or their failures.
     But like TSO does, they take you to those memories and let you know that it is never too late in your life to turn things around.

     The instumentals on this album are ridiculously excellent. Unlike the first two releases, the instrumental faire here is based on classic music from the Classical and Baroque periods.
     The story inside the story is extremely sad and at times can make you angry at how selfish human beings can be. But again, it is a retelling of another story,  A Christmas Carol, a story of a stained and tarnished life and the redemption of the spirit. Does it happen? Can a selfish, egotistical, holier-than-thou- SOB change? I don’t know, but TSO makes you believe that with the right amount of magic and timing, because timing is everything, a person can change who and how they are in a night.

     This album clocks in at over 66 minutes of music. Some songs are short and can lead the listener to wonder why they even included them at all, but in the end they have their place. They are not intro’s. Nor are they interlude’s. Imagine what New York City may be like at Christmas and you can imagine hearing a brass band or bells chiming a tune in the distance. Ambience.

Track Listing for The Lost Christmas Eve:
01: Faith Noel (instrumental)
02: The Lost Christmas Eve
03: Christmas Dreams
04: Wizards In Winter (instrumental)
05: Remember
06: Anno Domine
07: Christams Concerto (instrumental)
08: Queen Of The Winter Night (instrumental)
09: Christmas Nights In Blue
10: Christmas Jazz (instrumental)
11: Christmas Jam
12: Siberian Sleigh Ride (instrumental)
13: What Is Christmas?
14: For The Sake Of Our Brother
15: The Wisdom Of Snow (instrumental)
16: Wish Liszt (Toy Shop Madness) (instrumental)
17: Back To Reason, Part 2
18: Christmas Bells, Carousels, & Time (instrumental)
19: What Child Is This?
20: O’ Come All Ye Faithful (instrumental)
21: Christmas Canon Rock
22: Different Wings
23: Midnight Clear

 
 

 
     This is not a live performance DVD. Neither does it tell the stories from either of the first two albums, Christmas Eve & Other Stories and The Christmas Attic. It is a stand alone story written especially for this DVD release that uses songs from both the first two CD releases.

     The story is about a young girl who runs away from home, to get out of the cold she breaks into an old theater. As is Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s way, the theater is filled with mementos and memories, ghosts and spirits who, with the help of an elderly caretaker, work to turn the girl’s life around.

     The DVD is short and may leave you wondering why they made it other than that they could, but it also shows the timelessness of the songs and that they can inspire in many different scenerios.
     Of note, the elderly caretaker is played by the late Ossie Davis, who, for some odd reason, you can imagine him hanging out in an old run down theater…Creepy.
     Jewel and Michael Crawford make guest appearances.

Track Listing For The Ghosts Of Christmas Eve:
01: O’ Come All Ye Faithful/O’ Holy Night
02: Good King Joy
03: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
04: Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)
05: Christmas Canon
06: O’ Holy Night
07: Music Box Blues
08: Promises To Keep
09: This Christmas Day
10: First Snow

     I don’t believe that at the time of this release TSO had even toured yet. Yeah, I think they had only played one live show by this time.
     Having seen Trans-Siberian Orchestra perform live a few times, I can say that they put on one hell of a show. If you get the chance to see them, please remember this, it is a Christmas holiday event geared toward families. I went with my young son, Blade, and the guy sitting nearby us was inhebriated, stank like a brewery, kept spilling his alcohol, and cursed as if he was at a local dive-bar. What an ass!

     Well, that’s it.  

METAL!
\m/

Savatage – Dead Winter Dead

     Yeah, yeah, yeah, I have heard it all, theory after misinformed theory about what band started SymphonicMetal. Wikipedia, whoever uploaded that information, you’re full of shit! Facebook, ditto! I just love how people are eager to espouse misinformation because they have heard Nightwish or Therion.

     Back in 1987, Savatage, a band from Tampa, Florida, along with a visionary producer named Paul O’Neill recorded an album titled: Hall Of The Mountain King and SymphonicMetal was birthed, another bastard child of Metal. It was not entirely an original idea as SymphonicRock had been done (not Tommy by The Who either). But Savatage wasn’t just adding symphonic elements for texture, the elements were an integral part of the songs.

     Dead Winter Dead is the second album by Savatage after the death of Chris Oliva in a car collision with a drunk driver and the first to feature Al Pitrelli on guitars. Zach Stephens is still on vocals but there are appearances by original vocalist and founder Jon Oliva.
    
Is this an Opera? Mmm…Maybe, in a way. Not like Avantasia: The Metal Opera I & II are.
     Dead Winter Dead tells the story of war torn Sarajevo from various viewpoints; a gargoyle, an elderly cellist, an arms dealer, regular everyday neighbors, and a male and female soldier from opposing sides.
     The story begins at the collapse of the Soviet Union, when many countries found themselves no longer under ruling by Russia. 
    
AND A WIND CAME ACROSS EUROPE
THAT WOULD TWIST AND TURN OUR FATE
FOR AS WELL AS BRINGING FREEDOM
IT HAD LET LOOSE MEN OF HATE

NOW THESE MEN WERE FEW IN NUMBER
AND THE PEOPLE THREW THEM OUT
BUT IN THE MIND OF EACH MAN’S NEIGHBOR
THEY HAD PLANTED SEEDS OF DOUBT”

     Speculation it may be but there is truth to it as well.
     Though the above are not lyrics; it is the story from Dead Winter Dead written in verse form much like the SymphonicMetal band that Savatage would morph into after this album.

     What makes Dead Winter Dead stand out from many of the bands previous releases is the emotion conveyed throughout the entire album. All parts come together beautifully and you can find yourself lost in Bosnia’s turmoil; feeling the emotions conveyed through the music. Yes, it really is that damn good.

     If you have never heard or heard of Savatage, give Dead Winter Dead the chance it deserves. After all, the album contains the one song that started Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
     The musicianship and storyline/lyrics are above caliber and if you follow Savatage throughout their entire career – from a Metal band to PowerMetal, to ProgMetal, to SymphonicMetal until TSO you can understand how they could become Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

Track listing for Dead Winter Dead:
01: Overture
02: Sarajevo
03: This Is The Time (1990)
04: I Am
05: Starlight
06: Doesn’t Matter Anyway
07: This Isn’t What We Meant
08: Mozart And Madness
09: Memory
10: Dead Winter Dead
11: One Child
12: Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)
13: Not What You See

     I say little about this album because it one of my favorite SymphonicMetal albums and because it is damn near 3:00AM and I just got off work and did a two hour workout at the gym.

     I have not been online for a bit (see above about work) plus my connection blows major ass. And, I have been walking and daydreaming. Such is what I do when left to my own device.

Kamelot – Poetry For The Poisoned

     I read a review of this album (a few, in truth) and I cannot believe that anyone actually listened to the thing. They appeared to have read the lyrics but one actually stated that the song “The Zodiac” was about role-playing, as in sexual role playing. Nothing is as asinine as that assumption.

     What anyone needs to consider before listening to this album is that guitarist, founding member, and main songwriter, Thomas Youngblood, had a death in his family; that of his mother. 
     When my own mother died, and we were not that close, it brought up many questions about my own mortality and that is a place you don’t want to go but eventually everyone has to.
     Thomas and his mother were close. Hence, the music for Poetry For The Poisoned is more dark in nature compared to Kamelot‘s earlier releases. I am not saying the early albums were not dark, they had much darkness to them, but, the earlier albums were guided by conceptual idea’s whereas Poetry… is not.
     I am not going to say that every song is as strong as the next or one before it.
     Taking everything into account that other reviews said, I started listening to the album in a random order rather than the prescribed one (instead of The Great Pandemonium playing first, My Train Of Thought played as opener, or any other of the songs in the disc). It is funny how a song, considered weaker than another, has better momentum depending on when it is played.

     I have said it before about Kamelot and am saying it again, listen to the music, not one part of it, but everything as an entire.
     Take the song The Zodiac, it is about the Zodiac killer, who has never been caught. The song itself steps into the mind of the killer in a probable capacity; the many differing voices of the vocalists involved and the various emotions sustained throughout, signify that our man was a bit crazy. I think the usage is brilliant in its portrayal.

     So maybe Kamelot does have a problem, that being they are assuming their listeners are intelligent enough to figure out what it is they are trying to convey without the band having to give an explanation about every lyric, every melody.
     Then again, Kamelot has never had a drastic change in the course of their sound. Each album is different, but not so much so that long-time fans feel alienated by the band.
     Whatever the case may be, I listen to Kamelot for their well-roundedness (is that even a word?) and excellent songwriting. Metal doesn’t all have to be screaming over the same three power-chords with a dozen notes bent and sustained past the rhythm as some kind of lead. If anything, Kamelot reminds me of fellow Florida Metal band, Savatage – an excellent and proficient band that never got the respect they deserved… until they started making christmas music (TSO).

Track Listing For Poetry For The Poisoned:
01: The Great Pandemonium
02: If Tomorrow Came
03: Dear Editor
04: The Zodiac
05: Hunter’s Season
06: House On A Hill
07: Necropolis
08: My Train Of Thought
09: Seal Of Woven Years
Poetry For The Poisoned
10: Pt. I.    Incubus
11: Pt. II.   So Long
12: Pt. III. All Is Over
13: Pt. IV. Dissection
14: Once Upon A Time

Japanese release has the instrumental Thespian Drama as a bonus track
EU version has a cover of Nick Cave‘s Where The Wild Roses Grow
Supposedly, the U.S. version has an uncut version of House On A Hill. If it does it is not on my CD.

There are many guests on the album, including, Simone Simons of Epica, Björn “Speed” Strid of Soilwork, John Oliva of SavatageTrans-Siberian OrchestraJohn Oliva’s Pain, Gus G. of Firewind and Ozzy Osbourne, and Amanda Somerville of her own damn self.

     In all, as a fan of Kamelot, I was not, in any way, disappointed by Poetry For The Poisoned. I am disappointed that vocalist Roy Khan has left the band earlier this month.

Anger Vs. Balance

There has been angry music around since the 1960’s Vietnam War era. There is nothing wrong with music that is angry. It is expression of an intense emotion that can overwhelm if kept bottled up inside a person; it is better to get it out through music than to take it out on another person.

When I was younger I was angry in a way that went beyond the “anger of youth”. Just so many things happened in my life that I kept my feelings and emotions inside to fester into rage. It wasn’t until just over a decade of years ago that I realized had to stop being angry all the time. Call it growing up or whatever but I came to the conclusion that there were a significant number of petty things I did that made me angry, or, at least, kept me simmering below the surface.
At the same time I discovered poetry, melody, and harmony again through a band that in the 1980’s was known as Savatage and went on to become Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO) in the 1990’s. The “NEW” sub-genre of Heavy Metal became known as “Symphonic Metal” in that the band recorded with either a keyboard player using the synth to replicate orchestra instruments and create a symphony or they recorded using a real orchestra. TSO does both. It didn’t matter that it was Christmas music, I listened to it whenever the mood struck me. It was a respite from the angst ridden music that permeated the “Metal” radio stations.
I do not dislike the “Nu-Metal” bands. I will be going to see Korn, Disturbed, Sevendust, Stillwell, and In This Moment when they play here in Missoula, and I am going to see Cradle Of Filth on the Creatures From The Black Abyss tour in Spokane, Washington. But like the Nine Inch Nails album “The Downward Spiral” (an extremely intense album musically and lyrically) I find that after a few songs it becomes a bit too much. It is not the intensity overall but the added anger within the music and lyrics. Then again, intensely happy music gets me to the same place. It gets ridiculous after a while.

Every once in a while I can listen to the music I grew up with in the 1980’s. Every couple of years I have to sit back and have a “Mighty Maiden Moment” where I will listen to every song Iron Maiden has recorded and then I’m good for another two years. I only listen to Too Fast For Love and Shout At The Devil by The Crue. Rarely listen to Ozzy. Hear Slayer once in a while but don’t really listen… Unlike the people I grew-up with, I don’t listen to that music but on rare occasions. I respect those bands; they’re still recording and touring and more power to them for it. My tastes have changed.
One of the last CD’s I purchased was Pachelbel “Kanon in D” and other composers of the Baroque Period (Bach, Handel, Vivaldi). At the same instance I purchased Kamelot “Poetry For The Poisoned” and, because I wore out the last copy, another CD of Tarja Turunen’s (Tarja) “My Winter Storm”. I own CD’s from many genre’s including Dan Reed Network, Cradle Of Filth, Angelspit, and My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult – that’s funky rock metal, gothic black? metal, CyberIndustialPunk, and, well, the Thrill Kill Kult is what they is (hard to place them within a genre). I listen to Johnny Cash and Dwight Yoakum, am a fan of Christina Aguilera’s vocal prowess, can listen to “Ode To Joy” and never tire of it (Beethoven composed that). I have a wide range of musical taste.

The bands I will be focusing on here are those that should, but do not, get the recognition they deserve in the United States.
I saw Edguy perform in Portland, Oregon on the Rocket Ride World Tour. Here is a band that is well-respected and has been voted best live performance many times over in Europe, a band that plays in front of thousands of people at one show yet they cannot get a club that can only hold 250 people to sell out?* Why? Because Mtv hasn’t played music in years and radio in the U.S. ignores them for the next one-hit, or no-hit-wonder Korn-Klone. Clear Channel, your programming is tired and old.

Symphonic Metal and all its subs. The next post I will tell you about Nightwish and maybe review an album or two at the same time or between time.

*At that show there was maybe 25 people and I do mean maybe. I felt bad for them but they continue to return to Portland to play.

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