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TSO overreaches a little - 60%

caspianrex, April 28th, 2011

Now I know there have got to be a passel of metalheads out there who HATE Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and probably hated their predecessor Savatage, too. Me, I have to admit to having a fond spot in my heart for TSO's glorious cheesiness. But this album may cross the line just a bit. Two discs of classical quotations, goofy lyrics, and almost Disney-esque style can cause even a fan of TSO to suffer a little musical sugar shock.

Just in case you hadn't figured out that Paul O'Neill likes classical music, Night Castle starts right out with an English language slightly metalized version of the "Dies Irae" from Verdi's Requiem. Now, I've sung the Verdi Requiem several times, and the actual experience of doing it with an orchestra is considerably more exciting than TSO's somewhat tepid rendition. For one thing, it's simply too heavy on the synths. They probably could have hired a real orchestra to beef up the sound, but they chose the easy way out, and replaced most of the orchestra parts with keyboards. Weak.

To skip to the second disc for a second, I do enjoy hearing TSO do their own take on Orff''s Carmina Burana. I've also sung that piece several times (doing it again this weekend), and I had long wondered when TSO would tackle that one. It's way more successful than their weak Verdi track. Carmina lends itself to guitars quite well, and the chorus on the track sounds pretty huge for what I'm sure is a dozen or so singers, at most.

Back on disc one, the title track "Night Castle" is a pretty typical opera-style number, and to be honest, this is the type of thing TSO does really well. There's a nice balance between the chugging rhythms of the guitars, the keyboard orchestral figures, and the somewhat rough musical theatre sound of the vocals. Yes , it's cornball in the extreme, but most TSO fans are going to have a ball with it.

The track "Mozart and Memories" is a typical example of O'Neill's fascination with the classical composers, but listening to it, I think it's got a lot more to do with Jim Steinman (of Bat out of Hell fame) than it has to do with Mozart. In fact, if I were Steinman, I may be having a chat with my lawyers about the piano intro to this song. It's extremely "reminiscent," let's say of a couple of Steinman's Air Supply tunes. We do get a little actual Mozart music towards the middle (one of his symphonies). Once again, too heavy on the keyboards, but the guitars and drums do come in eventually to rescue the piece from being a waste of time.

I'm not going to go into all the other tracks--chances are, if you like TSO, you'll like most of what's on this album. The biggest problems with Night Castle are: (1) it repeats almost exactly the same style and content of their earlier albums and (2) there's just too much music. From what I understand, the same is true of most of TSO's stage shows. Even fans can be overwhelmed by the length of their shows, half of which consist of their Christmas music, and other half of which is everything else they like to play with. I think Trans-Siberian Orchestra is better in slightly smaller doses.