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Trans-Siberian Orchestra - Christmas Eve & Other Stories CD (album) cover


Trans-Siberian Orchestra


Crossover Prog

3.03 | 65 ratings

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The Whistler
Prog Reviewer
3 stars What's that, the sound of sleighbells?!? Oh boy, it must be time for some Christmas joy! And some METAL!!!

Yep. I initially despised this album. In fact, I feel as though I've been training my whole life to hate this album. There was a time when I couldn't sit through the whole thing for a single listen. But then, common sense got a grip of me, and I realized that this wasn't King Crimson. This was some second (third?) rate prog metal band playing a buncha arena rock covers of Christmas carols and calling it an opera. So, with expectations sufficiently lowered, I listened to the album again. And you know what? It's good. For what it is.

"An Angel Came Down" actually provides you with a pretty decent view of what the album is going to be like. Very serious piano, over the top vocals, and then a sudden burst of squealing guitars and four-by-four drumming. With some bells thrown in for good measure.

Actually, maybe because it's the first of the many "hard" Christmas instrumentals (and when everything sounds the same, the first is best, right?), "O Come All Ye Faithful/O Holy Night" takes the place of the best song on the album. They turn it into a riff- fest (and dig the walking guitarlines), but in the end, it somehow manages to kick enough ass that even I can headbang and air guitar along.

"A Star to Follow" has a kind of interesting build, but the children's choir? Oh well, at least it's tasteful. Real sing along anthem for the coda. Now, for "First Snow," I SWEAR I've heard that dorky riff somewhere else before...maybe A LOT of somewhere elses before. But I love the fact that the drummer tries to convince us, right here, that he's the lord of drums. He can't improve his technique, but damn it, he CAN drum louder!

After this point, the album gets a little less fun for me. "The Silent Nutcracker" is silent because it's acoustic, I guess. Just some basic acoustic trickery, that grows more complex as it moves along. "A Mad Russian's Christmas" works well enough; I mean, it is the Nutcracker March, and it applies itself well enough to the metal format. But it still sounds like a hyperactive soundtrack to a toy commercial.

"The Prince of Peace" is pretty, but absolutely throwaway. Now, "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24," aside from having a LOT of slashes in the title, is actually not bad. I mean, if any Christmas carol is begging to have an ominous metal retooling, it's gotta be "The Carol of the Bells." If there were a real kick ass guitar solo, no way that thing escape the honor of best song. But it doesn't, relying on synths instead. Still headbangin' though.

"Good King Joy" is easily the weirdest of the lot, which, on a record that doesn't have a lot of variety, is never a bad thing. It starts out like everything else, a slick, serious, radio metal Christmas carol, but then it morphs...into a blooz song! Complete with a black dude on vocals. I think the lyrics are supposed to be funny...hope...

"Ornament" is one of the biggest letdowns of the whole thing. It starts out as a ballad, and just when you think it might have some REAL emotion in it, it takes a turn for the powerful. A power ballad...about Christmas. Need I say more? Too bad, because I honestly can hear the decent song under all the drums and radio metal guitars.

"The First Noel," another acoustic bit, is actual kind of nice, giving us some much appreciated reprieve from all the power balladeering. "Old City Bar" though serves essentially the same purpose as "Ornament," and it's nowhere near as good. It is much more acoustic oriented, so it's easier to listen to, but it's way more plodding.

"Promises to Keep" is just a choir. Read, "just a choir," with some piano. In the middle of the metal, this thing is REAL schlocky. Now, "This Christmas Day" IS the same as "Ornament." A sort of quiet intro with a loud, overbearing center. At least it speeds up at the end.

"An Angel Returned" takes the pomposity of "An Angel Came Down" and the gospel choir energy of "This Christmas Day" and jams 'em together. Oddly enough, it works, gaining enough steam by the end to win me over.

The next two songs are "post script," not sure what that means. I guess it's a kind of afterthought, since the opera's technically over (or, as Mr. Townshend might say, an underture). The classical "O Holy Night" is the better of the two. It's not really acoustic, since it's played on an electric, but it's tuned way down. Very pleasant that. Maybe even pretty. Or maybe I just like that song. "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" is well played, but it's nothing new. Somewhere between the talents of Anderson, Blackmore and Ingle, that has become THE Christmas song to "progress." And this version? Nothing special. Not the greatest ending, but, considering this band, could be worse.

Now, as much as I hate to admit it, there are a couple of good points to this thing. The musicians are not virtuosos by any means, but "the guitarist" is not bad and the acoustics especially are always nice (even if his style is a little cliché), and "the keyboardist" has his moments too (even if they're a little cheesy). And no, "the reviewer" didn't bother to learn any of their names.

Secondly, they are able to come together and rock so brainlessly hard, that even I have to close my eyes and sway back and forth, lighter in, I mean, headbang violently. And finally, and most importantly, it's a Christmas album fer goshsakes! Lighten up, and give the Constitution a rest. I mean, I like Christmas; I'm not some heartless troll.

In fact, sometimes the lyrics, if you're in the right mood, CAN tease some emotion from even a cynic like myself. Now, of course, I was reading the lyrics in the liner notes, and I was listening to Benefit...and I was high, but other than that, truly emotional that "A Star to Follow."

However, there will always be the fact that the vocals are ridiculous, the guitars are cheezy, the bass is practically non-existent, the keyboards are dorky, the drummer is a moron, the band takes itself WAY too seriously, and it's still just a load of radio metal dressed up with a concept, some boys' choirs and some acoustic numbers. It needed a saxophone! But still, it is Christmas, so we can overlook these things. For the first album anyway...

The Whistler | 3/5 |


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