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Trans-Siberian Orchestra - Night Castle CD (album) cover


Trans-Siberian Orchestra


Crossover Prog

3.08 | 41 ratings

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Mystic Mamba
4 stars Mystic Mamba Review #1: TSO - Night Castle

For my first ever review on Prog Archives, I'm going to be talking about an album that's very special to me. I've been a loyal fan of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra for more than half of my life. Furthermore, Night Castle was the album responsible for getting me into the world of prog, as it inspired my mother to introduce me to Yes (keep in mind that I'm only 20 years old at the time of this review). But you don't want to hear about me, so let's dive right in to this massive album. I will attempt to be as non-biased as possible.

What do I like about this album?

Night Castle is a double concept album, meaning there is a lot of music to absorb here (more than 2 hours). There is also a very detailed story that goes along with the album. If you're going to listen to the album all the way through for the first time, then you absolutely have to follow along with the story booklet. It simply isn't the same emotional experience with just the music. With that in mind, I'm not going to be revealing the details of the story in this review; that is for the individual listener to discover.

It should be noted that Night Castle (as with most TSO albums) can be clearly divided into two categories of songs: instrumentals and non-instrumentals. The strongest moments on this album definitely occur in (most of) the instrumental tracks, so I'll talk about them first. Also worth mentioning is the fact that TSO has around 20 musicians covering 5 instruments, so it's very hard to tell who is playing what at any given moment.

The Memorable Instrumentals:

"The Mountain" is a dark and ominous piece with a remarkably heavy tone throughout. The song is a reworking of Savatage's "Prelude to Madness". It features some insane guitar solos, and is one of the most iconic tracks on the album.

"Mozart and Memories" is one of the album's proggiest songs, featuring tempo changes and brief moments in 7/4 time. The piano and strings really take center stage in this piece. It doesn't have as much of an intense impact as "The Mountain", but its diversity and dreamy atmosphere make it my favorite track on the first disc.

"Toccata" is another heavy song filled with shredding. Frequent tempo changes keep things alive and interesting in this all-too-short piece of prog metal goodness.

"Moonlight and Madness" opens the second disc, and what an adventure it is! Beginning with an excellent Beethoven piano solo, the song transitions into a dark prelude before the main song kicks in. Such a cool piece!

"Embers" is the final track in the main story, and is a very pleasant acoustic guitar piece.

"Nutrocker" (bonus track, originally arranged by ELP) is just all around fun, and has a few brilliant keyboard solos. Of all the songs on the album, this one has the most Christmas vibes.

"Tracers" (bonus track) is the big prog jam that finishes off the album. The highlight has to be the quiet interlude where acoustic guitars and strings shine through. It might be the best instrumental on the album, however it does lack the tempo changes that make songs like "Toccata" and "Moonlight and Madness" so great.

Now on to the non-instrumentals, many of which are quite excellent. Since this is a rock opera, many different singers are present. All of them are fantastic vocalists without a doubt, but many people criticize TSO vocals as being too cheesy. The singing style really is "love it or hate it", but personally I find the vocals to be quite enjoyable. Only Tim Hockenberry's raspy voice grinds my gears here and there.

The Memorable Non-Instrumentals:

"Night Castle", sung by the brilliant Jeff Scott Soto, almost sounds like something out of The Nightmare Before Christmas. It is quite operatic, and features a fun keyboard solo followed by a quiet ending section.

"Another Way You Can Die", another JSS piece, is absolutely the heaviest non-instrumental on the album. It is complex and intense, utilizing multiple tempo changes to its advantage.

"Dreams We Conceive", yet again featuring the vocals of Mr. Soto, is a very emotional rock ballad. It might not have the structural variation of the some of the other songs, but it is a much needed break after several heavy tracks in a row.

"Time Floats On", the final JSS song, appears to be just another ballad at first. However, this song has a very unexpected instrumental bridge with fantastic piano work.

"Epiphany", sung by Rob Evan, is the crowning jewel of the entire album. This is an outstanding 11 minute prog ballad that doesn't get boring for a single second (at least for me). I would have to say that this is my personal favorite TSO song as of this review. Like I said earlier, knowing the story is an absolute must for truly feeling the emotion within this song. The brief choir parts are particularly fantastic.

"Father, Son & Holy Ghost", sung by Jennifer Cella, begins calmly with just piano and vocals. However, 2.5 minutes in the song becomes dark and angry, before returning to a calm state at the end. This is another song that is very much enhanced by the story.

"Child of the Night" (bonus track), sung by Alexa Goddard and Valentina Porter, is the most beautiful and relaxed song TSO has ever arranged. Using only strings and vocals, it is a very ethereal piece.

"Carmina Burana" (bonus track) is a metal rendition of Carl Orff's "O Fortuna", and the choir sounds completely epic on this track. It is a shame that such an excellent piece of music is only 3 minutes long.

What do I dislike about this album?

With the sheer quantity of music present here, there are bound to be filler and/or subpar songs on this album, and that is indeed the case. Now, there aren't too many things that I truly dislike about Night Castle, but there are definitely criticisms worth mentioning. Most are simply minor complaints.

The Subpar Tracks:

"Night Enchanted" is a great opening track, and I love the choir vocals. However, I found it entirely unnecessary for the song to literally repeat itself after the short "Child of the Night" interlude. It merely makes the album longer than it needs to be.

"Childhood Dreams" and "The Safest Way Into Tomorrow", both sung by Jay Pierce, aren't terrible, but they seem like such simple rock songs compared to so many of the others. The latter of the two does have a very nice guitar solo.

"Sparks", sung by Tim Hockenberry, is not bad at all, and has great guitar work. But after seeing this song played live with added orchestration (and cleaner vocals, no offense to Mr. Hockenberry), it makes me wonder why they didn't just orchestrate it in the first place.

"The Lion's Roar" has a promising start, with the rock band coming in after a unique trumpet solo. However, everything in this instrumental feels like it was forcibly cut short (which was my main issue with their newest album, Letters From the Labyrinth). The piece could've easily been expanded by 3 minutes to allow for more musical exploration.

"There Was a Life", sung by Rob Evan, has exactly the opposite problem; it drags on for far too long. This 9 minute rock ballad could've easily been trimmed by 3 minutes, and that probably would've made it more enjoyable.

"Mother and Son" and "Bach Lullaby", the two filler tracks, don't really have any emotional impact on the listener unless they are following along with the story, and could've been left out.

"Remnants of a Lullaby", sung by Jennifer Cella, is a quiet song that's fine within the context of the story, but musically it's just uninteresting.

"Believe" (bonus track), sung by Tim Hockenberry, is a very solid rock ballad, however it isn't anywhere near as good as the original Savatage version (specifically the vocals). In my opinion, it is a very unnecessary inclusion on this already overpacked album.

My final bone to pick with this album is that there is a secret track titled "The Flight of Cassandra" that is only available with the Amazon MP3 version. It is a glorious 7 minute instrumental with sections in 7/8 and 5/4 time, and the album could've benefited tremendously had it been included with the CD version. I highly recommend buying the CD and then downloading this song separately, as it is the proggiest piece TSO has ever written. I would go so far as to place it alongside songs like Frost*'s "Hyperventilate" or even Rush's "YYZ". Yeah, it's that good!

What are my overall thoughts?

Night Castle is a colossal album, to the point that there are almost too many songs for the listener to take in. I like what reviewer TheGazzardian said about condensing the music of the story onto one disc, then having a smaller disc with bonus tracks. Sometimes, a short album with "all killer, no filler" is better than a long album with "a lot of killer, a lot of filler". This is just constructive criticism, of course. I love Night Castle, and you have to respect TSO for crafting such a big and bold musical adventure.

TSO is known for being one of the most accessible prog bands in the world, so of course Night Castle isn't as proggy of a concept album as something by Ayreon or Neal Morse. That being said, this album is absolutely essential for TSO and/or Savatage fans, and a very enjoyable listen for anyone who likes good crossover prog with a mixture of heavy songs and ballads. In conclusion, I would give Night Castle 3.5 stars on the PA rating system, which I will gladly round up to 4.

The Essential Tracks: "The Mountain", "Mozart and Memories", "Moonlight and Madness", "Epiphany", "Tracers", and "The Flight of Cassandra"

Mystic Mamba | 4/5 |


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