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

NIGHT CASTLE

Trans-Siberian Orchestra

 

Crossover Prog

3.04 | 29 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

TheGazzardian
Prog Reviewer
3 stars Not much has been said about this album yet, so I hope to be able to inform those curious if Trans-Siberian Orchestra's new album is worth purchasing.

Fans of Trans-Siberian Orchestra, including myself, have been eagerly awaiting this album for some time. Expectations were high, for a variety of reasons.

For one, their previous two albums (Beethoven's Last Night, and Lost Christmas Eve) had been their best to date. Beethoven's Last Night, in particular, had been stellar because it was good year round instead of just around Christmas time. Furthermore, it had had a better story than any of their Christmas album, and arguably their best music and vocals. It had truly been an inspired album, and it was what lead me to this band and made me interested enough to buy each and every one of their Christmas albums, although none of them were quite as good as it was.

This one, not being a Christmas album, was also an exciting feature.

And on top of that, this album had been pushed back over a year so they could continue to perfect it and make it better. What we ended up was unique among Trans-Siberian Orchestra albums. It was two discs, where all their other albums had been only one, and at the end, there were five tracks that had nothing to do with the story.

This album arrived in my hands three days after it had been officially released, and I had to listen to it immediately. I found the packaging to be a mixed bag. I loved the look of their previous albums, and the way they looked side by side; they really looked like they matched (even Beethoven's Last Night seemed to fit with their previous work). So having a new logo made the album look a little less cohesive with their previous albums, and the new logo is a bit more plain, in my opinion.

The cover art itself is great (and gains an additional emotional impact after you know the story), although the high amounts of cold colours make it stand out less than their previous covers on its own.

Inside, there are some more beautifully drawn pictures, including an image of Erasmus (one of the characters in the story) tossing letters out his window. They add a lot of appeal to the packaging, but best of all is the booklet, which has over 60 pages of lyrics and outlining the plot. The cover of the booklet is also quite beautiful.

The story in this one follows similar motifs that their Christmas albums did, with heroic characters and human characters with flaws that discover the errors of their ways. It is perhaps the best execution they have had of this type of story, and is a fair contender with the story of Beethoven's Last Night.

The Music - Short version

The music on this album does not reach the lofty heights we had come to expect in the previous two albums. It is still strong, but at the end it seems to draw out, when the story could easily have fit in a single disc, giving us a second disc of bonus tracks. This would have been preferred, but overall, it still has what most Trans-Siberian Orchestra fans have come to expect: theatric music, a nice story, epic moments, great instrumentals.

The Music: Detailed

The album starts with Night Enchanted, which pretty much demonstrates everything that fans of the band had hoped to find in the album. Here we have a big, theatrical, orchestral song with operatic vocals, energetic musicianship, and some heaviness. Many fans got a preview of this song on their 2008 tour, but it still sounds amazing to hear it starting off the album.

Next is Childhood dreams, where we are introduced to one of the characters of the story. It is not quite as strong as the opener, but it moves the story along nicely, leading into Sparks. Sparks is a nice rock song, and although I would hesitate to say there is anything progressive about it, it is definitely a nice part of the album. The Mountain brings us, once again, to Trans-Siberian Orchestra's strong point: heavy instrumental adaptations of classic pieces. This one is on par with previous adaptations they had done.

Night Castle is another rocking song, driving the story forward in a catchy manner. It leads into "The Safest Way to Tomorrow",which is pretty typical of Trans-Siberian Orchestra's first two albums. It is essentially a dialogue song, and while the instrumentation is pleasant, it is nothing interesting, and the song outlasts the listeners interest without conveying the emotion they are trying to hit with their lyrics. A Trans-Siberian Orchestra album can typically hold one or two of these songs without being dragged down too much, as their songs are generally short.

Mozart and Memories is another nice instrumental piece, although this one is a little weaker then The Mountain. It does feature some nice strings near the end, however, where the mountain was more of a guitar-oriented track.

Another Way You Can Die is Trans-Siberian Orchestra's first attempt at mixing rap-style vocals with their music. It actually works quite well for the song (which is supposed to occur during the war scene), and leads nicely into Toccata, which is another great, heavy-guitar based instrumental piece with a lot of energy.

The Lion's Roar starts with a military horn playing sad-sounding music, which is appropriate for this part of the story, as one of the main characters has just been captured by enemy troops. It develops into a heavy guitar part with military drumming, but the ending kind of loses the energy.

At this part, the best part of the story, in terms of events, is told, and what happens next is basically how certain characters meeting each other react to each other. Reading the booklet as you listen to this part, it actually remain pretty interesting, especially if you love character-based storytelling (which I do). Unfortunately, the next handful of songs are (with some exceptions) not quite as good as what has been in the album up to this point. They follow the same formula as The Safest Way Into Tomorrow, being vehicles for exposition and dialogue, where they attempt to convey emotion through the lyrics. I find this kind of music to be rather flat, and although the songs do have some catchy parts, overall, until the end of the disc, the music takes a mostly downward turn at this point.

Mother and Son is a perfect example of this. If you are reading the booklet as you listen, then it has a pretty good emotional hit, but otherwise, it's gibberish without any music (unless you speak Chinese or whatever language the voices are speaking). There Was a Life demonstrates exactly why this type of song is Trans-Siberian Orchestra's weakest ... it follows the exact same formula as Dreams We Conceive: Vocals singing with emotion, with a sudden build up with a guitar building up volume underneath, and then a loud chorus, followed by more lyrics.

The fact that this type of song got so much play on this album disappoints me. On Beethoven's Last Night, they had similar moments, where characters had revelations or expositioned their emotions, but it worked well there because they did interesting things musically (think Mephistopheles' Return). They did not rely on formulaic song structure and overwrought vocals to attempt to make up the emotion lost by the flat music. Given the extra time that they took to record this album, you would think that the band had had time to improve these pieces. There Was a Life is particularly painful, as it is almost ten minute songs, but sounds tired after about two minutes.

Disc 2 attempts to recover with Moonlight and Madness, which is another excellent instrumental, featuring more piano then their previous instrumentals on this album. It is not quite as good as Wish Liszt (Toy Shop Madness) from The Lost Christmas Eve, but it is still an excellent song. Unfortunately, Time Floats On finds is another mediocre exposition song again, albeit with a catchy bit in the middle. Epiphany is slightly better, having a bit more energy and a neat break in the middle, feeling less formulaic than the others. It is still too long, again at ten minutes long. Unfortunately, even the story seems to be grinding to a halt as we listen to these songs. We've gone from covering a war and battle in three songs (with two instrumentals), to listening to seven songs about how two characters reacted to each other with only two instrumentals in that break (and the second one, Bach Lullaby, is really rather short and not too interesting). To be fair other stuff happens in the story, but this part of the album is a bit overlong, and could easily have been trimmed, and some of that space could have been used to tell other parts of the story.

For example, multiple pages of story happen between Bach Lullaby and Father, Son & Holy Ghost, yet Father, Son... only covers the results of all of that. Surely we could have had some more music about that instead?

The end of the album is almost as overdrawn. What could have been done in a song or two is done instead in four. I think this may have been a result of the 2 disc format; the band felt obligated to fill the CDs up, and included more material than they really had, tossing in extra exposition to fill it in. It is a shame, as it lessens the value of this album. Without the slower parts, if the story continued to move as swiftly as it did initially, this album could have been almost as good as Beethoven's Last Night; the story was certainly strong enough, and it certainly had enough good moments. As it stands, the story part of the album fall short of that lofty mark.

Father, Son, and Holy Ghost is actually a pretty good song, with some good female vocals (the album might have benefited from more of these, for the two main male vocalists sounded almost the same, further making the exposition feel longer) and nice instrumental bits. Remnants of a Lullaby is pleasant, if unnecessary. The Reprise of The Safest Way Into Tomorrow is also unnecessary, but thankfully short. Embers passes by quietly, and it is a nice quiet way to end the album, if not as good as A Final Dream on Beethoven's Last Night.

The album could easily have been one disc with 14 songs, and been superior to what we got instead. I would outline the track listing as:

1.Night Enchanted 2. Childhood Dreams 3. Sparks 4. The Mountain 5. Night Castle 6. The Safest Way Into Tomorrow 7. Mozart and Memories 8. Another Way You Can Die 9. Toccata - Carpimus Nocturn 10. The Lion's Roar 11. Moolight and Madness 12. Epiphany 13. Father, Son & Holy Ghost 14. Embers

The band could then have put the bonus tracks on a seperate disc, which would have been much better, as they would have been appropriately separated from the story, instead of jammed onto a disc after it.

The bonus tracks themselves are pretty good, except for Believe which sounds pretty boring to me. Child of the Night has nice, child-like choir vocals, which is nice. Carmina Burana is good, although it sounds like a worse version of the classical version (where Trans-Siberian Orchestras adaptations usually sound like their own distinct versions). Nutrocker is the closest thing they have to a Christmas song on this album, and wouldn't sound out of place on any of their Christmas albums. Tracers is a good song, although not one of their best instrumentals.

Overall, I'd give this album three stars. I expected more from Trans-Siberian Orchestra, but although this album is flawed, it does contain a lot of good stuff. It could have been four stars if it had been a little tighter.

TheGazzardian | 3/5 |

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