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Brilliant From Start to Finish
on August 31, 2001
From the enchanting cover art right through to the last notes of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," the last track, Christmas Eve and Other Stories is a rare delight.
In fact, although this is supposed to be a Christmas album, I find I can listen to it year 'round (as I am right now and it's August 31st).
You probably already know this from reading other reviews, but Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO) is the alter ego of Savatage, a mostly heavy metal/progressive rock band whose albums tend to lean toward the "concept" side of creativity, which is to say they're generally quite a few notches above most music these days...and often contain flashes of brilliance not found anywhere else on the planet.
There's a feeling I get every year around Christmastime, and TSO "director" Paul O'Neill (who produces Savatage's albums) captured it exactly on this CD. As a matter of fact, on TSO's web site, O'Neill writes, "I love writing stories and I've always been staggeringly fascinated with Christmas. It's such a magical time of the year. If you're walking down a New York City street around Christmastime and it starts to snow, the potential for magic can be felt in the air. That's what I tried to capture on this record, while bringing a fresh musical treatment to the holiday."
To capture that "magical" feeling on Christmas Eve and Other Stories, O'Neill took mostly traditional Christmas songs and infused them with electric guitar power and energy to create a majestic, emotional, captivating sound that tends to overwhelm me with emotion or awe (such as on the incredible "A Star To Follow" track or in the dynamic "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24" track, which also appeared on Savatage's Dead Winter Dead CD).
"A Star To Follow" is amazing. Savatage occasionally creates counterpoint/chorus arrangements that truly rise above the norm, such as the title track to The Wake of Magellan, for example. Or "Morphine Child" from their latest CD Poets and Madmen. "A Star To Follow" gives me the chills every time I hear it.
This CD isn't just Christmas tunes put to heavy metal. It's so much more than that. There's a softness and innocence, maybe even a reverence, about these arrangements (like on the delicate classical guitar instrumental "The Silent Nutcracker") -- even when such songs are placed back-to-back against tracks like "A Mad Russian's Christmas," which begins with a plaintive piano melody that's soon punctuated by bone-crushing Metallica-esque power chords.
Another example of one style of music placed like bookends against another is "Prince of Peace" immediately followed by Savatage's "Christmas Eve Sarajevo 12/24," one of the most powerful songs you'll ever hear -- Christmas or otherwise.
I can't say enough about this CD. It's the kind of album that comes along truly once in a lifetime. Even if TSO never tops this performance (The Christmas Attic and Beethoven's Last Night are noble efforts, but they don't hold a candle to this album), they will have served us well by creating Christmas Eve and Other Stories -- one of my favorite CDs of all time.