Letters From The Labyrinth
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Letters From The Labyrinth
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'Labyrinth' is TSO's first album of individual, unconnected songs, the 14-track set is knit together by the serious underpinning of the songs, whether it's the sweeping overview of humanity on 'Time & Distance', the concerns of world banking irregularities on 'Not Dead Yet', the anti-bullying message of 'Not The Same' (which O'Neill co-wrote with his daughter) or the learn-from-the-past studies of 'Prince Igor and 'King Rurik'. In some ways it's a straight ahead album, and in some ways it's not. It's blatantly out of the box more music-driven as opposed to story- and music-driven. The world is a mess right now, so 'Letters From the Labyrinth' examines some of the problems we're facing now. You can enjoy them as songs, but they're there to make you think.
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The typical TSO-style tracks are all front-loaded on this CD, so throughout the first half of the album, you pretty much get what you expect-- hard-rock (mostly instrumental) renditions of various classical pieces. It all sounds great, even if perhaps the novelty is perhaps wearing just the slightest bit thin by now. For my taste, these tracks are better than the instrumental tracks on Night Castle (several of these would fit quite nicely on the Beethoven's Last Night CD, in terms of quality.)
The second half of the album is mostly vocal tracks. "The Night Conceives" is a hard-driving rocker, and Kayla Reeves brilliantly growls and screams her way through it. Next up is "Forget About The Blame," which is perhaps one the catchiest vocal tracks TSO has ever recorded. It's not written by any of TSO's usual songwriters, and honestly doesn't quite feel like a TSO track, but it's a great addition to the album. After that, we get "Not Dead Yet," which starts with a mean and dirty bassline, and carries that attitude until about halfway through the track, when it suddenly takes an odd turn and introduces a horn section. "Past Tomorrow" is one of the quieter pieces on the album, beautifully sung by reliable TSO veteran Jennifer Cella. It's a simple, haunting piano/vocal track. "Stay" is a remake of an old Savatage song. I was a bit disappointed with this one, since I never felt it was particularly strong when Savatage did it, and this version does absolutely nothing to reinvigorate it. "Not The Same" is the third quiet song in a row, and while it's not bad, I think putting three wistful tracks in a row might have been a mistake. Supposedly it's about bullying, but the lyrics are so indirect and vague that, for me, it doesn't really carry the emotional impact the topic deserves. Next up, "Who I Am." This is one of the TSO's big, bombastic choral pieces, and although it's nice that the energy level has increased a bit, I'm just not a big fan of TSO doing this style (the opening track, "Time & Distance" is also in this style, but I much prefer that one.) The lyrics to "Who I Am" are a bit cringe-inducing, which doesn't help. Then we get back to another quiet piece with "Lullaby Night." This is basically Bach's Prelude 1, but with added orchestration. Pleasant, but forgettable. And finally, we get a reprise of "Forget About The Blame," this time featuring Lzzy Hale, who has just the perfect amount of gravel in her voice to really make this song work. Sadly, the backing music is exactly the same on both versions of this song, making it feel a bit redundant.
The entire album is about 53 minutes long, which is perfectly respectable, but easily the shortest TSO album, and when you consider that "Forget About The Blame" is included twice, and "Stay" is just an unimaginative retread of a previously released track, it makes the whole thing feel a bit insubstantial.
Overall, the album starts strong, but peters out a little bit towards the end. In some ways, this might be TSO's most accessible album, since it's not a sprawling rock opera like their previous releases, and the vocal tracks mostly steer clear of the Broadway influences that often seep into their work. It's a solid, enjoyable release with some great moments throughout, but falls a bit short of being as memorable or impactful as some other TSO albums.
Finally, no offense to Adrienne Warren, but there are songs that need to be left alone, or if redone, need to be done properly, and Warren's version of "Stay" is one of them. I find myself skipping that track because I just can't listen to it.
Now, having berated the record, I will say that the instrumental tracks are still worth listening to, particularly the grouping of "Mountain Labyrinth," "King Rurik," and "Prince Igor." I really like the vocal work from Jennifer Cella on "Past Tomorrow," but the rest of the tracks with vocals are mostly forgettable.
All in all, I'd say a die-hard TSO fan should own the record, but if someone who is unfamiliar with TSO's non-Christmas releases is looking for one album to own for their collection, this one isn't it. You would have better enjoyment with _Beethoven's Last Night_, or if you like a concept album that tells a story, try Savatage's _Dead Winter Dead_, which has the original version of "Christmas Eve, Sarejevo," or _The Wake of Magellan_.