To my great relief, TSO returns to form (and better) with Beethoven's Last Night. Their 1998 release, The Christmas Attic, was enjoyable but a let-down: it seemed like a rehash of their first album instead of a new idea. But Beethoven's Last Night is something else altogether. Across 22 tracks (73 minutes of music), TSO unfolds the harrowing story of Beethoven's last night on earth, including remembrances of his love and life, deals with the devil, and the saving grace of Fate. Like most of O'Neil's writing for TSO and Savatage, it's a tear-jerker and bound to leave you with a smile on your face. The songwriting is volcanic, bombastic but widely varied; the pounding heavy metal that introduces Requiem (The Fifth) is interrupted by a ghostly children's choir, creating a goosebump-inducing shock. I got chills up my spine at least five times during the course of the album. The musical asides - little bits of the Moonlight Sonata and countless others by Beethoven and Mozart, polyharmonic choral sections, a children's choir (only very briefly, don't worry) -- make for a rich, multilayered repeat listen. The vocal performances are stunning in their perfection. Beethoven sings like an operatic baritone, Theresa veers between rock siren and delicate soprano, Mephistopheles sneers and rasps, Twist (Fate's deformed son) mocks and leers, and in the end Fate sings us to sleep with a simple, beautiful lullaby. Paul O'Neil's songwriting can be uneven -- you wince a bit when he rhymes "dismembered/remembered" and "minute/in it," and intros a song with an 80's-power-ballad drum fill -- but he hits much more often than he misses, and the music and vocals are good enough to gloss over the rough patches. Who is the market for this album? A heavy metal fan with a weakness for musical theater. A classical music fan who likes Andrew Lloyd Weber and can stand an electric guitar or two. Someone who isn't put off by serious emotion and high drama. And someone with a good attention span -- the album demands to be listened to all the way through reading along in the (20+ page)liner notes, at least once. Think of it as the soundtrack to the best Broadway musical/rock opera that never was. If you like the genre, you'll love this.