Great: It's been nearly 10 years since TSO's last non-Christmas effort, Beethoven's Last Night. While completely bombastic, over the top, and bordering on ridiculous, it was a great and very original take on a story involving a key figure in musical history. The arrangments (vocal and instrumental) were solid as was the majority of the song witing and the performances.
I love TSO. Must make that clear, I directed live performances of two of their albums (Xmas Eve & Beethoven's Last Night) when I was in college and have studied them and their music in depth for over a decade. They have always had an unparalleled ability to instill beauty, magic, and tenderness in their music and truly captivate their audiences.
Now in 2009, we have Night-Castle. A double disc, 28-song epic. The question is however, does it truly reflect 5 years of work and the need for the constant delays.
The instrumentals, as TSO is famous for, are certainly the perk of the album. Leading numbers being Midnight & Madness, The Lion's Roar, Tracers, and Flight of Cassandra (possibly one of their most versatile and best) and Nutrocker.
My heart jumped when I saw the title "The Mountain" as I thought, my god, maybe finally a metal-version of Night on Bald Mountain. No luck, unortunately it was merely an underperformed, uninspired, rehashing of Savatage's cover of "Hall of the Mountain King"
The treatment of Verdi's "Requiem" re-titled "Night Enchanted" is solid and has a truly kicking opening but at about a minute in, gives way to completely over produced vocals (female mainly) and is a bit repetitive and over-produced. The lowest point of the instrumentals is possibly the shameless borrowing of Savatage's "Mozart & Madness". Now cleverly (not) titled "Mozart and Memories" it is so unneccessary that it borders on insulting to Savatage fans. I do respect that they may want to introduce fans to the music of Savatage and Mozart and Madness was a great track but its place was on Dead Winter Dead, not here.
While the instrumentals are strong, some absorb track time by overly repetitive riffs, immensely exaggerated ritardanos and diminuendo and few have any shred of modulation or creative tempo change.
The vocal songs are packed full of musical emotion albiet they are really just over-the-top ballads pounding I,vi,IV,V for up to ten minutes (see Epiphany & There was a Life) The vocalists sound unmotivated and do not at all refelct the immense emotion heard on previous TSO albums. Most open with a standard 8-16 bar piano progression. Oliva, Kinkell, and O'Neill certainly have an undoubtable knack for these openings as they always "twinkle" in a sense and bring about that "magical (Christmas?) feelings and provide for a delightful listening experience.
I was very happy at the lack of filler tracks (only 2 tracks under a minute) but between the amount of borrowed material, the mechanicaly-perfect sounds, and the computer-sounding choral vocals they should just focus on writing and continuing to be as original as possible, not over producing and perfecting everything beyond acceptable reality. With all of the formulaic, fake, and repetitive garbage in mainstream music, it is pertinent for a group such as TSO, who bring something so unique and new to modern Rock and Classical, to keep as much of their material as original and unique as possible.
As always, the musicians are top notch, the arrangments are masterful but the this is certainly far from their best effort. I do however have complete faith that as TSO continues to strive for new musical heights and directions (thank god they're laying off the dead-horse that was Christmas) they will certainly continue to broaden their audience and hopefully continue to bring us solid classical/classic rock/metal influences music for years!