Sound — 8
When Christmas comes around, there are always the old Christmas movies, carols, colors, and even commercials. Yes, Christmas has evolved, at least where I live, into more of a commercial event, a commodity, instead of the religious holiday I assume it once was. Therefore, as someone who is not Christian, I still wholeheartedly take in Christmas as more of an event than a holiday.
As a musician, I have naturally come to notice the bevy of musicians, mostly singers, who attempt to become apart of the Christmas spectacle, usually by covering covers of Christmas songs or hymns. While these musicians try, more or less, to leach off of the Christmas traditions of the world, there is one band that in my mind has become a tradition itself; the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra wrote the Christmas songs for metal fans. Yes, many, if not most, of their songs are covers. Yes, they have covered many Christmas classics (though if you compare their version of "What Child Is This?" to Josh Groban's, you'll realize how they changed the lyrics to be less Christian and more relatable to the album's story). Even with this somewhat banal appeal, their original music, combined with creative renditions of classics and a bombastic (literally) stage show, has made them a Christmas delight among metal fans.
This album, released just in time for Christmas, is a re-release of their platinum-selling album, "The Lost Christmas Eve," but with the addition of the narration that they use at their live shows. As someone who went to one of their shows before actually listening to their music, this narration was/is a large part of the experience. And like the concert experience, this album clocks in at a little over two hours and fifteen minutes.
Essentially, the original album was a concept album that told a story about different types of people on Christmas Eve before turning to a sadder story about a man with a disfigured child. That album was about evenly split between instrumentals, metal songs with vocals, and soft piano or acoustic guitar driven songs with vocals. The album was a masterpiece in its own right, being able to combine excellent production with over the top talented vocalists, catchy riffs, and powerful music that always signified changes in mood while still being simple enough (never going out of key, always resolving) to be understood (and adored) by a mainstream audience. In fact, the album became so mainstream, that I'm sure you've heard the track "Wizards of Winter."
With the addition of the narration, the album becomes evenly split between the music I just described and spoken word. The deep-voiced narrator is a powerful one, no doubt. He is able to stretch emotion just as easily as the music can ("The Wisdom of Snow" is a great example). And, especially for me, he is able to faithfully recreate the incredible experience of a live TSO show.
The only slight I have against the narration is that it is poorly integrated into the album. The narration itself is excellent, but each one is just inserted before each song as its own song. There is no transition between the songs and the narrations like there is at a live show. The biggest offense, however slight, is that there is no keyboard accompaniment like there is at a live show. The beauty of the narrations is in its ability to tell a story. The Trans-Siberian Orchestra goes above and beyond to accomplish this task at a live show and they failed to do that with the included narrations. Still, the narrations improve the CD, making it better than it was before. Even though I may be criticizing the narrations on certain points, they are still, as a whole, excellent. They just could have been a little better.
Lyrics — 10
The vocals on the CD can be split into two groups: those done during the songs and those done during the narrations. As to the vocals done during the songs, they are, as a collection, some of the best vocals I've ever heard. Most bands do not have the resources or the humility to include more than one or two lead singers on an album. So when the Trans-Siberian Orchestra employs a different, superbly talented lead singer for each song, chosen to match the circumstances of these songs, it is no wonder that they blow the listener away. But all of this you could have already heard from the virgin release of "The Lost Christmas Eve."
What you came for this time was the combination of these magnificent vocals with the narrations. As I alluded to before, the vocal performance of the narrator was every bit as spectacular as those of the lead singers, except, of course, without the novelty of hearing a new lead singer on each track.
As to the lyrics, those of the lead singers are religiously tinged, but are almost as secular as they could be, given the topic matter. The words of the narrator excel at telling the story of the album and at connecting the lyrics of the preceding and succeeding songs. The words of the narrator tend to rhyme and follow vocal patterns that change with the topic matter, patterns that would be more easily discernable if the keyboard accompaniment I mentioned before was included.
Overall, a vocal performance for the ages.
Overall Impression — 9
As I've mentioned before, this album is really a Christmas classic that has become apart of the secular Christmas tradition of me and many other rock/metal fans. With this new release, it is now possible to connect the dots of this concept album and to feel enveloped in the concert experience for which the Trans-Siberian Orchestra has become famous. As a previous fan of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, I feel that this release is a much needed addition to their discography. The only real criticism I have of the newly included narrations is that the keyboard accompaniment that is done live is not provided. Other than that, this album succeeds in telling an uplifting story with some good guitar and vocals to boot.