Trans-Siberian Orchestra: Tales Of Winter

The first retrospective from this seasonal institution.

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Ever thought that your favourite bands could benefit from a lot more classical bombast and a decent-sized choir? Or that both Meatloaf and Queen should have released Christmas albums and, frankly, tried to be a bit more metal? If the answer is yes, then the Trans-Siberian Orchestra could be exactly what you’re looking for.

TSO owes its existence to US producer and composer Paul O’Neill, initially utilising the talents of triumvirate Jon Oliva, Robert Kinkel and Al Pitrelli, whom O’Neill had met through his work with Savatage. The original vision was to marry classical and rock music using a wide range of musicians, and to produce three Christmas-themed rock operas. This resulted in the album Christmas Eve And Other Stories in 1996. The whole project has taken on something of a life of its own since, with the core team directing huge live shows and producing a further three Christmas albums and rock operas Beethoven’s Last Night and Night Castle.

For those who’ve completely missed what all the fuss is about, TSO have helpfully released this, something of a ‘Best Of’ compilation, fittingly just in time for Yuletide. All the TSO staples are here – the classical compositions as interpreted by a 90s power metal band (Night Enchanted, Dreams Of Fireflies (On A Christmas Night), A Mad Russian’s Christmas); the gut-wrenching bluesy ballads which require at least two grand pianos and an amp turned up to 11 which wouldn’t seem out of place during the end credits of Top Gun or An Officer And A Gentleman (Believe; Music Box Blues); the major musical theatre/rock opera statements (I’ll Keep Your Secrets; Epiphany). All that and lashings of Christmas.

We do miss out on the context of these tracks, excised from their original placement within larger narratives, which is unfortunate, since the back stories are important, but also unavoidable. With a cast of musicians and vocalists that would put most Broadway shows to shame, it’s a difficult job to keep track of exactly who’s doing what on each of these tunes, even though the CD comes with a complete list of contributors. Yes, it’s all rather overblown, melodramatic and cheesy, but it’s also ultimately hugely ambitious, entertaining, whole-hearted and joyful.

TSO certainly isn’t about subtlety, nuance or exploring the outer reaches of modern music, but there’s no-one doing quite what they’re doing and certainly not on this scale. So hang up your prog-snob sensibilities, embrace the bombast, and here’s wishing a Very Heavy Christmas to us all.

Gary Mackenzie

Gary has contributed reviews and news features for Prog Magazine for over a decade now. A fan of prog and heavy rock since childhood, his main areas of interest are classic and symphonic prog, prog-metal and modern acts bringing in fresh influences to the genre. He has a professional background in youth and community work, he teaches drum kit in schools and is a working musician. Gary was the drummer in semi-legendary NWOBHM band Praying Mantis for a couple of years and has been a member of indie-prog-pop-art-rock combo The Mighty Handful for more than twenty years. He loves cats and skiing, and has a Blue Peter badge.