Blog Archives

Trans-Siberian Orchestra – Upon the Winter Solstice [Review]

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Trans-Siberian Orchestra – Upon the Winter Solstice
2013, Atlantic Records/Rhino Custom Products

1. A Mad Russian’s Christmas
2. Promises to Keep
3. The Christmas Day
4. First Snow
5. Midnight Christmas Eve
6. Dream Child (A Christmas Dream)
7. Music Box Blues
8. The Snow Came Down
9. Faith Noel
10. Remember
11. What Child Is This?
12. Wish Liszt (Toy Shop Madness)

Upon the Winter Solstice is a compilation album that was released exclusively at Kohl’s Department Stores during the 2013 holiday season. 100% of the proceeds go to the Kohl’s Cares charity to support kids’ health and education. Copies can be bought here and for only $5, you can’t go wrong by purchasing some TSO music while helping out a charity.

This is not to be confused with the recently released Tales of Winter: Selections from the TSO Rock Operas compilation which covers all five TSO albums and one EP. So far, that’s an album that’s only been released in Europe anyway. Upon the Winter Solstice focuses solely on the group’s first three Christmas releases (known as the Christmas Trilogy): Christmas Eve and Other StoriesThe Christmas Attic and The Lost Christmas. Each album is represented with four songs.

Some of the band’s most famous tracks like “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24” and “Christmas Canon” are not included but you still get fantastic numbers such as “A Mad Russian’s Christmas” (one of my favorite TSO tracks), “First Snow”, “What Child Is This?” and “Wish Liszt (Toy Shop Madness)”.

If you’re not familiar with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, this is a great way to get introduced to them while doing some good in the process. This is also a great pick up for someone such as myself who doesn’t (yet) own their first three Christmas albums.

www.trans-siberian.com
www.facebook.com/TSO

Van Helsing’s Curse – Oculus Infernum [Review]

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Van Helsing’s Curse – Oculus Infernum: A Halloween Tale
2003, Koch Records
Buy the album at Amazon.com

1. Patience (Introduction)
2. Tubular Hell
3. All Fall Down
4. Let Me Prey
5. The Child
6. The Tortured Soul
7. Revenge
8. War
9. Let the Pain Begin
10. The Curse

Producer:Joe Franco

Van Helsing’s Curse was a side project put together by Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider. The idea was Trans-Siberian Orchestra meets Halloween. On that front, Dee has succeeded. Oculus Infernum is a great collection of symphonic metal with just enough of a dark, spooky vibe that you can throw it on as background music to get yourself in the Halloween mood.

The project was meant to be so much more than that though. Snider envisioned the group touring every October. I know they’ve did a few live shows but I’m not sure whether they ever toured annually. The year that this album was released, the music was licensed out to a Six Flags theme park in New Jersey as the soundtrack to that year’s “Fright Fest”.

Though TSO occasionally features lead vocalists, there is none of that here. Dee Snider narrates a few tracks and there might be some choir chantings going on here or there, but the music is mostly all instrumental. What’s surprising is that the music is well put together. If I went into this blind, I would’ve thought it was Trans-Siberian Orchestra had started writing darker music.

I suppose that’s because TSO guitarist Al Pitrelli is involved with this project. One Amazon.com review states he co-wrote the album with Dee. I can’t find any confirmation he played on this album but I’m leaning towards ‘yes’ (he did play the live shows at least).

If you like TSO and you like Halloween, you will like Oculus Infernum. I hope some day we’ll get new music from this group because it’s a really cool idea.

www.vanhelsingscurse.com

Queensryche – Queensryche [Review]

Queensryche-Queensryche

Queensryche
2013, Century Media Records

1. “X2”
2. “Where Dreams Go to Die”
3. “Spore”
4. “In This Light”
5. “Redemption”
6. “Vindication”
7. “Midnight Lullaby”
8. “A World Without”
9. “Don’t Look Back”
10. “Fallout”
11. “Open Road”

Band:
Todd La Torre – Lead Vocals
Michael Wilton – Guitar
Parker Lundgren – Guitar
Eddie Jackson – Bass, Backing Vocals
Scott Rockenfield – Drums, Percussion

Produced by James Barton

Well, I’ve already reviewed TateRyche, I figured I had to give ToddRyche a shot as well! Equal time and all that jazz. As I’ve mentioned before, Queensryche has never been a favorite of mine. I never disliked them, they’ve certainly recorded some very cool songs over the years, but when I bought Operation: Mindcrime I felt that was enough for me. Funny that with the feud, I’m more interested in Queensryche than I ever have been!

I think part of what has helped me enjoy this album so much is that it’s barely 30 minutes long! “X2” and “Midnight Lullaby” are instrumentals that clock in around a minute a piece. I wonder if songwriting/recording for this album was cut short in order to get it out quicker to “compete” with Geoff Tate’s Frequency Unknown. It doesn’t matter. While it’s rare to see these days, I actually think an album that comes in around a half hour is pretty refreshing, especially when I seem to be getting busier and busier!

As for the album, it’s good stuff. Todd La Torre’s vocals are very similar to Geoff Tate but just different enough and the band is full of energy and doesn’t get weighted down by the bore ‘n’ chore of what progressive rock can sometimes be. The major difference between this album and Tate’s is that this one completely embraces the classic Queensryche sound. “A World Without” sounds like something Queensryche did years ago, and I mean that in a good way.

There’s really no attempt at creating a modern hard rock song. It’s just Queensryche being Queensryche with a singer that is perhaps better-suited to sing in this style than Geoff Tate is these days. Frequency Unknown isn’t a bad album, but this self-titled release by his ex-band mates is better. The REAL Queensryche sounds completely re-energized.

Highlights: “Where Dreams Go to Die”, “Spore”, “Redemption”, “A World Without”, “Don’t Look Back”

http://www.queensrycheofficial.com
http://www.facebook.com/QueensrycheOfficial

Buy the album at Amazon.com

Queensryche – Frequency Unknown [Review]

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Queensryche – Frequency Unknown
2013, Cleopatra Records/Deadline Music

1. “Cold”
2. “Dare”
3. “Give It to You”
4. “Slave”
5. “In the Hands of God”
6. “Running Backwards”
7. “Life Without You”
8. “Everything”
9. “Fallen”
10. “The Weight of the World”
11. “I Don’t Believe in Love”
12. “Empire”
13. “Jet City Woman”
14. “Silent Lucidity”

Band:
Geoff Tate – Lead Vocals
Kelly Gray – Guitar (solo on Track 1)
Robert Sarzo – Guitar (solo on Track 3)
Rudy Sarzo – Bass (Tracks 1, 5, and 9)
Simon Wright – Drums (Tracks 1 and 5)
Randy Gane – Keyboards (Tracks 1, 5–6, and 8–10), Bass (Track 10)

Additional Musicians:
Craig Locicero – Guitar (Tracks 1–10)
Jason Slater – Bass (Tracks 2–4, and 6–8), Keyboards (Tracks 7–8)
Martín Irigoyen – Guitar, Bass, Drums (Tracks 11–14)
Paul Bostaph – Drums (Tracks 6–9)
Evan Bautista – Drums (Tracks 2–4, and 10)
Jason Slater – Theremin (solo on Track 2)
Chris Cannella – Guitar (solo on Track 4)
Ty Tabor – Guitar (solo on Tracks 5 and 8)
K.K. Downing – Guitar (solo on Track 6)
Brad Gillis – Guitar (solo on Track 7)
Dave Meniketti – Guitar (solo on Track 9)
Chris Poland – Guitar (solo on Track 10)

Producer: Jason Slater

Even though I’ve always considered the band to be one of the more bland and boring rock/metal outfits out there, the story of Queensryche has become quite interesting over the last year. I’m certain more people are discussing Queensryche now more than they have in probably 10, 15 or 20 years. I know I am. If you want a good overview of what’s been happening and why there are two groups claiming to be Queensryche, check out this excellent article (which has been spotlighted and given the stamp of approval by the La Torre version of the band).

Well, as the world continues to wait for the Todd La Torre version of Queensryche to release their album, the Geoff Tate line-up has released their own album. Geoff Tate is probably one of the least popular guys in the world of rock & metal right now, so it’s no surprise the bashing started as soon as sound clips were released. But rightfully so. The production was pretty bad on the preview clips that were released. Some of those issues seem to have been corrected now that the album has been released but Cleopatra Records is now offering to send an even more recently remixed copy of the album to anyone to can provide them with proof of purchase of Frequency Unknown. They made this announcement just weeks after the album hit the shelves. It’s a head-scratcher. Why the label didn’t just wait and release a properly remixed album, I don’t know.

And just take a look at the limited involvement of the “band” and the long list of additional musicians. It’s a guitar solo-bonanza! They might as well be called “Geoff Tate’s Queensryche” or maybe “The Geoff Tate Group”, “Geoff Tate & Friends” or “Just Geoff”. There’s really no “band” here at all. The making of this album looks like a revolving door of musicians. Heck, this version of the band has already lost Glen Drover and Bobby Blotzer (they only participated in live shows before splitting)!

Okay, enough nitpicking. It’s the music that matters, right? Well, despite never really having any preference towards anything Queensryche and despite the fact that I agree Tate comes off like an arrogant jerk, this album is actually decent. I know Dedicated to Chaos tried to go some weird rock/pop/dance/whatever route and the band was properly trashed for doing so but Tate doesn’t go that route with the not-so-subtly titled Frequency Unknown (come on, it’s FU with a big fist coming at you on the cover… a message to Tate-haters and former band mates I’m sure). No, Frequency Unknown is a hard rock album with a modern sound. I’m okay with that. I think no matter what, Tate was going to lose. He’s getting bashed for sounding modern but if he tried to make an album with the classic Queensryche sound he would’ve gotten bashed for that as well. The closest he comes to his days of old is with “In the Hands of God” and “The Weight of the World”, I think.

“Cold” is a great modern sounding hard rock song. When it first became available, I wanted to be able to laugh at how bad it was and then continue on with my day, but it’s become one of my favorite songs of the year. I can’t stop playing it. Other songs like “Life Without You” and “Everything” remain highlights for me.

The only thing that truly weighs the album down are the four re-recording of a few Queensryche classics that are tacked on at the end. Tate has pointblank said he re-recorded them for the money because the label wanted these songs for licensing purposes. It’s only Tate and Martin Irigoyen on these songs. The sore spot here is Geoff’s voice. He sounds fine on the FU material, never going out of his weakening range but he just can’t hit the notes on these older songs. The music sounds fine to my casual Queensryche listening ears but I’ve read other reviews of die-hards picking apart Irigoyen’s musicianship. The production definitely lacking on these four songs.

Overall, Frequency Unknown had the recipe for a true disaster but Tate and his army of musicians pulled through and delivered a solid modern hard rock album. Just don’t expect much from the re-recordings.

Highlights: “Cold”, “Give It to You”, “In the Hands of God”, “Life Without You”, “Everything”, “The Weight of the World”

http://www.queensryche.com/
http://www.facebook.com/Queensryche

Buy the album at Amazon.com

Trans-Siberian Orchestra – Dreams of Fireflies (On a Christmas Night) [Review]

Trans-Siberian Orchestra – Dreams of Fireflies (On a Christmas Night)
2012, Universal Republic Records

1. Winter Palace
2. Dreams of Fireflies (On a Christmas Night)
3. I Had A Memory
4. Someday
5. Time You Should Be Sleeping

Though TSO has remained a popular and thriving annual holiday season touring group since their inception, it’s been 8 years since they’ve released any new holiday music (their last release, Night Castle, featured their usual brand of symphonic/progressive rock but was a concept album that had nothing to do with Christmas).

As has become standard with TSO, I find myself enjoying the instrumentals much more than I do the songs with vocals. TSO always uses great singers but sometimes I feel like the vocals just make the songs way too pompous for their own good. So, it’s no surprise that my two favorite tracks on the album are the two instrumentals: “Winter Palace” and “Dreams of Fireflies (On a Christmas Night)”. They are classic TSO songs. Great, heavy and upbeat Christmas tunes.

The remaining three tracks are the typical somber and sentimental ballads that TSO (over)fill their albums & live shows with. Decent tracks but as I’ve said, it’s the instrumentals where TSO really gets to flex their metal muscles. I recommend this EP for all TSO fans and fans of Christmas music in general. I’m hoping this is just a holdover to help promote the group’s 2012 winter tour and that a full album of Christmas music will be coming in 2013.

Having seen TSO twice (during their 2009 winter tour and again for their Beethoven’s Last Night 2011 tour), I was hoping they would be hitting my area again this year but no such luck.

Highlights: “Winter Palace”, “Dreams of Fireflies (On a Christmas Night)”

www.trans-siberian.com
www.facebook.com/TSO

Buy the album at Amazon.com

Looking Forward to in 2012…

2012 is shaping up to be another spectacular year for rock music. This is a year that is going to see releases from KISS, Judas Priest, Aerosmith, Van Halen and Black Sabbath. WHAT YEAR IS THIS ?!?

In no particular order, here’s what I’m definitely picking up in 2o12:

AcceptStalingrad (April)
Accept really blew me away with Blood of the Nations. The band has proven there is life without Udo. In fact, I think many people would prefer the current line-up over the classic Accept roster at this point.

Crazy Lixx – Riot Avenue (April)
These solid modern glam-metallers are currently in the studio working on their 3rd album.

KISS – Monster (Spring)
Obviously, this is the album I’m looking forward to most. Sonic Boom was a triumphant return to the studio for these guys, now that the wheels are well-oiled, I think Monster has potential to be even better.

SunstormEmotional Fire (February)
I missed out on the last Sunstorm despite good reviews. In the past year I’ve come to appreciate AOR/melodic rock more so I think I’m going to try out this Joe Lynn Turner-fronted side project when it’s released.

Crashdiet
No date yet set by these sleaze rockers but they are supposedly in the writing process now. I’m guessing sometime in the Fall.

Black Sabbath (Fall/Winter)
Another highly anticipated album for me because I’m really curious what it’s going to sound like. I’m not a big Ozzy fan, either as a solo artist or in Sabbath. I’d much rather see Iommi w/ Geezer go on to new projects (Iommi needs to give Tony Martin another call) but I still will be pre-ordering this one. My expectations aren’t all that high though given who is singing. I feel like he and Sharon are going to bring everyone else down to his mediocre level. Still, it’s exciting to know that new Iommi riffs and solos are coming.

Aerosmith (May)
So much prima donna drama in this camp over the last 5 years or so but hopefully that’s gone long enough to give us a new album. Granted,  I don’t really expect much from these guys in terms of, well… anything anymore. They’re kind of a joke at this point but with the legendary Jack Douglas back on as producer, I have no doubts that he’ll drag something out of them that’s better than the last studio album (2001’s Just Push Play).

Van Halen (February 7)
Geez, it was starting to look like the new Chinese Democracy, wasn’t it? No album title has been released yet but a release date has been and the first single will be released on January 10. Van Halen is another band that has become a joke over the years (despite the last tour getting rave reviews) but I have a good feeling about this album. The first album with Roth since 1984 and 1984! Rumored titles have been The Future and 2012 but I don’t think either will turn out to be true. Maybe IV though..?

Judas Priest
The band hasn’t definitely said a new album is coming in 2012 but they’ve been working on new material for a while now and seem to be looking at 2012 for releasing it. It’s a different songwriting dynamic now though. Instead of Halford/Downing/Tipton, it’s just Halford/Tipton. By all accounts, new guitarist Richie Faulkner is carrying his weight in a live setting so I think the album is going to turn out quite good. I do think it’s time the band delivers a straight ahead metal album though. Angel of Retribution and Nostradamus were good but not excellent. The band really hasn’t given the world that kick-ass classic metal album that they should’ve already done since Halford has come back. They really need a PainkillerHell Bent for Leather or British Steel at this point and keep it simple.

Primal Fear – Unbreakable (late January)
I have heard this album. It’s good. Plan on reviewing it soon.

Mollo/Martin – The Third Cage (late January)
See above. It’s great to have a new album out with Tony Martin on vocals.

Buckcherry
Maybe wishful thinking on my part but they were working on new material this past summer so hopefully something new will appear by next summer.

The Last Vegas The Other Side
No date announced yet but they recently released the free digital Other Side E.P. so I’d imagine we’ll have the new album by the spring.

Slash
His first solo album was one of the best records from the last few years and this time, Myles Kennedy is singing all the songs. Everything is written, all that’s left to do is record the songs so I’m guessing spring for this one as well.

Trans-Siberian OrchestraRomanov: What Kings Must Whisper
The second non-holiday from TSO, it was actually planned to be their first album way back in 1994 but they held on it while trying to get a Broadway musical out of it first. Night Castle was dark and cool while still keeping that trademark blend of metal, rock and classical music, I expect more of the same here.

Dokken
With a deal in place with Frontiers Records for the new album, I’m expecting something special despite never being a huge Dokken fan. Lightning Strikes Again was good enough for me to be interested in a follow-up. The plan, as of this past November, was to have recording completed by February.

Stryper
This album was actually delayed from this past year in favor of recording and releasing the excellent The Covering album of cover songs. According to Michael Sweet, two albums are in the works: the first will be an album of re-recordings (Why? Can we stop this trend, please?)  followed by an album of all-new material written in the same heavy, edgy vein as “God” from The Covering.

M-Pire of Evil
M-Pire of Evil is the renamed Primevil which itself was the reunited late ’80s/early ’90s line-up of Venom that featured Tony “Demolition Man” Dolan on vocals/bass . I’m not well-versed on the comings and goings of the Venom roster but the “classic” line-up is split into two different bands right now. Conrad “Cronos” Lant is leading Venom with a few newer guys while the other two “classic” members (Jeff “Mantas” Dunn & Anthony “Abaddon” Bray) have hooked up again with Dolan for M-Pire of Evil.

They released an EP this past summer called The Creatures of the Black, which was pretty good and I liked the Prime Evil album (the only Venom release I’ve heard from this line-up) so I’m looking forward to a full length album. I couldn’t find anything resembling a release date but going by the band’s Facebook page, it should be soon because they’ve been teasing releasing the album cover.

Tooth And Nail (March)
The band that features 3/4 of the classic Dokken line-up. How does “Wild” Mick Brown still retain a position in Dokken while joining Tooth And Nail? Given Don Dokken’s reputation, you’d think he’d have been fired from Dokken by now. I mean, this band was named after a Dokken album and they’ve gloated over the fact that Don Dokken isn’t in the group (bassist Jeff Pilson will handle vocals). What’s weird is that on the band’s Facebook page, they list current Whitesnake drummer Brian Tichy as a member as well… I guess he’s there for the live shows in case Brown has to go off and play in Dokken?

I’m probably forgetting a few more albums but oh well!

IRON MAIDEN – The Final Frontier

Iron Maiden – The Final Frontier [Mission Edition] (2010, Universal Music Enterprises)

1. “Satellite 15…The Final Frontier” … 8:40
2. “El Dorado” … 6:48
3. “Mother of Mercy” … 5:20
4. “Coming Home” … 5:52
5. “The Alchemist” … 4:28
6. “Isle of Avalon” … 9:06
7. “Starblind” … 7:48
8. “The Talisman” … 9:03
9. “The Man Who Would Be King” … 8:28
10. “When the Wild Wind Blows” … 11:00

Band:
Bruce Dickinson – Vocals
Dave Murray – Guitar
Adrian Smith – Guitar
Janick Gers – Guitar
Steve Harris – Bass, Keyboards
Nicko McBrain – Drums

Producer: Kevin Shirley & Steve Harris

Um, yeah. This “Mission Edition”? It’s basically the album in a tin instead of a jewel case with the band’s logo and the title of the album being absent from the album art and the CD artwork is different as well. So if you haven’t decided on which version of the album to pick up, I suggest you save a few bucks and stick with the “regular” version. There are some bonus features which you can unlock by going to http://www.ironmaiden.com/bonus and putting the disc in your computer but I’m not a fan of stuff like that. When I buy a special edition, I want bonus tracks not access to games, photos and videos on a website (at least put all of that ON the disc!).

By the way, I guess the idea of this “Mission Edition” tin is we’re looking out of a spaceship’s window. I initially tried to scan the booklet inside the tin case but it didn’t turn out so well:

The Final Frontier is an album that seems to have many Maiden fans divided. When you’ve got such a large following and have been a successful group for 30+ years, every new release is going to be analyzed, questioned and compared to the “classic” catalog. Before this album arrived in the mail, I read many reviews (from critics and actual fans) stating this album was the sound of a tired, repetitive and boring band. I read other reviews saying it’s a top three or top five Maiden album that is full of exciting music and that the band is admirably blazing new paths and taking chances with their music. Hm.

Despite owning the majority of Maiden’s catalog, I must confess I’m not a huge fan. Sure, I like them, but they wouldn’t crack the Top 20 as far as my favorite bands go. I’ve always thought many (not all) of their songs could be repetitive and their albums tend to drag. That said, I was still anticipating this release because they are legends and I recognize their contributions to heavy metal. I’ve been following the band since the Brave New World reunion album and the digital release of “El Dorado” sounded really promising, so I wasn’t going to stop following them now.

I guess one common complaint (or praise) I’m running across with other people is the progressive nature of this album. Well, other than the earliest records, they’ve always sounded like progressive metal to me. Especially since Brave New World, so I’m not sure why this is shocking people now. Someone put it best when they said Iron Maiden is no longer a heavy metal act and they are now a progressive hard rock act. This is true but I’ve felt that was the case for years. Anyone that turns in a 10-track album that clocks in around 80 minutes has to be progressive!

Still, they can churn out some really good rockers. “Satellite 15…The Final Frontier” is a great number (after we get through that way too long intro, seriously, they should’ve cut this into two different tracks) and “El Dorado” is the album’s bright spot, it’s really catchy and the most straightforward rocker of the bunch. Both of these songs stick with you. The rest of the album is mostly made up of mid-tempo rockers that all seem to have slow building intros. Again, standard Iron Maiden, in my opinion. In the middle of all of this is “Coming Home”, a ballad I’ve grown quite fond of.

So is this a classic Iron Maiden album? I don’t know, I’ll leave that up to the hardcore fanbase to decide but I do know that it’s a really good album and I’m enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would. It will probably my my Top 10 list for 2010 after all is said and done, if that tells you anything.

Highlights: “Satellite 15…The Final Frontier”, “El Dorado”, “Coming Home”, “The Alchemist”, “Isle of Avalon”, “The Talisman”

www.ironmaiden.com
www.myspace.com/ironmaiden

TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA – Night Castle

Trans-Siberian Orchestra – Night Castle (2009, Atlantic Records)

DISC 1
1.”Night Enchanted” (5:46)
2. “Childhood Dreams” (4:25)
3. “Sparks” (6:00)
4. “The Mountain” (4:53)
5. “Night Castle” (3:57)
6. “The Safest Way Into Tomorrow” (4:57)
7. “Mozart And Memories” (5:16)
8. “Another Way You Can Die” (3:54)
9. “Toccata-Carpimus Noctem” (4:01)
10. “The Lion’s Roar” (4:35)
11. “Dreams We Conceive” (5:12)
12. “Mother And Son” (0:40)
13. “There Was A Life” (9:35)

DISC 2
1. “Moonlight And Madness” (5:04)
2. “Time Floats On” (3:37)
3. “Epiphany” (10:56)
4. “Bach Lullaby” (0:49)
6. “Father, Son & Holy Ghost” (6:48)
7. “Remnants Of A Lullaby” (3:10)
8. “The Safest Way Into Tomorrow (Reprise)” (1:43)
9. “Embers” (3:53)
BONUS TRACKS
10. “Child Of The Night” (3:29)
11. “Believe” (6:12)
12. “Nutrocker” (4:07)
13. “Carmina Burana” (2:44)
14. “Tracers” (05:47)

Selected Musicians:
Jay Pierce, Tim Hockenberry, Jeff Scott Soto, Rob Evan, Jennifer Cella, Alexa Goddard, Valentina Porter – Lead Vocals
Paul O’Neill, Chris Caffery, Angus Clark, Alex Skolnick, Al Pitrelli, Dave Wittman – Guitars
Chris Altenhoff, Johnny Lee Middleton, Dave Wittman – Bass
John O. Reilly, Jeff Plate, Dave Wittman – Drums
Robert Kinkel, Jon Oliva, Luci Butler, Shih-Yi Chiang, Derek Wieland – Keyboards
Roddy Chong, Anna Phoebe – Violin

Producer: Paul O’Neill & Robert Kinkel

After having seen TSO in concert, I was pretty hyped up on them and bought this album when it came out. They played a number of these songs during the second half of the concert and I loved it because many of these numbers are dark and certainly heavier than their usual Christmas-inspired songs. Sadly, I don’t think this side of TSO will catch on if crowd reaction was any indication on the night I intended. The first act was Christmas, the second act was entirely from this album, I believe, and a small number of people walked out once it was apparent the holiday music was over.

Points to mastermind Paul O’Neill and the rest for having the guts to try something different again and not rely on Christmas. A TSO Christmas album is basically guaranteed to go platinum, but I think gold is a nice goal for this particular album.

The problem I have with TSO is that I think they do too many slow and soft numbers. I don’t like those at all, I zone out. Heavy and faster numbers like “Night Enchanted” and “Another Way You Can Die” are really fun though and I think those two songs maybe some the heaviest songs they’ve done yet as they flirt with heavy metal. “Night Enchanted” is a great way to kick off the album and let people know “this isn’t Christmas”. I’m sure there’s some concept behind this album, but I don’t really care about it. In fact, when it comes to concept albums, the more the story is thrown into my face, the less I care about the album.

In what (I think) is a first, TSO covers Savatage: “The Mountain” is a reworking of “Prelude to Madness” from Hall of the Mountain King, bonus track “Believe” is from Streets: A Rock Opera, parts of “The Lion’s Roar” were taken from “Temptation Revelation” also from Streets: A Rock Opera, “Mozart and Memories” was originally “Mozart and Madness” from Gutter Ballet.

The packaging features some pretty cool illustrations from Greg Hildebrandt. I recognized the artwork from the concert and this album thanks to his days illustrating the Marvel Masterpieces trading card series back in the ’90s!

The first disc is definitely my favorite of the two. That’s where the faster, heavier, harder songs lie. Disc two is almost entirely ballads, though all of the bonus tracks are really good.

Definitely a good album, but it’s an exhaustive listen with way too many slow moment. I wish they would release a 100% symphonic rock album and leave the ballads at home. I would also love for Jon Oliva to sing a tune as well since he helps write a lot of the music anyway.

Highlights: “Night Enchanted”, “The Mountain”, “Night Castle”, “Mozart and Memories”, “Toccata-Carpimus Noctem”, “Moonlight and Madness”, “Child of the Night”, “Nutrocker”, “Carmina Burana”, “Tracers”

www.trans-siberian.com
www.myspace.com/tsoofficial

Concert Review: Trans-Siberian Orchestra – 11/02/09

Trans-Siberian Orchestra

11/02/09

Breslin Student Events Center at MSU in East Lansing, Michigan

Though I own a TSO album, I never really got into it, but I sure did try to given the Savatage connection. Trans-Siberian Orchestra has always seemed like a group that would be more fun to see live and after last night’s amazing show, that is 100% confirmed. And what better night to go than on my birthday?

This was probably the best concert experience I’ve ever had. The place was a sellout, but TSO definitely brings in a different demographic than Avenged Sevenfold, KISS or Motley Crue does so I didn’t have to worry about any idiots getting on my nerves.

Sometimes when you go to shows, the sound isn’t so well. I’ve seen plenty of rock bands perform with the guitar way too much in the mix and they’re basically all you can hear but last night everything just about perfect. No screeching guitars, no bass or drums that rattled your ears so much you get vertigo, everything was spot on for the most part, but funny enough — I thought the guitars were a tiny bit low in the mix. Other than that minor quibble, guitarists Chris Caffery and Alex Skolnick were amazing all night.

I know people are going to want to know the set list from me, but I can’t tell you that. I’m not familiar enough with their music and I can’t find any other recent set lists online to get an idea, but the first half of the show focused on Christmas and the majority of the second half featured many songs from their latest album Night Castle.

As much as I loved the Christmas stuff, there were quite a few ballads in that portion that kind of bored me. Most of the second half was amazing though, the show got darker and heavier. After the Christmas portion was finished, a number of people began leaving. I guess those old-timers just wanted Christmas music, but you’re only getting half your money’s worth! For a rock/metal fan, the second half was definitely the best.

The stage production was amazing too, probably the best concert I’ve ever seen. Lasers, smoke, “snow”, tons of video screens, flames (green, orange and blue!). It was a great spectacle. I was surprised by how much they were able to fit into Breslin.

Overall, whether you’re a fan of Christmas, symphonies, hard rock or all of the above — TSO is a great way to spend the holidays and fantastic way to get your fix. Highly recommended. I believe this is at least the third year in a row they’ve come to Breslin, if they come again next year, I’ll be sure to be there.

DREAM THEATER – Black Clouds & Silver Linings

Dream Theater – Black Clouds & Silver Linings [Special Edition] (2009, Roadrunner Records)

Disc One: BLACK CLOUDS & SILVER LININGS
1. “A Nightmare to Remember” … 16:10
2. “A Rite of Passage” … 8:35
3. “Wither”… 5:25
4. “The Shattered Fortress … 12:49
5. “The Best of Times” … 13:07
6. “The Count of Tuscany” … 19:16

Disc Two: UNCOVERED 2008/2009
1. “Stargazer” … 8:10
2. “Tenement Funster” / “Flick of the Wrist” / “Lily of the Valley” … 8:17
3. “Odyssey” … 7:59
4. “Take Your Fingers from My Hair” … 8:18
5. “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part Two” … 6:30
6. “To Tame a Land”… 7:15

Disc Three: BLACK CLOUDS & SILVER LININGS (INSTRUMENTAL MIXES)
1. “A Nightmare to Remember” … 15:39
2. “A Rite of Passage” … 8:36
3. “Wither” … 5:29
4. “The Shattered Fortress” … 12:47
5. “The Best of Times” … 13:20
6. “The Count of Tuscany” … 18:48

Band:
James LaBrie – Vocals
John Petrucci – Guitar, Backing Vocals
John Myung – Bass
Mike Portnoy – Drums, Backing Vocals
Jordan Rudess – Keyboards, Continuum

Additional Musicians:
Jerry Goodman – Violin

Produced by: John Petrucci & Mike Portnoy

My first Dream Theater album was Falling Into Infinity, which I bought during the hype for the not-yet-released Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory. I had hear so many positive things about this band, I knew I had to check them out.

Ultimately, neither of those two albums impressed me much outside of a handful of songs. My general complaint about Dream Theater is that they’re too self-indulgent and overly dramatic. Of course, I realize this is what so many of their fans love, but it didn’t work for me and I wrote the band off after 1999’s Metropolis Pt. 2 as a failed experiment on my part.

What brought me back to the band with this album was the fact that I was hearing that that this six-song, 70 minute plus album (!!) featured some of their heaviest and fastest playing. In regards to Falling Into Infinity and Metropolis Pt. 2, this is definitely true and despite my optimism when buying this, I’ve found myself enjoying this album even more than I thought I would. I like the whole album but the opener, “A Nightmare to Remember” would be my favorite and the shortest song on the album, the ballad “Wither” is really strong too (the ballads are usually the songs I like best from Dream Theater).

I bought the 3-Disc Special Edition from Best Buy. I don’t think it was an exclusive there though. Disc Two features covers of Rainbow, Queen, Dixie Dregs, Zebra, King Crimson and Iron Maiden. Dream Theater especially shines on Zebras “Take Your Fingers from My Hair”. Disc Three is instrumental mixes of the album, with a few changes here and there. Disc Three is fine for what is it, but I’d rather listen to those songs with vocals than as instrumentals.

Highlights: “A Nightmare to Remember”, “Wither”, “The Shattered Fortress”, “Stargazer”, “Take Your Fingers from My Hair”, “To Tame a Land”

www.dreamtheater.net
www.myspace.com/dreamtheater

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