Avantasia – The Mystery of Time
2013, Nuclear Blast Records
Buy the album
2. “The Watchmakers’ Dream”
3. “Black Orchid”
4. “Where Clock Hands Freeze”
6. “Savior in the Clockwork”
7. “Invoke the Machine”
8. “What’s Left Of Me”
9. “Dweller in a Dream”
10. “The Great Mystery”
Tobias Sammet – Lead Vocals, Bass
Sascha Paeth – Guitar
Russell Gilbrook – Drums
Miro – Keyboards
Joe Lynn Turner – Lead Vocals
Michael Kiske – Lead Vocals
Biff Byford – Lead Vocals
Ronnie Atkins – Lead Vocals
Eric Martin – Lead Vocals
Bob Catley – Lead Vocals
Cloudy Yang – Lead Vocals
Bruce Kulick – Guitar
Oliver Hartmann – Guitar
Arjen Anthony Lucassen – Guitar
Ferdy Doernberg – Organ
Produced by: Tobias Sammet & Sascha Paeth
Tobias Sammet just does not quit! Between Edguy and Avantasia, he’s constantly recording or touring. He’s the German equivalent of Dave Grohl. Busy, busy, busy!
It seems to be paying off. The Mystery of Time has done very well across Europe and while it didn’t break the Billboard 200 in the United States, it sold well enough in its first week to make Billboard’s Heatseeker and Hard Rock charts.
Thankfully, The Mystery of Time is only a 10-track collection and not a double album effort like when Sammet released The Wicked Symphony and Angel of Babylon simultaneously back in 2010. But don’t worry, there’s enough power metal epics here — “The Great Mystery” and “Savior in the Clockwork” both clock in (no pun intended) at 10 minutes.
Though I included this album in my Top 10 list for 2013, I didn’t get around to really listening to it until the end of the year even though it was released in March of 2013. Boy, I’m sorry I procrastinated. This may be my favorite Avantasia release yet and the presence of the German Film Orchestra Babelsberg only adds to the majestic metal that Avantasia already brings to the table.
Speaking of that orchestra, Edguy used them for their Hellfire Club album. I admit it’s getting harder to tell the difference between Edguy and Avantasia these days. Sammet is the driving force in both bands and they both play power metal. The only real difference is that Edguy seems to have a cheesy sense of humor and Avantasia uses a lot of guest vocalists.
Yeah, definitely should have rated this one higher for 2013. The more I listen to it, the more I like it. Great vocal performances all around, great melodies and songs that you can’t get out of your head. Best Avantasia album yet.
Highlights: “Spectres”, “The Watchmaker’s Dream”, “Sleepwalking”, “Savior in the Clockwork”, “Invoke the Machine”, “What’s Left of Me”, “The Great Mystery”
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
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 Stories, The 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.
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
9. Let the Pain Begin
10. The Curse
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.
Jorn – Symphonic
2013, Frontiers Records
1. I Came To Rock
2. Rock And Roll Children
3. The World I See
4. Burn Your Flame
5. Man Of The Dark
6. My Road
7. Time To Be King
8. Black Morning
9. Like Stone In Water
10. Vision Eyes
11. War Of The World
12. Behind The Clown
13. A Thousand Cuts
14. The Mob Rules
Symphonic is a collection of Jorn’s songs, handpicked by Jorn Lande himself, that have been given a remix and orchestral makeover. Even dating back to when Metallica did it, adding orchestral arrangements on top of hard rock/heavy metal is a hit-or-miss affair. It’s hard to make a song work with an orchestra when they weren’t written with that in mind. Still, it can work depending on the song and as I mentioned, a number of these songs were actually remixed to better suit the orchestra element.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no expert when it comes to Jorn Lande or the various projects he’s been a part of. It’s only in the last few years I’ve begun to listen to his music but I do recognize some of the songs here like “A Thousand Cuts”, “Time To Be King”, “The World I See”, “Black Morning” and his Dio/Black Sabbath covers.
It’s no surprise that the more powerful numbers like “A Thousand Cuts”, “Time To Be King” and “The Mob Rules” are my favorite out of this bunch. There’s no tampering with those songs to make way for an orchestra. Get in where you can fit in. Mileage will vary on this album. I guess it really all comes down to ‘How much do you like symphonic rock?” Symphony isn’t a necessary release, there’s not one new song in the bunch, but it’s fine for what it is. It’s a satisfying placeholder until the next Jorn album comes along (which shouldn’t be long given this guy’s hectic schedule).
Highlights: “Rock And Roll Children”, “The World I See”, “My Road”, “Time To Be King”, “Black Morning”, “A Thousand Cuts”, “The Mob Rules”
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
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.
Highlights: “Winter Palace”, “Dreams of Fireflies (On a Christmas Night)”
Trans-Siberian Orchestra – Night Castle (2009, Atlantic Records)
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)
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)
10. “Child Of The Night” (3:29)
11. “Believe” (6:12)
12. “Nutrocker” (4:07)
13. “Carmina Burana” (2:44)
14. “Tracers” (05:47)
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”
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.