Album Review: “Letters From The Labyrinth” Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Release Date: Nov. 13th – 2015
If you read me and/or listen to me whine endlessly, to which I offer no apology, about my ears smiling when I hear melody combined with pop sensible almost syrupy sweet production then you may have written my taste, or lack thereof, off. The big fella upstairs gave me two ears on this bag of skin I am in, however I have so many more and at this time of fear of Thanksgiving (both the recently passed Canadian one) and the upcoming USA one (thank you for a day of football!) I have many people to be thankful for. I have already spoken about the many styles of music I listened to via my parents growing up, thank you for all of them. I also had an Uncle who introduced me to good old country music, the only of this genre I really care for and to which has nothing to do with this article so hopefully you will read on. Another Uncle has indirectly led me to TSO. My Uncle John introduced me to classical music, and it hit with me immediately. Granted some of it just seemed to drone on and be far too pretentious and self-involved (hello all Hipsters perhaps give classical a try!). Anyway, I loved most of it. It truly hits emotional levels because it is pure music without vocals to sway our emotions. So when in 1997 I came upon a CD while wandering the aisles at the record store called Merry Axemas and the cover contained some great hard rock and metal guitar player names on stockings, well I bought and loved it. So what I am trying to say is I love a great metal guitar crunch! Next degree of integration was the releases from TSO around the same time: Christmas Eve and Other Stories, The Christmas Attic & Beethoven’s Last Night. Well, I was shocked at how well crunching metal guitar combined with classical music melded! Amazed! Smiling! That and one of my favorite metal bands has always been Savatage to which the brains & brawn behind TSO happens to be Jon Oliva & Paul O’Neill from said band.
So now you know, and knowing is half the battle. The other half can be many things and in this latest release it is whether I smile, the last couple releases from TSO have been much weaker than their initial three, containing just a couple good songs for my ears.
Sadly on Letters From The Labyrinth there is much droning. Within the first 6 tracks, only 2 contain vocals while the other 4 instrumentals contain nothing TSO like to me. Now I know I said I like classical because of the lack of vocals hitting on the emotional level yet here is where I say TSO takes it to the next level by combining great metal & rock sounds with classical instruments and arrangements, AND wild story telling lyrics sung by wonderful vocalists.
Happily on the 8th track we have a home run, a grand slam perhaps in “Forget About The Blame (Sun version)” which is so good both musically and lyrically (sung by a male vocalist) they end the release with a Moon version sung by Lzzy Hale of Halestorm and wow does it deserve 2 versions which if you listen to the lyrics makes complete sense.
Sadly tracks 9-13 in between these two versions of the same song, drone on.
Normally I would be disappointed however when a song that hits as hard as “Forget about the Blame” is the only gem. I will take it and look at it this way: I listen to so many releases in full and get no smile whatsoever.
Now all that being said, I have also taken the opportunity to see the live show and complete spectacle that TSO is live many times over and it never disappoints to someone like me who loves a production. Go see them live it is well worth it! The roster of musicians will have many familiar names, sadly it seems Alex Skolnick is no longer involved as of this writing now that Testament is active again, however, Chris Caffery and Al Pitrelli are amazing live! As a note for the uninitiated and perhaps confused by their tour date listings: TSO tours with two bands: a West Coast and an East Coast so they split the full complement of musicians. Very smart since they do most of their touring in a very short period of 2-3 months during Christmastime each year.
- Blair De Abreu