Review Summary: The only Progressive Metal Christmas Rock Opera you'll ever, ever need.
The concept of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra shouldn’t work, on paper nor in practice. A progressive heavy metal band dedicated to creating intricate Christmas-themed rock operas…the sound of the pitch is enough to give any record company executive a stroke. And yet, before anyone could raise an objection, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra had stolen the hearts of millions of listeners far and wide, probably becoming the most widely known progressive metal show still active today. Christmas Eve and Other Stories
is their first and greatest album in their seminal Christmas Trilogy. Half of the songs on this record are hits, the other half are undiscovered gems. If you feel a little watered down with your Sinatra, Crosby, and Buble this holiday season, give this one a spin. It’s sure to shake you up.
If there’s one definite benefit of being a band primarily known for Christmas Music, it’s that you’re sure to get regular, frequent airplay during November and December every year. Perhaps, on a first listen, Christmas Eve and Other Stories
is fine. Not amazing, but fine. However, returning to it every year reveals its staying power, its refusal to be heaped in with the pile of forgettable Christmas tunes created by pop musicians looking for a quick buck (Don’t play innocent, Justin). Christmas Eve and Other Stories
shows brilliance in detail, innovation, and sheer magnanimity in scratching out blazingly memorable versions of your favorite holiday tunes by mashing up traditional carols with a metallic or classical twist. Take for example, the iconic track “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo”. Even separated from its holiday music roots, the song is an unapologetically wild and epic composition. Take two Christmas tunes (Carol of the Bells and God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen), add screaming power chords and a searing tone, and prepare yourself for a shot of pure adrenaline. The technical skill on this record is unparalleled, thanks to the efforts of Savatage band members Jon Oliva and Johnny Lee Middleton amongst others, but the songwriting is even more creative. While the heavy hitters like “Christmas Eve” and the Tchaikovskian “Mad Russian’s Christmas” crank the volume, the album shines just as much when the musicians pull back and let soft numbers through. For what they lack in volume, “The Silent Nutcracker”, “This Christmas Day”, and “Promises to Keep” contain their own special magic. It’s not all slapdash experimentation either. Christmas Eve
has a concept, a story, a message woven into its tracks that each song propels forward.
The story is bookended by two movements of a song describing the descent and later ascent of an angel upon the Earth in search of something that best exemplifies the spirit of Christmas. The concept of Christmas Eve is hardly as complex, clever, or nuanced as, say Tommy
or The Wall
– much of the album provides a dreamlike journey through different aspects of Christmas. Nevertheless, it has merit and hits some core emotional beats. If you’re not one for the Ballet or you’re tired of the same old Christmas specials, this is the one for you. It’s not always a perfect record. “Ornament” is a hard-rocking track that proves an uninteresting vehicle for moving along the album’s think plot. “Old City Bar” suffers the same problem but is elevated by gorgeous instrumentation and melody.
For all the hollering, rocking, and soloing, there is just as much soft piano and classical guitarwork. There’s something here for everyone, and Christmas Eve
is a record that can be enjoyed by anyone. After all, after the Angel returns to heaven, and the quiet prologue of “O Holy Night” and “God Rest” fades out, you may find yourself with a feeling of peace on Earth.