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Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Beethoven’s Last Night

Review by Tim Jones
Trans-Siberian Orchestra began as a side-project of Savatage, a progressive metal band led by Jon Oliva and Paul O’Neill.  TSO’s first single, in fact, appeared first on the Savatage album Dead Winter Dead.  Their first two albums, both Christmas albums, were more commercially successful than Savatage albums had been.  Beethoven’s Last Night is TSO’s first (and to this date, only) non-Christmas album.

Like Savatage, much of the music is classically inspired.  The difference?  The music is toned down (not so many extremely heavy songs, although this is by no means a light album).  Oh, and it features over forty different musicians, including the entire Savatage line-up.  O’Neill, Oliva, and Robert Kinkel have the biggest hands in writing the music, and, a special treat for Savatage fans, Oliva sings some of the lead vocals here.  Al Pitrelli, Chris Caffery (both guitars), Jeff Plate (drums), Johnny Lee Middleton (bass), and Zak Stevens (vocals) all have a role.  They are joined by a host of vocalists, strings, and other musicians.

The album is a rock opera based on the last (fictional) hours of Beethoven’s life.  Accompanying words in the liner notes fill in the spaces between the songs with additional story. At twenty-two songs, over seventy-three minutes, and with a huge number of musicians, Beethoven’s Last Night is a remarkable album.  I recommend this to all fans of progressive rock, all fans of modern musicals, and all fans of Savatage.  Savatage is a unique band, and their side-project that overgrew them has a lot of the same great elements.  Better than their Christmas stuff (although I recommend those albums too), Beethoven’s Last Night is a fantastic album that delights with each listen.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.
Track by Track Review
Overture
This short track begins as a simple, beautiful Beethoven song before it morphs into a guitar and key-ridden masterpiece.  It ends guitar-heavy and dark, and with a taste of thunder.
Midnight

Minor-key keyboards, and Jamie Torcellini sings the slightly demented vocals.  He plays the role of Twist, a mischievous soul who spies on Beethoven, accompanied by great metal guitars.  Guitars replace the keys, then a slight piano reprieve, then the demanding guitars once more.  The song ends heavy and goes straight to the next track.

Fate
A chanting/singing chorus comes in right off, accompanied by guitars.  It’s another short track.
What Good This Deafness
Beethoven finally makes his appearance.  This song has more modern musical and less Savatage in it than the previous tracks.  Twist breaks in to argue with him, and ends the track.
Mephistopheles
Jon Oliva does the vocals here (and his voice is a perfect fit for Mephistopheles).  Soft piano starts the track out, and Oliva’s rough vocals threaten and tempt Beethoven.  Guitars and piano join his voice great powerful gravelly vocals.  The song morphs to soft piano.  Savatage fans will be delighted with this track (it is evident by the music that Oliva had a hand in writing it).  This is the first decent-length song on the album, at over three and a half minutes.
What is Eternal
Soft piano and then soft heart-felt vocals (Beethoven) introduce this track, and then the vocals get louder, the guitars and drums come in, and the listener is in for another great treat.  Jody Ashworth, the vocalist, does a fantastic job here.  This is a very emotional, very powerful song.  Soft piano interrupts, and then back to the passionate vocals, singing with the guitars, drums, and heavy keys.  The lyrics are very thoughtful, very soul-searching.
The Moment
Beethoven (Ashworth) is here again.  This song is much more theatrical than the previous one.  The vocals sound classical, and are accompanied by a calm piano.  Strings break in for the bridge, and Ashworth closes quietly.  It’s another less-than-three-minutes song.
Vienna
Vienna” starts upbeat, and Guy Lemonnier, who sings the part of Young Beethoven, comes in.  Guitar and piano accompany him.  This is sort of a love song for a city, recounting his first meeting with the beautiful metropolis.  A bit of Oliva’s writing style is sensed here.  A very majestic track, this is over three minutes.
Mozart
Here we have a Mozart piece done with electric guitars.  This is standard TSO fare, and something casual fans will relate to.  It’s a nice instrumental break and a chance to show off the guitar work of Caffery and Pitrelli.
The Dreams of Candlelight
Theresa (Patti Russo) sings after a brief piano introduction.  She is Young Beethoven’s love interest, and this is very much a love song.  After about a minute, her voice strengthens, and the guitars briefly enter.  Then it’s back to soft piano and soft vocals, followed by beautiful strong vocals, guitars, and harder keys.  It’s nice to hear powerful female vocals here.  The four-minute song ends on a soft note.
Requiem (The Fifth)
This is mostly an instrumental, driven by the type of guitars you’d expect from Savatage.  Written by Beethoven, Mozart, and O’Neill.  Female vocals come in for a short period, chanting Latin.  Drums and guitars then end the track.
I’ll Keep Your Secrets

Patti Russo is here again, and it’s another love song. 

 

“I’ll keep your secrets

I’ll hold your ground

And when the darkness starts to fall

I’ll be around...”

 

Oliva again helps with the writing.  Russo sings with a great classical voice that changes, seamless, into strong rock vocals.  The song switches between soft piano and hard piano/electric guitar, introduced by drums.  Her vocals are emotionally powerful, and exactly what one would expect from TSO.  Quiet piano concludes the song.  At four minutes, this should’ve been a single.

 

The Dark - Minor key piano, slow and pretty, is joined by The Muses.  This has very pretty vocals.  And then, electric guitars, and Zak Stevens and company harden their voices.  They alternate between light and beautiful, and hard and powerful.  The piano and electric guitar serve only as background for this amazing vocal performance.  A beautiful piano/electric guitar/drum section concludes the track.

Für Elise

This is a simple Beethoven song, piano only, straight from the original and under a minute in length.

After The Fall
Theresa is here again.  And (you guessed it) it’s another love song.  She laments losing Beethoven.  Oliva again has a hand in the writing, and Russo’s voice is wonderful, alternating classical and heavy.  Lush piano and a bit of guitar and drums provide the background.  The bridge begins with piano, joined by electric guitar, and then by Russo - one of the highlights of a great album.  The lyrics fit the music, are the music, and then quit and let the piano and guitars finish the song.
A Last Illusion

Guitar strumming gives way to “Flight of the Bumblebee” on guitar.  This song showcases the guitarists.  These are definitely top-notch musicians.  Rimsky-Korsakov’s music is interrupted by Beethoven’s, Mozart’s, O’Neill’s, and Kinkel’s.  With so many writers in the mix, you’d expect this to be a bit longer, and it is.  Caffery and Pitrelli (the guitarists) do most of the work here, although some other instruments come in towards the end, and a male choir chants for a while in Latin.  A crazy symphonic metal mix of voices, guitars, and more leads to the soft piano conclusion.

This is Who You Are

Beethoven (Ashworth) starts this one out nice and quiet.  The piano and vocals build, and Oliva’s presence is obvious.  This is still slow, but a bit harder, the vocals a little more harsh.  A driving guitar moves the song along, while Ashworth dominates.  Crashes of guitars and drums come in at pivotal moments, and ultimately end the piece.

Beethoven
This is a great, building instrumental dominated by electric guitars.  A bit of both Mozart and Beethoven are featured here.  It’s melodic, sometimes softer, sometimes harder.  This is a classic TSO instrumental, just under three minutes.
Mephistopheles Return
Beethoven (Ashworth) starts this one out quiet, accompanied by just a piano.  He then gets quite angry. Moving guitars enter, and Ashworth sings of Beethoven’s doom.  He sings to Twist, to other otherworldly observers, and to himself.  A cool chant chorus comes in at about two minutes, and then a second vocal track, singing different words, and then a third, and then a fourth – a children’s choir.  Savatage fans that like the Queen-like multi-layer vocals will be delighted.
Misery
The hardest song on the album, this is sung, of course, by Jon Oliva.  Very dark, it sounds as if it was done by the devil himself, which is, of course, the point.  This is a song for Halloween, and may scare casual TSO fans.  Progressive rock/metal fans will be pleased by the change of pace, and Savatage fans will be happy to hear Oliva.  It’s not a song most people would listen to by itself, but an essential piece of the album, a harsh interlude to showcase misery.  And it’s all done in under three minutes.
Who Is This Child

Here we get Ashworth and soft piano.  This is probably my favorite track of the album, as it becomes both powerful and meaningful.  Beethoven has to choose between saving this child and deleting his life’s work.  “There is no way in life

That each child can be saved / Should I be looking with regret / At every grave”

With powerful piano and guitar this is a very potent ballad.  Alone, it doesn’t make too much sense.  As part of the story, however, it’s incredible.  Maybe it’s not single material, but if TSO were about making singles, they wouldn’t be progressive.

A Final Dream
The album concludes with a short mellow song, sung by Sylvia Tosun (Fate).  It’s nothing remarkable, but a nice quiet ending to a long, diverse, incredible album.
 
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