Trans-Siberian Orchestra's 3rd album and 1st non-Christmas themed "Beethoven's Last Night" is probably their most straight forward and solid release and probably my favourite too. It carries an air more akin to Savatage's "Dead Winter Dead" or "Wake Of Magellan" then their genre bending Christmas themed albums, only more theatrical.
"Beethoven's Last Night" is a story based around ... wait for it ... Beethoven's last night. Having just completed his Tenth Symphony, Beethoven is visited by Mephistopheles who comes to claim his soul. The devil offers a deal to Beethoven that he can keep his soul if the devil gets to erase all his music from the minds of humankind. As if he'd never existed.
Beethoven is given an hour in which to decide and spends the time journeying through his past with Fate (and her son Twist) and given the chance to change anything. After much ado, he decides to leave all as is and refuses the devil's offer. Mephistopheles changes the offer to no avail and then threatens to torture an orphan. Beethoven agrees, Twist helps with the contract and in the end tricks the devil and Beethoven's soul and music are safe as is the unknown orphan.
Overall, not a bad concept. My beef is with the inclusion of the whole random child thing at the end. Maybe I'm cynical. The devil is going to torture a random orphan for their "short" life. Who cares. In that day and age, the child is probably already being tortured and abused. In my opinion, I would have had the devil threaten Beethoven's Immortal Beloved. At least there is an emotional connection and sentiment. This is not to say that the music suffers at this point. In fact the songs around this portion of the story are quite good. But c'mon! Do they have to throw a child in every
Anywho, minor complaint. Any metal head who can appreciate classical musics influence on the genre will be in Heaven with this album as it contains loads of classical music and not just Beethoven. You'll hear some Mozart, Chopin and Rimsky-Korsakov as well. This is all intermixed with TSO's special brand of rock interpretations as well as original songs. "Beethoven's Last Night" is probably TSO's most metal album.
"Overture" kicks the album off with a medley of classical pieces that leads us into "Dead Winter Dead" style openers "Midnight" and "Fate". It's around here that Mephistopheles appears with the song of his namesake and here is where the music takes a dark metal turn. This is mostly due to Jon Oliva's signature gravelly vocals. Casting the Mountain King himself as the devil certainly gives this album that darker edge.
The heavier metal influences are mostly on the instrumentals like "Mozart" and "Requiem (The Fifth)". These songs have some great crunch to them and reminds us that these old classical composers were bad ass. "The Dark" although not an instrumental has a somber feel, but a killer, stirring guitar solo. Jon Oliva returns on the bleak and heavy "Misery" where he postulates on the torturing of the little orphan girl. Pretty wicked song with some killer riffs.
There is also no shortage of the uplifting power ballads TSO specializes in. The difference here is that the songs really blend well with the vibe of the album. Perhaps it's because a number of them include classical exerts, but I think the songs were really well thought out. Although similar in style, each are original and equally moving.
My favourites are the quiet piano driven "The Moment", the grandiose and powerful "Vienna" and the passionate "I'll Keep Your Secrets" by the wonderful Patti Russo. Jody Ashworth and Guy Lemmommier bring a lot of conviction to their potent portrayals of young and old Beethoven. What I really enjoy about these ballads is the wonderful blend of orchestra, piano and power chords. Very emotional and uplifting.
My favourite song on this album is the brilliant "A Last Illusion". The song starts with a whirlwind rendition of Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight Of The Bumblebee" that seamlessly transitions into the most beautiful and soul embracing version of Beethoven's "Symphony No.9 (Ode to Joy)". I haven't been this moved by one of TSO's pieces since "Christmas Canon". I had the joy of seeing this live in its complete form before the band starting switching up the "Ode to Joy" portion with a Christmas carol. A mesmerizing experience.
This is a very well written album and much like Savatage's "Dead Winter Dead" it flows well and is passionate. If this were released under the Savatage moniker, I don't think I would have flinched. Well, maybe a little, but if one is curious to hear Trans-Siberian Orchestra, then "Beethoven's Last Night" is a solid starting point.
Up next, I'll finish with Trans-Siberian Orchestra's newest release, the long awaited "Night Castle".