Review: Trans-Siberian Orchestra- Letters from the Labyrinth

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra began in 1996 as a side project for Savatage frontman Jon Oliva and producer/composer Paul O’Neill based on the strength of the song “Chistmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)” from their Dead Winter Dead album and in the years since their humble beginnings nearly twenty years ago, the band has risen to be a global phenomenon selling out arenas everywhere they play.

T.S.O. has just released their sixth studio album Letters from the Labyrinth on Universal Music and while it is not their first album of Non-Christmas material, it is the band’s first album that is not a classic Rock Opera, instead, a collection of individual songs.

The album hit #7 on the Top 200 & #1 on the Rock Albums Chart and like every T.S.O. album before it, the list of musicians involved is massive, but as always it is essentially the band Savatage and a few truly gifted vocalists and guest musicians.

From guitarists Al Pitrelli and Chris Caffery to bassist Johnny Lee Middleton, drummer Jeff Plate and the aforementioned Mr. Oliva, all of Savatage is present, as is an impressive list of guest vocalists such as Jeff Scott Soto, Lzzy Hale, Russell Allen and Kayla Reeves. Just to name a few.

Speaking of Savatage, the melodic breakdown and scorching solo of opener “Time & Distance (The Dash),” that focuses on humanity through the ages, could have come from any of the Savatage album after Gutter Ballet or Streets: A Rock Opera.

In fact, there are several songs on Letters from the Labyrinth that would have made damn fine Savatage songs. Such as “The Night Conceives,” “Who I Am” and “Not the Same” which tackles the life altering subject of bullying.

Meanwhile, tracks like “Madness of Men,” “Mountain Labyrinth,” “King Rurik” and “Prince Igor” continue the time honored T.S.O. tradition of giving new life to classical standards from the likes of Beethoven, Bach and Korsakov, by putting their one of a kind T.S.O. stamp on them. Making them relevant again in a new millennium for a whole new generation to explore and enjoy.

Credit where credit is due, the band has got so good at seamlessly blending the newer material with the old, that it is hard to tell the parts that were written recently from the parts composed over a hundred years ago.

Elsewhere, Jeff Scott Soto’s soulful and textured vocals on “Prometheus,” a song about the fall of the Berlin Wall, is one of the album’s true highlights and Robin Borneman’s raspy vocals on their stunning take on Johnny Green’s “Forget About the Blame” may just be the best song the band has ever recorded.

Other notable vocal performances include Jennifer Cella’s ethereal vocals on the hauntingly beautiful piano ballad “Past Tomorrow” that will leave every hair on your body standing on end and the same could be said for Adrienne Warren’s sultry vocals on the acoustic remake of the Savatage classic “Stay.”

The Russell Allen helmed “Not Dead Yet” has such a strong straight up hard rock edge, that it’s not until the song is hallway over that you realize your listening to a T.S.O. song and just when you think the album couldn’t possibly get any better they hit you with a bonus version of “Forget About the Blame” with Lzzy Hale on vocals that will leave you breathless.

Here’s the bottom line. Letters from the Labyrinth is T.S.O. like you’ve never heard them before and it may just be their finest hour.

9 out of 10.

Eric Hunker