It's time for our 29th monthly local CD review at The Sault Metal Scene, and for the first time since April, we're reviewing an album from a Sault Michigan metal band! This month's review is of classical metal trio Theatre of Night's remastered debut album "Christmas Night", which was released to the band's Reverbnation page on Saturday! Featuring End of Existence & Dust N' Bones bandmates Craig Harrison on keyboard & piano, Steve Giles on guitar, and Greg Giles on drums, this album was originally released last year for digital download, but a remastered version with some edited tracks & two new songs was released this past weekend, and that's the version I'm reviewing today (the original is largely similar though.) This independently recorded & released album can now be purchased at this location for $6.99 in mp3 format or $9.99 on CD, with individual tracks available for 99¢ each. The album is also on sale via iTunes for $9.99 and some other online websites for similar prices. This CD is all instrumental, so it might be shorter than expected for comments, but with 12 songs & 45 minutes of music, this blend of original metal and traditional Christmas carols packs a festive punch, so let's begin the review with the first song, "What Child Is This?" (Updated on November 8th, 2012)
"What Child Is This?" leads off the album with a slow and dark intro that sets a mood, though not immediately Christmas feeling. The guitar section early on reminds me of a Metallica intro, which isn't a bad comment. After 90 seconds, the drums kick in and the song builds in volume while keeping the same feel, and it works as an orchestral-tinged slower metal instrumental! I'm not terribly familiar with the original carol, but Craig's symphonic keyboard playing fits very nicely here, and the Giles brothers can definitely handle something of this scope! That said, the track does get repetitive midway through, but as someone who's always dug orchestral elements in metal, the later portion of the song has a nice epic closing feel. Solid opening track overall, and a nice sample of what Theatre of Night can do! It's followed by "The Road To Bethlehem", which leads off with an awesome orchestral opening and sort of a tolling bell effect that gives the impression of an important journey or entrance. Craig's skills are crystal clear on this track, and you'd think there was an actual string instrument on this one on first listen! Metalheads may be disappointed by the lack of "metal" on the song, and I find it's shorter than it deserves, but it's a great dark orchestral number that I definitely recommend!
Third is "Little Drummer Boy", and after another slow and darker keyboard opening, the music kicks in with Steve riffing along with the vocal harmonies of the original carol and Greg drumming in the background (fittingly, knowing the song.) "Little Drummer Boy" is well known as carols go, but if you don't know it, the song has sort of a military march feel with the drum patterns. In the second half, Steve plays a bit more varied on the guitar, which shakes things up and keeps the song from getting repetitive, even throwing in some mini-guitar solos, and Craig's keyboard harmonies flow well with the music throughout. Not a terribly heavy track, but it adds a nice orchestral metal flourish to this Christmas standard, and the guys pulled it off! Then, we have "Arabian Christmas Night", which makes nice use of keyboard effects early for a slow and affecting intro. The song in general almost has a dreamlike quality to it, but personally, I'm not detecting an Arabian influence in the music (though maybe I'm looking at it a different way.) It's the sort of song that would go well with falling snow, in my opinion, and the orchestral keyboard work is very nice, but I'd like to have seen it been a bit heavier with some more integration of the Giles brothers. Still, it definitely feels right for the season!
Fifth on "Christmas Night" is "Away In A Manger", which is the album's shortest and possibly most "carol-like" song. Essentially, it features Steve Giles playing acoustic guitar to the carol's melody with backing keyboard accompaniment, without any real divergence into metal territory. It's very nicely played and suits the original song's mood, and I like the added orchestration in the last third, but it's basically just their rendition "Away In A Manger". Well played for sure, but if you're looking for heavier stuff, there's other songs on the CD that'll be better suited for your tastes. After that is one of two brand new songs for the remastered album, "The Nutcracker", and after a vocal-tinged intro, the familiar "Nutracker" melody kicks in on the guitar, and Steve effectively plays it, though the opening volume he played it at didn't feel right. On higher notes though, it fit very well, and Craig's keyboard work fit well underneath it all! I'd have ratcheted up the heaviness on this one though, as the track feels empty, but it certainly isn't bad, and you should know instantly what Christmas song this is!
Seventh on the album is "Silent Night", and the guys in Theatre of Night turn in a beautiful sounding rendition of this Christmas standard with nice acoustic guitar work and string instrument-influenced keyboard work that definitely set the mood of the song well! "Silent Night" has always been one of the softest and more delicate carols, and they definitely capture that spirit here, so look elsewhere if you want heavier songs, but I will say that I'd like to have seen how drums could have been integrated on this track. Then we have "Oh, Come All Ye Faithful", which opens with a nice sort of "rising" intro leading into a nice guitar melody from Steve and some welcome drumming from Greg. The keyboard playing makes this song really feel important, and the guitar work is great to match the original carol, though this song does get slightly repetitive later on. I like Greg's drumming here, it fits well with the pacing of the song, though I think this song could have used more orchestral elements than we got. Solid work overall though, and nice to see a return to heavier fare!
Track number 9 is "A Star In The East", which opens with high pitched keyboard playing that give a fantasy sort of feel, which is interesting in itself, though some orchestral elements are layed underneath. Craig's playing here is varied and melodic, but it doesn't really feel like a "Christmas carol", so to speak, and it isn't terribly heavy. It's got a nice positive vibe though, and you almost feel as if fairies could dance to this track, but overall, I would say there are heavier and more seasonal-feeling songs on "Christmas Night". Tenth is "Carol of the Bells", a track you may remember from being briefly posted on End of Existence's pages last December. Easily one of the heaviest tracks on the CD, the early portion of the song features some heavy riffs and nice melodic guitar work from Steve and perfectly suited drumming from Greg throughout. The keyboard playing flows well with the guitar work, and though I think it runs a tad long, the three members show off their combined talents really well here for one of the heaviest songs on the CD! Great work overall, especially on Steve's part!
The album's penultimate (and longest) song is "Oh, Holy Night", which starts with a dark piano opening and a nice guitar melody to the original carol. It's played very slowly, but it's never encroaching into ballad territory, and the song has an overall dark and sometimes depressing feel going for it, and that's not a bad comment. Steve's guitar lines play off of Craig's dark keyboard melody nicely, and though it's not a real positive-sounding track, it's nicely played and honestly never struck me as repetitive. I'd like to have seen some drum integration, but overall, it's a quality affecting version of "Oh, Holy Night"! The CD closes with the other new track on the remaster, that being "Hark! The Herald (Angels Sing)", which features more quality guitar work that lines up with the original carol, but the early keyboard parts sounded off, like Craig was replicating an instrument that didn't line up with the song. Later though, the violin-ish effect works very nicely, and Christmas fans may be surprised to hear a portion of "The 12 Days of Christmas" creep into the track halfway through! The guys do a good job here on this carol (or both of them), and despite a sketchy opening, they delivered a nice seasonal orchestral track that fittingly capped off this album!
Overall, how do I grade Theatre of Night's "Christmas Night" album, especially when it's instrumental, orchestral, and seasonal nature set it apart from any of our past reviews? Well, I'll say that in terms of covering and doing justice to the classic Christmas carols, they definitely did a good job and played them straight with clear care and attention. Steve Giles' guitar work always seemed to flow with the original melodies, and Craig Harrison's keyboard work alternated between complimenting the material to adding grand and epic orchestral touches almost flawlessly. When included, Greg Giles' drumming added to the songs, and even in small doses, his talent was evident! The album on the whole reminded me of The Trans-Siberian Orchestra, if it only featured 3 musicians, which isn't a bad comparison given the themes of this album, and it'll definitely fit well with Christmas music selections! Songs like "Carol of the Bells", "What Child Is This?", and "Oh, Come All Ye Faithful" will whet metal appetites the most, and on songs like "The Road To Bethlehem", there's some awesome orchestral moments that I dig!
As for criticisms, I'll say that some songs could stand to be heavier, and at times, a few songs sounded empty, like they needed extra instruments. I'd have liked to have seen Theatre of Night integrate Greg more on some tracks, as adding drums would have been interesting to see on a few more songs than we got. A few songs also got repetitive at points, but at the same time, they were staying true to the original carols, so it was alright. Part of me also wonders how the album would sound with vocals, but maybe we'll get something like that in the future. Overall though, "Christmas Night" is a solid mix of orchestration, Christmas carols, and heavier music that will serve as a unique addition to your local music catalog, and it shows an interesting side to the musical talents of Craig Harrison and the Giles brothers! Here's hoping we get some more material from Theatre of Night (seasonal or otherwise) in the future, as there's a lot of promise here! Pick it up today at the above links, and hopefully it's a good kickoff to the holiday season!
I hope you guys liked this month's CD review, but what's coming up in December for our final CD review of 2011? I'm not sure yet, but I do know that it will likely be a new CD release if something new is released over the next month. I do know that it won't be a review of any Woods of Ypres or Sykotyk Rampage albums (nor Amethyst's first cassette), as it's too soon from my last reviews of theirs, though I'm fairly positive that "Woods V" (if it's release holds up) and a recent Sykotyk Rampage album (likely "Karrs") will be reviewed in early 2012. Of course, a new album is priority, but if I can tie in an archive release with a band/artist playing locally next month, I'll go that route too, but for now, it's up in the air what CD will be reviewed next month. Stay tuned for updates, along with a new news post very soon! Thanks everyone!