There was a time when Christmas music was all about the sing-along classics, from “White Christmas” to “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” but in 1996, the sounds of the holidays changed dramatically with the addition of an album that unexpectedly brought the words “symphonic metal” into play.
Trans-Siberian Orchestra was the brainchild of the late Paul O’Neill, who started out playing in a prog-rock band called Slowburn but soon shifted into the business side of things, working as a promoter in Japan. Eventually, however, he found his way into production, and as a result of teaming up with the band Savatage, he found a creative relationship that led to several classic albums, including Hall of the Mountain King, Gutter Ballet, Streets: A Rock Opera, and Dead Winter Dead.
Speaking of that last album, you may well recognize one of the songs from the LP, which was actually released a year prior to the founding of Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
"I wanted to take the very best of all the forms of music I grew up on and merge them into a new style," O'Neill said in an interview. "Basically I was building on the work of everybody I worshipped: the rock opera parts from bands like The Who; the marriage of classical and rock from bands like Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Queen; the over-the-top light show from bands like Pink Floyd...I always wanted to do a full rock opera with a full progressive band and at least 24 lead singers.”
O’Neill approached Atlantic Records, a.k.a. Savatage’s label, and successfully pitched the concept, but the original intent was that the band would kick off their career with a different album, one entitled Romanov: When Kings Must Whisper. Instead, however, they ended up moving forward with their first holiday album, Christmas Eve and Other Stories.
While there was every chance that the album could’ve gone down in history as O’Neill’s folly, Christmas Eve and Other Stories captured the attention of listeners thanks to the immediacy and intensity of “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24,” sending the LP into double-platinum sales figures.
From there, Trans-Siberian Orchestra ended up turning one holiday album into a trilogy, following up with The Christmas Attic and The Lost Christmas Eve, but between those last two albums they released an original LP entitled Beethoven’s Last Night, and after The Lost Christmas Eve, they delivered another original album, Night Castle.
Alas, O’Neill died in 2017, suffering an unexpected reaction to prescription medication that he’d been taking for several chronic illnesses, but the music of Trans-Siberian Orchestra lives on, not only during the holidays but, indeed, all year round.
Especially during the holidays, though.