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The Sound

Open letters

11/18/2015

There is no other way to really put it: Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSC) is a weird act. The band’s music is not particularly freaky or outlandish. That is not the kind of weird we are talking about. Instead, the way that TSO has gone about its business has made it one of the most unique acts in popular music.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra brings its “Ghost of Christmas Eve” tour to Wells Fargo Arena on Thursday, Nov. 19 at 7:30 p.m. Photo by Jason McEachern

Trans-Siberian Orchestra brings its “Ghost of Christmas Eve” tour to Wells Fargo Arena on Thursday, Nov. 19 at 7:30 p.m. Photo by Jason McEachern

TSO did not start like literally every other act in the world, playing tiny gigs in front of few people, before working its way up to the opening slot on a larger tour. Instead, it lept onto the stage fully formed, headlining its own tour and selling the damn thing out everywhere it went.

Its first tour was on the heels of its second album, 1998’s “The Christmas Attic,” which is another TSO oddity. The band’s first two albums — and three of its six albums in total — have been Christmas-themed. But do not write TSO off as a Mannheim Steamroller-type holiday exclusive. The band’s other three albums, “Beethoven’s Last Night,” “Night Castle” and this year’s “Letters From the Labyrinth” are all neo-classical metal operas.

The band, as you might deduce, has always been big on high-concept, progressive melodies with richly woven story lines. But for the latest installment, TSO has come about the result in a different fashion. The end product is an album that TSO creator Paul O’Neill refuses to call finished.

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“ ‘Letters from the Labyrinth’ is a major change from the way TSO creates new works,” he explained in a teleconference. “It’s the first album that’s not built around a completed story. Instead, it’s a collection of completed songs that have, basically, left the safety of the studio where they were born. The stories will emerge from their combined journeys.

“We’re calling it an ‘open-ended album.’ Like our own lives, the story will develop and evolve. We’re not really sure what’s going to happen tomorrow, let alone next year.”

O’Neill, who handles the vast majority of the songwriting duties in TSO, wanted to create an album experience that felt more vital and alive than the standard concept album or rock opera. When “Letters…” was first fleshed out, it contained songs that told stories about Ukraine and Syria, but that had been written before both countries found themselves torn by conflict. The changing world climate caused O’Neill to change his perspective on songwriting and how he views the stock permanence of storytelling.

“A single day can change the perspective of everything,” he explained. “A single instance, you know? You’re looking at Pompeii one day, and a volcano goes off and everything changes. You’re looking at a country that’s at peace in 1914, and 1915 everything changes. It’s all about perspective.”

If any band knows about changing perspectives, TSO is a good candidate. From dust to multi-platinum-selling arena rock juggernauts, TSO has revolutionized the way people think about mass-appeal metal music, the rock opera and Christmas shows. Fans continue to flock to TSO shows, and for many, the band has become a genuine tradition.

“The band has survived the two-decade mark and kept its original fan base,” O’Neill said. “Much to our happy surprise, people who had originally seen us as teenagers are returning and bringing their own kids with them. We always say that music has got the ability to jump a lot of silly walls people put between people, whether it’s nationality or economic class or religion or whatever. When you jump the generational wall, that’s the biggest jump of all.” CV

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