Paul O'Neill says that "we caused a massive number of heart attacks...at Atlantic (Records)" when he and his Trans-Siberian Orchestra crew finally turned in "Night Castle," the collective's latest rock opera, which will be released on Oct. 27.
O'Neill and company have, in fact, been working on "Night Castle" since 2005, a year after TSO's last release, "The Lost Christmas Eve," which has sold 1.8 million copies and gave TSO its highest ever chart peak at No. 26 on the Billboard 200. The group even released one of the tracks, "Night Enchanted," in 2008 via Amazon.com, "just to show people that we really did have something new coming," O'Neill says with a laugh.
"Night Castle's" release will be preceded by a single, a cover of Emerson, Lake & Palmer's "Nutrocker" that features Greg Lake guesting on bass.
"Obviously our fans have been unbelievably patient," he says. "We were dedicated to making something really special...And each time we thought we were finished it just wasn't good enough, so we'd go back and tweak and re-write and re-record. The longer that took, the more pressure we felt to get it right. It just kind of snowballed...But we finally got it right, I think. We're very proud of it. We just hope everyone thinks it was worth the wait."
"Night Castle" is TSO's second non-Christmas rock opera, following "Beethoven's Last Night" in 2000. At is heart is the story of a U.S. Army special forces officer (Lt. William Crozier, voiced by former Journey and Yngwie Malsteen singer Jeff Scott Soto) and his journey to fight the Khmer Rouge in the early '70s Killing Fields of Cambodia. "It's an anti-evil album," explains O'Neill, who produced the album with Robert Kinkel. "What happened in Cambodia still breaks my heart. The things humans can do against humans never ceases to blow my mind, but somehow in the end good always wins and gives us hope. I think that resonates, especially with what's going on now in the world."
The "Night Castle" opera takes up 21 of the two-disc set's 26 songs and is fleshed out by a 68-page booklet featuring the artwork of TSO cohort Greg Hildebrandt. The five "bonus tracks" include "Nutrocker" and a rendition of Carl Orff's 1930s composition "Carmina Burana," both of which are works O'Neill says "were tremendous influences on us."
TSO, which has sold 7.2 million albums since 1996, hits the road for its annual two-company holiday season tour on Nov. 1 after playing to more than 1.2 million fans in 2008. Songs from "Night Castle" will be included in the show, but no full-scale stage production of the album is scheduled yet. O'Neill, meanwhile, is plotting a variety of future TSO endeavors, including a re-release of "Beethoven's Last Night" with a revised and expanded booklet, a Broadway production of "Gutter Ballet," which he originally worked on with the band Savatage in 1989, and a series of films that will likely include at least one animated feature by Hildebrandt.