Chances are that if someone were to think of a Christmas rock opera the first thing that would come to mind would be the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Given that this is a review for another theatrical, Holiday themed group, it may seem disrespectful to mention what would be considered their largest competition in their market. Normally this may be true, but in the case of The Wizards of Winter their very existence is in direct relation to TSO.
The Wizards of Winter, founded in 2009, began as a Trans-Siberian Orchestra tribute band, even deriving their name from the title of a TSO song. Eventually the band began writing their own original music and, after much interest from those who were attending their live shows, they began recording their own songs. The sound of The Wizards of Winter is both similar to and different from TSO, and their songs stand on their own. If there are similarities to Trans-Siberian Orchestra, they come honestly as several members of the band are former TSO members.
The musicians performing on “The Christmas Dream” are varied and accomplished, with a wide range of musical experience. In addition to featuring vocalists and musicians formerly with TSO, the band also includes members that have played with numerous rock and metal artists including Ted Nugent, Alice Cooper, Joe Walsh, Rainbow and Def Leppard, as well as with several international orchestras. They even have an Irish Tenor in the group.
Musically, much of “The Christmas Dream” blends elements of progressive rock and metal with big, theatrical vocals but the album is definitely not limited to this style. A great example of this is found on “The Four Kings”, which has a bit of a Brian Setzer feel on the guitar solos and the song also features a saxophone solo. There is excellent guitar work from beginning to end and the standard is set with the solos from the opening track, “Secrets of the Snow Globe”. Guitars carry the album but each song is perfectly accented with piano, keyboards, flute and string arrangements. The foundation is built upon a rhythm section with bass lines that move the songs and that are locked in with rock solid drumming that holds everything together. Segments of Christmas carols and standards are woven into many of the songs which are a combination of instrumentals and vocal performances.
While the music of “The Christmas Dream” evokes a definite feeling of Christmas and the holiday season, the lyrics fall short on delivering the true meaning of Christmas. References to a baby in a manger are the closest any lyrics come to mentioning either Jesus or the miracle of the virgin birth and what this meant for the world and mankind. “Secrets of the Snow Globe” paints the picture of a mystical gateway into the Christmas dream. “Polar Eve”, a fun song vocally and musically, makes references to magic, elixirs and incantations after an invitation to “let the spirit fill you once again”. On the other hand, there is “Gonna Snow”, which is one of my favorite songs on the album. A straightforward rock song about the joys and beauty of winter, it is full of hooks and melodies that will absolutely get stuck in your head.
Overall “The Christmas Dream” flows very well from song to song as it builds to a brilliant climax and resolution. The culmination begins with “In Plain Sight”, a song that delivers a message that reminds us that there are many people suffering through the holidays that need hope and support. This message is delivered with an impassioned dual vocal performance, surrounded by a beautiful piano and flute intro and punctuated with soaring guitar solos. Next up is “Christmas Dream” which perfectly combines “My Favorite Things” and "The Carol of the Bells." Just as the album has built up to these final moments, this song does the same within itself, building to a finale that would normally be an excellent conclusion for an album of this scope. Instead, we are treated to the perfect ending for this recording, the introspective and tender “A Toast to Time”. This song uses a beautiful piano and string arrangement as well as strong vocal performances to tug at the heartstrings as we are reminded of the importance of our relationships and that we should make the most of the time that we have been gifted in this life.
This album was very intriguing to me and I really struggled with how I felt about it. The musical performances are excellent and songs such as “Midnight Noel”, “Gonna Snow” and “Christmas Dream” evoke that unmistakable feeling and sound of Christmas. My biggest wish for this album is that there was some representation of the spiritual aspects of Christmas, which is what I mainly look for when I am adding to my holiday music collection. This is a very talented group with a direct approach to telling a story through their lyrics and I can only imagine how powerful it would be if they were to tell the story of the birth of Jesus. As it stands, “The Christmas Dream” still packs a punch and would be a great addition to one’s collection, especially for fans of the metal holiday genre.
[4 out of 5 snowmen]