One of the biggest complaints people have around Christmas time is that the deluge of holiday music can be a bit grinding on one’s psyche, the overwhelming presence of cheery melodies & inspiring symphonic arrangements driving those of us with a little less patience insane, humans requiring much more in their daily emotional spectrums than just joy & wonder. In the mid-nineties, this assault of cheer finally found its match when Trans-Siberian Orchestra released their first album, upon which resided the legendary “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24,” a spectacularly theatrical rendition of famous holiday classics that burst forth with the rage of a nineties Power Metal band, delivering unto the world what is easily the best classical-inspired Christmas song ever put to tape – Gathering together several members of American Heavy Metal band Savatage, Trans-Siberian Orchestra formed to bring listeners the splendor of orchestral holiday music with the blood-curdling fury of Metal, this track being somewhat of a proof-of-concept affair when the group was still going by the name Savatage a year before. The composition is a medley of the traditional English Christmas carol “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen” & the Ukrainian New Year’s carol “Schedryk,” also known as “The Little Swallow” in English from which the main melody “Carol of the Bells” comes from, borrowing various melodic devices from both founding carols whilst pumping up their intensity in a manner of ways, first in the intricate layering of these two themes together in crisscrossing fashion & then in the implementation of magnificently bold electric guitar riffs, bringing these old classics out of the gothic age & into the new to be appreciated like the impressive musical masterpieces that they are.
Now, any old Metal band can cover a Christmas song & plop it on an album just in time for the holidays, but Trans-Siberian Orchestra – TSO from here on out – do something incredibly ambitious by weaving the heart & soul of a tragic story into the mix, giving it so much more emotional impact than the original songs ever could – You see, the previous Savatage album ‘Dead Winter Dead’ from which this track originally came told the story of a Serb boy & a Muslim girl who had fallen in love during the Bosnian war which had been in full-force at the time of the song’s writing. “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24” then pushes that story even further, speaking of a well-known cellist who had left his hometown of Sarajevo to pursue his music career only to return to it completely in ruins during the height of the war; Moved to tears & forced to action in the only way he knew how, he would sit in the town square all night playing Mozart & Beethoven whilst the city was being shelled to declare that “the spirit of humanity was alive and well in the place.” Though this powerful story can only be realized in accounts from the band & not the actual lyrics of the song, this cellist is represented by the singular cello which plays throughout the arrangement, the focal point around which all other elements are structured, “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” being performed by the orchestral arrangements which illustrate the haunting serenity of winter time whilst “Carol Of The Bells” shreds outward from spectacularly overdriven guitars to convey the destructive energy of the military shelling, coming together to create an incredibly dense & dramatic composition that satisfies all sides of the musical spectrum whilst also recreating the scenario in which the lone cellist would have played – Honestly, you’ll likely remember none of this when listening to “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24,” as your face will have been completely melted off by the impressive guitar solos within, but that doesn’t change the fact that TSO gave listeners a tale of epic proportions in this tune, capturing the misery of war & the wonder of Christmas in one fell swoop that has persisted to this day as one of the world’s most beloved holiday songs.
Robert Kinkel, Paul O'Neill, Jon Oliva
"Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24" is an instrumental medley of "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" and "Shchedryk", first released on the Savatage album Dead Winter Dead in 1995 as "Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)." It was re-released by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, a side project of several Savatage members, on their 1996 debut album Christmas Eve and Other Stories. The piece describes a lone cello player playing a forgotten Christmas carol in war-torn Sarajevo.