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Trying to write a review about any of Devil Doll’s work is a task as easy as climbing the Everest. Sure, there are certainly people who’ll be ready for it after exhaustive preparation, but when push comes to shove it’s a task you’re bound to fail each and every time. And why is that? Because no matter how much you try to describe the present musical aesthetics or the artistic vision behind the work itself, in the end it’s all pretty much a futile task. But I still haven’t explained why exactly now have I? You see, despite Devil Doll using defined sets of rules and instrumentation that could be classified under genre conventions, the work itself as a whole in incredibly abstract and psychedelic to the point where you find yourself asking questions like “What?”, “Where?” or “Why?” in regards to the paths being chosen in terms of composition. Oh yes, lost you’ll be, and lost I am in trying to convey some sense into these paragraphs.
At its heart, the debut album by Mr. Doctor is a convoluting journey that works its way through dynamic highs and lows that weave neoclassical orchestrations with a film noir atmosphere that’s always predominant throughout the entire piece. This constant horror-themed vibe hovers over the songwriting throughout the majority of the 39 minute piece, but the cleverness of this dynamic rollercoaster is in how other elements are seamlessly imbued into it. Progressive rock passages where the bass acts almost like a lead instrument, at points even trading blows with a violin, are often intersected by uncanny breaks into creepy and tense piano sections. And the choirs, those haunting choirs that grab your every breath and continuously increase the tension in each different section! I mean, imagine the best parts of dark classical music being brought to life in the context of a rock opera, and stitched piece by piece by Doctor Frankenstein himself. But there’s more to it, much more. In fact, I’d bet my left arm that you’ll still be finding new details in this song even after listening to it for years. It’s just that massive!
As cited above, the main strength in this continuous song is its cleverly woven sense of dynamics and dread that make you waltz between a warm and welcoming dream, and your worst dankest horrific nightmare. But there’s also a more humane side to it, one that averts the shadows for a few moments in how it breaks away with the specters surrounding you. The “rock opera” type of approach will have you led through quiet and soothing moments of sane progression, but it will also lead you through more upbeat moments. Almost cheerful ones I might add, almost as if that act on the story was retelling moments of happiness of the character being portrayed. Almost like the calm before the dark storms that befall the listener the following moment. And without wanting to repeat myself too much, do notice the brilliant bass work present on these happier breaks from the tremors. The galloping section that begins around the seventh minute is brim with goth rock influences, influences those which are more than evident throughout the entire record, albeit not always displayed under the rock banner.
Yes, this album indeed exudes a very gothic persona in its olden gloom. A very sexy black and white recount of tales of happiness and tragedy, that despite not being as dark as some of Mr. Doctor’s posterior works still bears a very somber shade. And of course that this collection of shadowy tales would have to be recounted under an extremely eldritch narrator’s voice. None other than Mr. Doctor himself handles the vocal duties, although defining his style here is as hard as categorizing everything else. It has been known as “sprechgesang” throughout the ages, but what he does here is absolutely otherworldly. He contorts his voice and shifts between the old narrator sitting behind the piano with nothing but his big black eyes in the light and Gollum-like screeches that are bound to make your blood freeze, twisting and coiling his throat in what can only be described as an old theater coming to life and telling you the past tales of its glorious existence. Spooky, somber, gloomy... All of these are suitable, yet barren to describe how the vocal approach will make you feel, because again that entrancing sexiness will also be present. That film noir setting, that gothic horror flair, the dim lights that only barely get stronger to let you understand you’re still alive... It’s all incredibly enveloping, yet horribly abstract to the point where you feel truly lost.
It also doesn’t help that there are innumerous distinguishable segments, almost like segments or acts in the freak show you’re witnessing. Yet, as distinguishable as they are after familiarity with this album sets in, they’re still so carefully placed under the game of dynamics that’s present here that more often than not you won’t even notice it’s shifting until an abrupt difference in rhythm or instrumentation occurs. Try to distinguish the different sections between the 20 and 25 minutes and you’ll find yourself scratching your head in utter dismay. Coherence and abstraction blend themselves into a swirling mass of withered decay where you can only run for that tiny spec of light down the darkened hall, in hope of being able to find your way out into the realm of the living once again. Yet the fixation with the shadows continues to increase the more you listen to these deadened hymns, and all you can do is let your soul be left astray on the catacombs. Ball and chain included.
You know what? This review may leave you even more confused than before, but being the huge Devil Doll fan I am I feel the need to confess it. I too am still confused after all these years of listening to what Mr. Doctor does. It’s so incoherent it really shouldn’t work, so abstract that I shouldn’t be able to memorize different sections. But after all is said and done... it just works! It caresses your face and flaunts your every living nightmare in front of you, yet it all feels so warm and appeasing, like a moth being drawn to the light. And by the end of it you just want to remain in this alternate world that the music has created in your mind, because reality is no longer so attractive. Hell... life, light, living breathing people are no longer that attractive! All you want is to partake once again in this bleak operatic rocking work of genius. And then you'll just find yourself wandering through the catacombs of life, and slowly falling into the whirl of... HELL...
There is so much mystery surrounding Devil Doll that speculative essays could be written on this music's context alone. For how little we really know about 'Mr. Doctor' and his enigmatic history, there are so many clues in his work, however possibly misleading, that give some impression as to the man's character. I first became fascinated in the work of Devil Doll some years ago, and since then, appreciation nor wonder have not abated. The extent to which Devil Doll have maintained this enigma would almost have me wondering whether the whole thing was really an elaborate hoax, but The Girl Who Was... Death stands as the evident work of some manner of genius. Although Mr. Doctor wears his influences (both musical and otherwise) most often on his sleeve, the result is something unique and inimitable. Regardless of your previous experience with goth or progressive rock, metal or even neoclassical music, Devil Doll makes for a stark and challenging experience; prospective listeners have been warned, but those that dare venture forth may find themselves captivated forever.
Considering the established style Devil Doll espouse here, it's easy to forget that The Girl Who Was... Death is the defacto debut from a then-relatively new band; a 1987 LP The Mark of the Beast apparently existed before this but, in true Devil Doll fashion, its mere existence has been under dispute. It's rare to hear of a band debuting with a strong sense of identity, and rarer still to hear a band with an identity all to themselves. In the case of Devil Doll, the odd mesh of Romantic minimalism, gothic post-punk and off-kilter sprechgesang sounds alien upon first listen, but I posit that Devil Doll as a stylistic construct would appear completely natural in the light of his influences. Many of these influences are no doubt as esoteric as Mr. Doctor himself; others are more apparent. Among the latter, classic horror cinema is at the top of the list. The album cover features actress Elsa Lancaster (in The Bride of Frakenstein) in the final moments before her character's death. Long stretches of minimalism led by the piano and eerie strings lend a sense to the archetypal silent horror film score, not to mention the expressionistic lyrics, which divulge a sense of being stalked and chased by an unknowable entity. The excellent TV series The Prisoner (itself enjoying an enigmatic context of no small obsession) is also evoked, through the title, lyrical excerpts (tying into the album's thematic sense of solipsism and the lonesome individual), not to mention a rock rendition of The Prisoner's theme, hidden at the end. Though their aesthetics and chosen mediums are different, I'm sure The Prisoner's creator Patrick McGoohan would at least look upon Mr. Doctor's work with a sense of intellectual respect, if not an appreciation for the music itself.
While the work of an auteur may be seen as a compilation of his influences, it's the resulting product and identity that truly matters, and in the case of The Girl Who Was... Death, the effect is overwhelming. While the style of Devil Doll would be predominantly neoclassical through their five album stretch, The Girl Who Was... Death opens the saga with a more clearcut balance between string orchestrations and rock. The two halves are also more segregated here than they would be on later bouts. Set as a single forty minute composition (the rest of the stated album length is silence, in keeping with the hidden Prisoner theme at the end) the suite jumps between periods of slow, minimal piano, theatrical metal and avant-garde orchestrations. Although the long-drawn piano passages are atmospheric, they're remarkably understated in contrast with the excitement of the heavier parts. The album takes almost ten minutes to 'get going' and shed light on its rockier elements, so listeners with an impatient ear will likely find themselves scratching their heads. Among the musical highlights are a gypsy fiddle solo, a beautiful, longing violin build, carnivalesque fanfare halfway into the work, and a jarring instrumental section towards the latter half, complete with disjointed piano and chilling violin screech, a la Psycho. While the long periods of relative inactivity in the music give the exciting moments greater impact, the effect of its trying minimalism begin to wear off by the time the album is close to finishing. A masterpiece it may be, but The Girl Who Was... Death still offered room for its successors to improve. If Devil Doll's jaw-dropping Dies Irae from 1996 is any indication, at some point those small spaces were filled in.
No discussion of Devil Doll's music would be complete without a regard for Mr. Doctor's vocals themselves. I have saved talking about them for the end of the review precisely because they are the most challenging, puzzling, and altogether compelling part of Devil Doll's music. I am not sure who gave him the nickname 'The Man of a Thousand Voices', but the name is given weight through his performance here. Devil Doll's frightening frontman is a vocalist in the truest sense of the world; his delivery here is less singing by the traditional definition, and moreso incredibly intricate and theatrical speech, with the occasional melodic (or, I daresay, operatic) ingredient. Mr. Doctor's sprechgesang, to put it simply, is weird and scary, and evocative to an almost overwhelming level. It's the sort of strange voice I can only imagine spoken by Peter Lorre, had he actually become a creature from a German Expressionist horror film. For a musical comparison, think Current 93's David Tibet, if he had been somehow forced to stay awake for a month (possibly by the Lorremonster?) watching nothing but Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. It's jarring and bound to be a complete turn off to some listeners, but for those who know, it works.
The Girl Who Was... Death is frightening fare, regardless which genre you try to (hopelessly) place it in. Even so, there is a deliberate method to this so-called insanity; behind the maddening screams and gothic bombast, there is the truly uncompromising mark of an auteur here, who let nothing hinder his vision. Particularly in a rock or metal-related work, that sort of purity is hard to come by. The Girl Who Was... Death is one of the best and weirdest albums I have ever heard, and even then it's not the best thing Devil Doll would create. What then can I call it, save for the work of a bona fide genius?
Originally written for Heathen Harvest Periodical
It's hard to find a definition of this music, but one thing is certain: this is the kind of music that should be played along the corridors of an asylum. Mr.Doctor is as insane as mysterious. Full stop.
This one-song album is creepy. It's like the soundtrack to a old, horror movie. Every single note of it breeds insanity, mental problem, uneasiness. It's a trip to the utmost thoughts of a man on the edge of insanity. But it's good. Mr.Doctor is a musical genius indeed. This guy is a myth. He is also called The man with a thousand voices, and after listening to this album you will prove him right. I thought that Sopor Aeternus is the most mind-fucking band in the world, until I heard of Devil Doll. What impresses the listener is the versatility of this album. There are several changes of mood (but they all remain insane). It's like an entire orchestra playing for it. Piano, violins, guitars, keyboards... It's certain that Devil Doll's music is progressive.
The girl who was...Death is a musical masterpiece. A creepy, odd as fuck masterpiece. What impressed me was the balladesque part of this huge song. It is one of the most incredible tunes ever heard. Melodic and very, very moody. I wish that was a stand-alone song. Mr.Doctor is without doubt utterly insane. But a musical genius also. Even if you don't like it, it's something in the oddness of his voice that makes you listen to it. I found this guy fascinating. Burning the records to make them fewer, pressing one single fucking piece of "The Mark of the Beast", which by the way I don't see it in the discography, not to mention the fact that he was like a fucking ghost. Even his name was unknow. This guy should seriously consider doing music with Anna Varney. They would understand each other perfectly.
Devil Doll are not split-up. Mr.Doctor continues to make music and there are a lot of Devil Doll albums, but he said that he is not going to release them. Devil Doll deserves to be listened. It's a masterpiece. I'm not urging you into buying it, because as far as I'm concerned every Devil Doll album is ultra-rare. If you have it, then keep it and cherish it. Or just sell it. But for a huge sum.
Devil Doll is a project by Mr. Doctor which has received a decent amount of popularity and acclaim over the years. This release, his first one, came way back in 1989. And considering the year, I should give a 100 for its high level of experimentation right away. But then, there are some flaws and since you probably already know the pros, I’ll try to focus on the negatives.
First of all, the genre, it’s more symphonic ambient than anything. Composing 1 song of 66 minutes for only that isn’t the best of ideas if you ask me. The song simply alternates between instrumental sections and lyrical parts. The instrumental sections fail to keep you interested since they are loaded with atmosphere rather than riffs or any actual written music. The parts where he sings, he only does that with a simple piano tune running behind for 5 odd minutes, which again makes it a little boring.
What I’m saying is, that the arrangements, time signatures, tempos and the overall song structure don’t have anything worth praising. It’s all just like a terribly dragged horror movie score. Another shocking point to be noted is that there are absolutely no acoustic passages and hardly any distorted guitars. Basically, there’s a very low amount of ‘metal’ to be found. If you are the kind of person who is satisfied just with an orchestral feel, this one is for you, but if you’re looking for some progressive metal, you’ll be disappointed.
Eerie music begins to echo through the halls of the castle. Who turned the lights off? Eyes flicker in the darkness! Someone's watching me! Madness descends from above, covering my pale body with a cloak of obtuse darkness. Voices! I hear voices! Angelic and sweet, yet twisted and tormented persuading me to join them in their anguish. A shapeless shadow chases me unceasingly as I rush through the halls, trying to escape the confines of this place. The tension crescendos to the vertex, until I hope my heart will burst and collapse, allowing at least my soul to perhaps escape! But only a sudden silence greets me, so dense it chokes and gags my senses. The chase resumes, as my soul flees through the endless gulfs of Hades, into the deepest ravines where a scorching fire dances and rages...
Will this nightmare ever end? Can something that never had a beginning ever end? Yet, I derive an unexplainable pleasure from it. Do I really want it to end? The haunting keyboards that make my spine shiver! The mellifluous violins that threaten to rip my soul from my body! The paranoid voices in my head, urging me to run and stay still at the same time! The dulcet guitar tones that feed my hungry spirit! Thundering drums, like footfalls of giants, that force me look over my shoulder! The sweet silence of death approaching! Nay! If this is madness, then in madness I shall dwell for the rest of eternity, for time shall never dare show its face here!
The girl who was...Death is an astonishing album! The mysterious Mr. Doctor presents us with an eclectic masterpiece, which hooks us and compels us to revisit it again and again. The central theme is based on an episode of the same name from the Television series “The Prisoner”, who fights to stave of the numerous attempts on his life. We are treated to a kaleidoscopic mixture of the piano, electric guitars and violins, where each of them alternatively takes the task of providing the rhythm and the lead parts. My particularly favorite section begins at 9 minutes which includes a blitzkrieg violin solo. The vocals too deserve a special mention, as they range from lunatic whispers to high pitched shrieks!
The lengthy running time only adds a strange aura to the atmosphere and there never is a dull moment throughout the song. I strongly recommend this album for anyone who wishes to explore new realms of music and adores eccentricity and paranoia!
Someone may call this progressive rock or progressive metal. It sure is progressive, but not what you would call progressive rock, or progressive metal. Progressive rock is something like Rush or Porcupine Tree. This doesn't sound like that. Progressive metal is something like Symphony X or Opeth. This doesn't sound like that. In fact, I have no idea what this sounds like. This is the most bizarre, freakish, insane, frightening, twisted, and strangest music I have ever heard. This is coming from someone who likes bands like Mr. Bungle, and Primus. Those may be weird, but this is most certainly the strangest music ever recorded.
There is no possible way to possible describe this album in words, but perhaps I can try. Imagine a piano tinkling out a frightening, and simple melody. Then try to imagine, if you can, a man singing in the most bizarre style you have ever heard. His voice varies from high-pitched wavering speaking, and low pitched growling. He rarely sings but rather practices some strange form of talking pitches. No I am not lying, that's what he rarely does. Then imagine swooping violins, overlayed but guitars playing metal riffs and then...oh what's the use, you get the idea, this music is very odd.
With that out of the way, I can explain why I gave this such a high score. Basically, because it's weird I am drawn to it. It's the most unique music I have ever heard, and it's entertaining. And throughout the whole 40 minute long song, it does not get boring, and as a fan of progressive music, this is what I like to call, "a masterpiece."
For a band to make something so bizarre and so far away from anything mainstream says a lot by itself. For a band to do that very thing so well makes it all the better, Sure, others have made single song albums before, but none of them sound at all like Devil Doll. I this world of endless music, it's difficult to be the only band doing something. Go back to 1980 and there are bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, extremely unique for their time. Fast forward to the 2000's or even the 1990's and there are already hundreds of bands that sound like that. Devil Doll made this album in 1989. In 1989 there was nothing else like it. Fast forward to the 2000's and there is still nothing else like it.
So, if you are looking for something new original search no longer, for Devil Doll will hit the spot. Even if you do not like it, it is still very entertaining to listen to music that is like nothing you have ever heard. It has the same effect as if someone in the 1920's or 30's was introduced to Iron Maiden or Judas Priest. It would blow their minds. And this will blow yours.
Let me conclude by saying this. Wipe away everything you know about music. Forget about the styles, genres, and eras. Forget about the vocal approaches of singers you have heard. Clear your mind, Then listen to Devil Doll. I assure you, you will never look at music the same again, and as you see the endless supply of metal artists that sound the same, and the hip hop artists who sound the same, and the music that sounds like something you've already heard, remember Devil Doll, and remember that never in your lifetime will you ever hear something like this again.