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It is not easy to write an objective review about your favourite album of all times, but I will try to do this here. “Carpathia – A dramatic poem” is grandly arranged conceptual album about a young man who travels into the woods of Carpathia to visit an ancient mansion that a strange parent has left him as a heritage. As he falls under the dark spell of this dark region, he gets in connection with the mysterious cult of Kutulu and goes beyond dream and reality and soon drowned into a menacing eternal darkness. This story is loosely inspired by the fantastic and yet horrifying books of the legendary and eerie H.P. Lovecraft.
This album is more than just eight songs. The concept is developed with a lot of details, just like a theatrical script. The booklet has the style of an old script or book and some eerie dark pictures can be seen. The voyage and fate of the main actor of this play is described and analysed in every single nuance and this booklet contributes a lot to the atmosphere of the music and the whole concept.
The Vision Bleak describe their style as “horror metal”. Some call it “gothic metal”, but this is wrong as it their music much more theatrical and profoundly and diversifiedly arranged. Some call it “symphonic metal”, but this is wrong because the music is much heavier and darker than other bands of this genre and the symphonic element is one of many but not the most important one. Some call it “dark metal”, but this is wrong because this description or genre is too widely spread and to general to describe such a unique and certain style. Some even call it “Horror punk”, but the music doesn’t have to do anything with punk at all. “Horror metal” fits perfectly as a style description. This opus is loosely bound on the novels of a horror author, the music creates a terrifying and dark atmosphere, the whole appearance of the band – in the booklet or live on stage – make you think of an old eerie horror movie, the music is sometimes symphonic and bombastic, sometimes really slow and spooky, sometimes really heavy and fast, sometimes romantic and slow, but still always atmospheric and dark. This is a new genre and there is no other band until know who could be classified to this same genre. And this album is the absolute masterpiece of the genre.
The dramatic poem creates images in your head and eerie feelings in your mind like no other album known to me. It opens with a dramatic, bombastic orchestral introduction that brings you in the perfect spooky mood before the weakest song – and this is the only weak point in his album – begins. “Secrecies in darkness” is sure a solid song, a very heavy, fast and straight one that would be the highlight on any album, but it hasn’t yet the same profound atmosphere as the rest of this very special album.
But this is the only little point of critic concerning this album. The next songs are all just amazing and drown you in an eerie and dark atmosphere. Heavy, dark guitars supported by a dark and very charismatic and yet melodic voice dominate the title track “Carpathia”. Bell chimes and dark growls dominate the epic chorus and a quiet, symphonical interlude create more and more tension. You can imagine the character on the wagon torn by his horses and how the travel through the dark forests of Transylvania.
“Dreams in the witch-house” begins with a quiet and eerie piano interlude before dramatic violins slowly fade in and open for a dark and heavy guitar play. The chorus is filled with tension and has an evil dramatic, the piano, clearly distinguishable drums and the guitar solo go hand in hand to lead up to an interesting finale. This song gives you literally the impression to walk through the leave-covered big halls of an abandoned mansion where phantoms haunt its visitor.
“Sister Najade” begins as haunting as the previous song and a female voice, powerful and yet breakable, of a strange apparition brings an interesting note to this song. The song is very doom and slower than the previous ones and makes you literally afraid. The orchestration is decent, yet fits perfectly. The song gives you the impression to lay down in a bed in an old mansion and to see and fairy or a phantom, some kind of a weird apparition surrounded by a strange white light.
“The curse of Arabia” is a little bit heavier and adds another interesting element with its haunting Arabian folk sounds. The chorus is bombastic and very dark and the guitar solo is intense and very emotional. You can see before your eyes a crowd of fanatic people building up old temples with their own blood and bones and this song frightens you.
“Kutulu!” is dominated by its perfect drum play and the shouting crowds or choirs in something that you may call a chorus. The song begins heavy and straight and finishes on a dramatic, orchestral note. You can really imagine the fanatic followers of the cult celebrating their dark messes.
The last song, the epic and brilliant “The charme is done” begins with a reduced number of instruments and that fits perfectly after the heavy and straight “Kutulu!” and gets you in an eerie and thoughtful mood before a dramatic orchestration begins. The singer appears late in this song but sounds really mighty and royal and can once again impress you and transmit a dramatic doom. The orchestration is employed in a reduced and yet very effective way and contributes once more to the atmosphere. There are many changes within the song, after a dramatic orchestration follows a heavy, fast part as if the main character was running from a phantom. The song then slows down and is very doom before Arabian orchestration comes in and the singer works as a dramatic storyteller before the song accelerates and black growls go hand in hand with the melodic voice in some parts. It is that growl, like a scream of terror and pain, which lets you finally alone with an orchestral and haunting outro. The last growled words are “...in darkness!” And in fact, they leave you in perfect darkness.
The album is over. You feel like waking up from a dark dream, you have sweat on your head, you are breathing uneasily and you still have goose bumps. If you concentrate on the atmosphere of the album and if you listen to this masterpiece in a quiet and dark room as I did when I heard it the first time, this album will have more effect on you than any horror movie and is perfectly arranged, produced and creatively enveloped on every single note.
This album is intense, dark and majestic. It is the best album ever done to me. There are no 100 percent ratings from me, as no album is perfect and even here, one single thing, the song “Secrecies in darkness” is not yet perfect even though it is a really great song. The rest is absolute perfection. It is the best album I have ever listened to in my life and I’m into the metal world since seven years and have listened and bought several hundred or maybe thousand albums. I think that my opinion is worth something. But when I heard this album first back in autumn 2005, I already knew and felt that this is more than music and that I would rarely something to compare to this.
Hail Kutulu! Hail The Vision Bleak! Hail Horror Metal!
Now get this masterpiece or shame on you!
‘Carpathia – A Dramatic Poem’. A title a little pompous, but it gives a good first impression. The cover shows some mountainous pine forests draped in a veil of mist, the back of the CD shows a carriage in near absolute darkness. My interest has been awakened.
After their excellent but somewhat heterogeneous debut, ‘The Deathship Has a New Captain’, The Vision Bleak opted for a real concept album. Each and every song contributes to the story, each song is a chapter of the story told. The only exception might be the intro, ‘The Drama of the Wicked’, but this could be seen as the opening of the curtains of a play. But though the songs are much more connected to each other, they differ as much as the songs from ‘The Deathship Has a New Captain’ did. Each song has a different atmosphere, a different use of string instruments (and they are used in all the songs) and the same goes for the background vocals. It keeps the album interesting as each chapter of the story has a different emotion connected to it, so a different structure is wanted.
On the DVD that is included in the digipack version of ‘The Wolves Go Hunt Their Prey’, is a show with songs from both the first and second album from The Vision Bleak. In the end I had found eleven musicians on stage to perform the songs from ‘Carpathia’. Two people performing backing operatic backing vocals, a woman with cello (or possibly contrabass), one woman playing the violin, a woman performing the trombone and a last woman playing the flute. The other five people are performing the standard metal instruments. Eleven musicians, that’s a lot. And of these eleven, six are ‘supplementary’. But every single one of them contributes an important portion to the songs. I’ve seen only Therion do better, with fourteen performers (but those also included among others a belly dancer). ‘Carpathia’ is ‘Grand Music’, requiring nothing less than eleven musicians, and it should be even more. They give the music that haunting and chilling touch. To give an example of this: the first real song, ‘Secrecies in Darkness’. The story behind this song is about a man, named ‘the main character, is travelling in a carriage towards the country of Carpathia. The song begins with a little riffing immediately followed by strings and after that there is a nice mix of distortion, flute and strings. The entire song is fast paced, the drums have a steady beat and thanks to the fast and heavy riffs from Schwadorf the guitars are the metal equivalent of the ‘eight hooves that pound the midnight grove’. But guitar-horses and drum-carriages don’t create atmosphere. The flute and strings do. I imagine the following scene: the carriage is riding very fast between the pine trees of the dark forest. The wind howls (the flute), and the entire forest sends some chill down the spine of the main character but he doesn’t know why (the trombone). And on top of this nice mixture Konstanz sings (or whispers) with his clean vocals as an omniscient spirit who already knows of the tragic fate of the main character and takes delight in the fact that it can not be changed. What a song…
And than we have the title song. Konstanz describes the country of Carpathia as a beautiful one but with dark nightly secrets. The main character is informed about the nature of the country while the music gets more pompous with every note. Beginning with only mid paced guitars and rhytm instruments and towards the chorus Konstanz starts singing more dramatic while the trombone gives power to his dark revelations. And towards the very end of the song, the strings contribute, as if the main character is thinking about the country. Ghostly backing vocals repeat the word ‘Carpathia’ every time Konstanz speaks the word.
The next two songs, ‘Dreams in the Witch House’ and ‘Sister Najade (The Tarn by the Firs)’ both start by a haunting yet simple piece of piano and string, to explode into an entire symphony of head banging an melody. As I already mentioned, this is ‘Grand Music’.
Next come two songs that lay the most of the weight with the metal parts of the songs. ‘The Curse of Arabia’ is a slower paced song and could be seen as an introduction to the next. ‘Can you say… “Kutulu”?’ is the announcement of the song ‘Kutulu!’ at live gigs. A paced up thrasher with a catchy chorus. The verses are played with more continuous melodies (though there are some parts with just rhythmic drumming) while the chorus is very steady rhythm to which the lyrics are perfectly adapted. ‘Ia – Ia – Kutulu – Fhtagn’. Drums dominate this part of the song and background vocals perform the act of Kutulu’s adulation. Since this part of the song is very clear the words are very transferred to the listener so this song is bound to by sung aloud by the audience at live gigs.
The last song, ‘The Charm Is Done’, is the most cinematic of them all and contains the greatest diversity of components. An acoustic intro, the same melody continued with distortion, slower parts, faster parts. Even screams, and those are only used sporadically within The Vision Bleak’s discography. It concludes the album, the concept, the story in a way most worthy. The main character knows he’s connected to the cosmic horror that is Kutulu, who lies dead yet dreaming in R’lyeh, and he can’t do anything about it. The atmosphere even changes during the song: fear (the acoustic intro), anger (the middle part) and victory of the evil entities (the end). The last minute of the CD is filled with the classical instruments who play an slightly Arabian like tune.
The album leaves you with a very satisfied feeling. It is complete, both in story as in the music itself. I can’t find anything negative about it. Saying that the album was too short would a lie: the length is just right. If the album would have been longer there would have been fillers, songs that wouldn’t contribute at all. Extra length would break down the ‘Grand Music’ image I have of the album.
Schwadorf and Konstanz did their very best with this album and every note on it was worth the effort. ‘Carpathia – A Dramatic Poem’ is suited for everyone who enjoys the literature of H.P. Lovecraft, who is shown on the back of the booklet as a ‘Proud Member of the Club of the Damned’, and everyone who enjoys good music with depth.
Subtitled ‘A Dramatic Poem’, Carpathia is the second album from Bavarian horror-metal meisters The Vision Bleak. As with their first album, 2004’s The Deathship Has A New Captain, the band is a duo consisting of Ulf Theodor Schwadorf (ex-Empyrium, Sun Of The Sleepless) and Allen B. Konstanz (ex-Nox Mortis, Ewigheim), with Sophia Brommer, an opera singer from Munich, providing female vocals this time around, and orchestral backing from the Shadow Philharmonics.
Released in 2005, Carpathia contains eight tracks totalling 41 minutes, and it’s a concept album, with the songs carrying a narrative which is a blend of Bram Stoker and HP Lovecraft – the protagonist journeys into the Carpathian Mountains to claim a family inheritance, where he encounters an evil cult of Kutulu worshippers (why The Vision Bleak have opted for this spelling of the name of Lovecraft’s tentacle-faced, bat-winged deity rather than the more usual ‘Cthulhu’ is a mystery to me). Carpathia is available in both a standard edition and a ‘Luxus’ edition, which contains a second CD of bonus material and videos, as well as a very pretty and extensive booklet.
The Vision Bleak share some similarities of approach with Cradle Of Filth, in particular the atmospheric use of keyboards and orchestral backing. Konstanz’s low, clear vocals are infinitely preferable to Dani Filth’s demented shrieking, though, and TVB are by no stretch of the imagination a black metal band, having much more obvious affinities with the classic thrash of Metallica and Swedish death metal of the Stockholm persuasion (Therion etc.), as well as being linked to goth-rockers like Danzig, Sisters Of Mercy and Type O Negative.
Carpathia opens with ‘The Drama Of The Wicked’, a scene-setting overture with martial snare and kettle drums, eerie female vocals, harp and orchestral strings. ‘Secrecies In Darkness’, which follows, is a fast death metal song with orchestral brass and strings backup, settling into a chugging groove like Metallica or Perfect Strangers-era Deep Purple. The title track ‘Carpathia’ is slower and bombastically bottom-heavy, with sludgy bass, orchestral brass, tubular bells and violin. ‘Dreams In The Witch-House’, which takes its title from a short story by HP Lovecraft, begins with a lonely piano line and shivering strings before developing into another gransiosely melodramatic production number. ‘Sister Najade (The Tarn By The Firs)’ is probably the highlight of Carpathia, a mid-paced rocker with a female vocal refrain and a John Carpenter-style spooky piano melody. ‘The Curse Of Arabia’ has a great Metallica-style crunching guitar riff, sinuous middle-eastern keyboards and ululating, chanting muezzin, male vocals. ‘Kutulu!’ features a tribalistic refrain of ‘Ia! Ia! Kutulu Fhtagn! Ia! R'lyeh Kutulu Fhtagn!’ the ritual chant of the Kutulu cultists. The final track, ‘The Charm Is Done’ has a slow, doomy intro, picking up pace to become a fast thrash number with orchestral backing.
Carpathia is undoubtedly a more ambitious and coherent work than The Deathship Has A New Captain. However, for this album, TVB have chosen to emphasise the symphonic, grandiose, more gothic aspects of their sound, whereas the songs I really liked from the first album were the simple thrashers like ‘Night Of The Living Dead’ and ‘Lone Night Rider’. So I can appreciate Carpathia on an aesthetic level for the sophisticated achievement it is, but I still personally prefer Deathship… Fortunately for incorrigible headbangers like me, though, preview tracks from the impending (summer 2007) third album from TVB, The Wolves Go Hunt Their Prey, reveal it to be a much more metallic proposition.
This review was originally written for Judas Kiss webzine:
Opening the booklet I first see two pale-faced puppets in 19th century suits I assume to be the bandmembers, then a H.P. Lovecraft picture, while looking at the lyrics I read they deal with a man on a journey to Carpathia finally discovering he’d been cursed by Kutulu (I’ll keep the way they write the name of our beloved aquatic creature) worshippers. Now this makes one seriously wish there exists a law against overuse of Lovecraftian themes (as well as Tolkien-related themes, but it’s another matter), but at least the guys don’t seem to be afraid of ridicule.
As expected the music itself sounds as pretentious as the booklet. This is orchestral gothic metal, not without similarities with post-Theli era Therion, with the difference that Therion has already done it a thousand times better. I’m not pretending The Vision Bleak is a clone of Therion though; as they don’t use opera singers for instance, apart from the usual goth female singer. Now orchestral bands always make me very wary, actually apart from the aforementioned Therion I still got to find a truly talented one. Most of the time such acts seem to suffer from what I’d call Suckin’ Temptation syndrome, using tons of orchestrations to hide the failure of the musicians at properly playing their instruments and composing complex, attention-catching and above all inspired metal songs.
Unfortunately The Vision Bleak seems to mostly fall into this category, as if one looks beyond the bombastic orchestral wrapping most of time one will find elementary guitar lines, basic drumming and not really varied structures. If there are instrumental parts there are no actual solos, every track is built on the exact same mildly slow tempo without any internal change in pace, while vocals sound annoyingly dull. Those, apart from the aforementioned scarce female vocals or even scarcer growls (at the end of Dreams in the Witch House for instance), consist in the standard low clean male gothic voice, sometimes reminding of Peter Steele of Type O Negative fame, but without the emotion, thus without any interest.
Everything isn’t negative (pun not intended) on this album though, and while the first half is rather sleep-inducing, it partially redeems itself with the second half and a bunch of livelier, more inspired songs. Sister Najade, maybe the best track, exhibits a crystalline and somewhat hypnotizing piano leitmotiv as well as charming female vocals, while The Curse of Arabia innovates a bit with some mid-Eastern singing (doesn’t sound illogical looking at the title, right?). Kutulu!, another well-done tune, is eventually higher-paced and by far the most guitar-driven song here, even showing a genuine SOLO! Eventually the ten minutes long closing track is in the same vein, beginning with a couple of interesting faster riffs, though being less remarkable than its predecessor, probably just because it’s too long for what it is, ending up dragging on a bit.
So in spite of the overall light content and the too-pompous-to-be-honest atmosphere, this is far from being an unlistenable album, and at least the band uses a genuine orchestra. I’m not likely to check anything else from The Vision Bleak, though.
Highlights: Sister Najade (The Tarn by the Firs), Kutulu!
Finally, a gothic metal band with a different vibe other than the ones that are found in your everyday crap pile. I don't remember exactly how I came across this band, it may have been when I was looking at information on Autumnblaze and realized a member of them was part of the duo known as The Vision Bleak.
Nothing on this album is really repetitive, except maybe a guitar riff or two. The vocals are presented in a few different styles. There is a great traditional gothic vocal style present, vocal work that is very similar to the great Type O Negative, and female vocals to add the gothic vibe. Each song has its own creepy haunted house atmosphere. The band doesn't state they have a Type O Negative influence, but any person with a brain can point it out. Nothing is bad about their influential capabilities, as a matter of fact, they use the Type O similarities quite well. The piano work is nothing less than superb, as it adds even more simple, yet eerie feelings on their work. All the drum structures and guitar riffs are blended well, the production quality is fantastic. They have the ability to write their own horror flick soundtracks, actually that is what this album would remind me of. I'm not a big fan of gothic metal, but every now and then I like a taste of it. One of my favorite tracks on this album is titled "Sister Najade (the Tarn by the Firs)", it has a great classical piano intro and some great song structure work in presence. Not to mention the vocal talent really reminds you of Type O Negative, and the appearance of female vocals are a great add-on.
This album is great in many ways. Any Gothic Metal fan should be happy with this album, as also should a Type O fan. This album may have a chance at creeping my way up to the top 10.