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‘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.