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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: