Opera Diabolicus – 1614
* I am very ticked off that my character map contains no little crosses, which is what should be in front of the 1614. The ones I did find would not translate here to WordPress. But just know that the plus sign in front of the title should be a little cross instead, a symbol used in family trees and other historical documents to denote year of death. In this case, it indicates the death of Countess Bathory.
I can’t remember how I found out about this Swedish project headed by David Grimoire and Adrian de Crow – probably via Facebook. But I am so glad I came across this album because it is pretty mind-blowing stuff.
+1614 is a concept album based on the story and subsequent legend of Blood Countess Bathory (if you need a Wiki go here), who, as the story goes, murdered many young women and bathed in their blood because she thought it would keep her youthful in appearance. Grimoire and de Crow assembled a group of powerhouse musicians to create this epic, theatrical, creepy, and superbly-crafted masterpiece of an album. De Crow wrote the lyrics, which are sung by a variety of people who play characters in the story. Portraying Blood Countess Bathory is Camilla Alisander-Ason, drums and vocals are performed by Snowy Shaw, Jake E from Amaranthe also provides some vocals, and the album was produced by Andy LaRocque of King Diamond fame. (Interestingly, I just discovered King Diamond recently while watching a metal show about shock rockers. Good timing! I can see the influences.)
Anyway, I could go on and on in this review, because when you listen to the music while following along with the lyrics, there is a lot going on in this album. Some of the literature I’ve read about this CD from other reviewers tells of the meeting of Grimoire and de Crow at a play based on Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, and that that chance meeting inspired the creation of this CD. While the subject matter doesn’t have much to do with the subject matter of that novel, I can see how some of the things that make that novel important play out in the story in +1614. For instance, I saw some post-modern literature elements, something The Name of the Rose is known for. The “postmodern ideal that all texts perpetually refer to other texts, rather than external reality” is definitely at play in this album with inferences and references that can be compared to other works by Cradle of Filth, King Diamond, and even Dracula. The idea of the narrator, which was a component of The Name of the Rose, whose narrator was a young novice monk named Adso of Melk, is used compellingly in +1614 because, whoever he is, he seems to be one of Countess Bathory’s accomplices or someone close to her. Historically, her known accomplices were all women and they were all tried and put to death upon being found guilty, so this narrator must be a male close to the Countess, possibly a castellan or servant.
But let’s get onto the music: it’s fantastic. This CD is commonly labeled as doom metal, and I would have to say that that is a mis-label of epic proportions. There is very little doom metal going on in here, if any at all. The music is too fast and not growly enough (editor’s note: doom does not necessarily equal harsh vocals- that is death/doom). This is a chaotic but highly successful mixture of symphonic, Gothic, power, progressive, and thrash metals. Some reviewers have added black metal to that mix, but since I know didley squat about black metal, I can’t comment on that myself, other than to say that that vocal style pops up in the album at various times. The intro, “Overture”, sets the mood for the entire CD, being creepy, dramatic, and reminiscent of horror film music. The second track, “The Gates”, sets up the story of the Blood Countess and this is where we first meet our narrator. There are some organs in here that add to the heightened sense of doom and gloom and nastiness, and it is in this track we are also first introduced to the Blood Countess herself, sung by the aforementioned Camilla Alisander-Ason. I’d never heard of her before, and she has a beautiful voice. Her sung parts, along with the narrator, and in subsequent songs, other characters, are expertly inserted into the narrative of the CD, giving the album a definite sense that a conversation is going on between the narrator and the Countess, and the other characters as well. I liked this a lot. It was like having a story read to me with different people taking on the different voices of the characters. It’s very effective and very theatrical, which suits the content, of course.
The highlight of the CD is definitely the third track, “Blood Countess Bathory”, which starts out with a chanting male choir, and ends with a quiet keyboard outro. The stuff in between is all over the place musically, but it works and it’s fantastic. And lyrically, it’s excellent, too. We get great characterization here, which I totally loved. We see the manipulation, the gore, the fear, the smugness, the cunning – and then the downfall. Check out the lyrics here to get the full story.
I couldn’t find a weak song here, or a weak element, though I do think there could have been more keyboard usage. “In Memoriam” is a short instrumental that came as a much needed break from the intensity of the album. The ending song, “Stone By Stone” is catchy and thrashy, and was a good denouement.
I have no idea why this album isn’t getting more buzz, and I worry that it will be underrated and relegated to the dusty shelves in that mystical place where great albums that get overlooked wind up. I can tell you right now that this will be one of the contenders for my top 10 of 2012. This is a feast for the ears and for the literary part of my brain, which usually doesn’t get this much activation while listening to metal music. Bravo Opera Diabolicus!
Allyson’s rating: 4.5 out of 5