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Van Helsing's Curse: Oculus Infernum

Just in time for Halloween comes an unexpected but intriguing project from Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider. You may recall that Snider made his official foray into the world of horror no, I'm not talking about Twisted Sister back in 1998 with his cult film Strangeland. The soundtrack to the film, featuring the likes of Megadeth, Pantera and Snider, even worked its way onto the Billboard charts. This time, Snider's goals are much more ambitious.

Van Helsing's Curse bridges progressive metal, classical music and chamber singing by incorporating the works of everyone from Igor Stravinsky to Mike Oldfield to Black Sabbath. But Van Helsing's Curse is not a rock group. Rather, it's a rock orchestra that includes a five-member rock band, a six-piece string section and a six-person choir that only sings in Latin. There are no lead vocals on Oculus Infernum; only the choir and Snider's creepy Vincent Price-inspired narration move this story of good and evil along. For example, "Tubular Hell" includes melodic bits of Oldfield's "Tubular Bells, original sections and themes from Edvard Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" and the traditional "Dies Irae." "Revenge" begins with Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" and "Firebird Suite" before segueing to Niccolo Paganini's "24th Caprice." And "Let the Pain Begin" borrows freely from Sabbath's "Black Sabbath."

Oculus Infernum (Latin for "eye of hell") tells the story of an evil entity that descends upon a town and kills all the adults. A now-orphaned boy seeks retribution and teams with an old man who is a direct descendant of vampire hunter Van Helsing (who originally appeared in Bram Stoker's novel Dracula) to battle the enemy. Snider dreamed up this plot himself, and he eventually hopes to tour the country every October with musicians outfitted in bizarre Marilyn Manson-meets-Edward Scissorhands garb. Think Trans-Siberian Orchestra only for Halloween. Ambition sometimes knows no boundaries.

Bombastic and thrilling here, dark and foreboding there, Oculus Infernum is nevertheless a stunning piece of work that gets dragged down by the narration and grows weary from its reliance on the Latin tongue. But since those elements are included, more plot details in the liner notes would have been helpful. Information about the pieces of music Snider incorporates into these songs, though, proves beneficial particularly for listeners looking to draw connections between disparate musical genres. Even though Oculus Infernum was created as a Halloween soundtrack, this rousing record merits year-round play and establishes Snider as a musician much worthier of praise than "We're Not Gonna Take It" indicates.


Track Listing
1. Patience
2. Tubular Hell
3. All Fall Down
4. Let Me Prey
5. The Child
6. The Tortured Soul
7. Revenge
8. War
9. Let The Pain Begin
10. The Curse

Added: October 22nd 2003
Reviewer: Michael Popke
Score:
Related Link: Official Van Helsing's Curse Web Site
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Language: english

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Van Helsing's Curse: Oculus Infernum
Posted by Ken Pierce, SoT Staff Writer on 2008-02-27 19:54:31
My Score:

I reviewed the initial release of Van Helsing's Curse as one of my very first reviews several years ago and now that it has been re-issued on Fangoria Musick I felt that it was high time to revisit some of these thoughts. Read on Fiends and Fans of things that go bump in the night a dark and sinister adventure awaits you.

It was during the Halloween season of 2003 that we first saw the arrival of Van Helsing's Curse join up to the world of Symphonic Power Rock and to understand them best you should think of The Trans-Siberian Orchestra with a devilishly devious Halloween twist. Because while the TSO brings you the spirit of Christmas and goodwill so do the members of the VHC make you aware that there is something out there, that you weren't imagining the noise you heard in the middle of the night and that sometimes being afraid of the dark is the best idea you ever had. With all of the Christmas Carols that are available by the pound it was high time for the Feast Of Samhain to get its due and have a soundtrack of it's own to help the ghouls and boys celebrate the day. The group has made it their business to address in Symphonic Rock fashion the long overlooked Halloween Season and while we have music like Alice Cooper, The Misfits and Wednesday 13 each delivering a spooky show it is clear that Van Helsing's Curse will take us on a different journey altogether. The enterprise is the brainchild of Dee Snider (Twisted Sister's notable front man) and Joe Franco (drummer for Twisted Sister, Widowmaker and the Good Rats) who together set out to do this holiday right. The pair are also joined by guitarist Al Pitrelli (Savatage, Megadeth, TSO) and violinist Mark Wood (TSO) who each help bring this material to life, or dare I say "back to life", with their contributions.

Much like the premise of the TSO, there is an underlying story to the album, but the main difference is with the VHC we get Dee Snider as our narrator for the piece and he does his best to make your skin crawl with the tale of an evil that plagues a town and how they must defeat it lest they perish in cruel and unspeakable ways. After the intro narration, the track "Tubular Hell" begins and this powerful piece sets the tone for the rest of the CD quite well. It's instantly recognizable as being similar to both Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells" (a song also known as The Exorcist theme) and a little bit of "In The Hall Of The Mountain King" by Grieg. Then there is "Let The Pain Begin" and this is a wonderful rendition of "Black Sabbath" but one that's done with Operatic vocals and violins. "Let Me Prey" includes some of Carmina Burana by Orff and this is a dramatic piece that fits very well with the premise that the group is trying to deliver. While I quite enjoyed the CD, I did have some minor criticisms. It delivers the creepy and moody Halloween overtones with success, but I think one or two vocal numbers would have added to it a little more. I also had issue with Dee's narration because while I liked it very much we don't get the story presented in the all too limited booklet. With a storyline like this the buyer should have gotten a full booklet with the tale, images and illustrations to go along with it. I have to say that I loved the full musical score that was on the release and though I have yet to witness this in performance can say that if this is done with the level of quality as TSO then the audience shall be in for a truly twisted sack of Halloween goodies. This is a unique item and a recommended purchase and especially for those who want some creepy background music to get them into the Halloween spirit at any time during the year. "Something Wicked This Way Comes" can you handle it?

The VHC Cast: Dee Snider (Narrator), Joe Franco (Drums & Percussion), Al Pitrelli (Guitars & Keyboards), Mark Wood (Lead Violin), Greg Smith (Bass), Schuyler Deale (Bass), Nick Cipriano (Keyboards), Jane Mangini (Piano), Derek Tailer (Bass), Doug Katsaros (Piano), Zak Soulam (Guitars), Vocalists (Michael Lanning, Tommy Farese, Sophia Ramos, Cheryl Smith).

Since its initial release on Koch Records, the album has been remastered and re-issued on Fangoria Musick and now comes with an additional two tracks, one of which is a vocal number. They work well within the context of the existing tunes and the first one is a stunning rendition of the "Halloween" theme and as any Horror fan will attest, this is music that has long sent cold shivers up their spines even in the apparent safety of the light. The second track is "Cry Little Sister" from the hit vampire film Lost Boys and it features Dee Snider on vocals. These additions have made it even more worthy of investigation by the curious. So take your first step down the cold damp stairs there is nothing down there that is going to hurt you. Or is there?

The remastered version is only available via the Fangoria Musick link which is provided below.

www.fangoriamusick.com

Van Helsing's Curse: Oculus Infernum
Posted by Ken Pierce, SoT Staff Writer on 2005-01-24 18:27:22
My Score:

"Something Wicked This Way Comes"

Halloween 2003 saw the coming of Van Helsing's Curse to the world of symphonic power rock (I will refer to them as "VHC" for the remainder of this writing. The best way to describe The VHC, is to think of them as a Halloween version of The Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO for short). Most of you are probably aware of or have heard of the TSO by now, this is a group that covers the Christmas Season (and does it amazingly well I might add).

The VHC have made it the time to address the long overdue Halloween Season. Granted, we have Alice Cooper, Misfits and other great performers that have a spookified theme to the shows, this however takes us on a different journey altogether. VHC is the brainchild of Dee Snider (Twisted Sister's frontman) and Joe Franco (who many people will remember as Twisted Sister's drummer for the "Love Is For Suckers" album as well as Widowmaker and the Good Rats if I can pull a reference from way back in time). Joining VHC is Mark Wood who also plays live with the TSO on lead violin. He is amazing, and does this group credit.

Dee is the narrator for the piece and does his best to make the skin crawl with the tale of evil that plagues a town and how they must defeat it lest they perish. After an intro narration the track Tubular Hell begins. It is a powerful piece and sets the tone for the rest of the CD quite well. This tune has roots in "Tubular Bells" by Mike Oldfield ("Exorcist" theme).

Among my favorite songs on the CD are "Tubular Hell" since I have always liked the Mike Oldfield tune. Another is "Let The Pain Begin", which is a rendition of Black Sabbath done with Operatic vocals and violins. "Let Me Prey" includes some of Carmina Burana by Orff and this is a dramatic piece that fits very well with the premise the group is trying to deliver.

Though the Company is not yet performing this is in pre-production stages with Dee hoping it will be a spectacle ready for next Halloween. According to the press release I received with the CD, the hopes is to have the choir dressed as Druids, the strings sections dressed as Goths while the main musicians are dressed in garb as that of Anne Rice's "Interview With The Vampire". When I spoke to Mark at a recent TSO show he said expect a wild presentation when it is ready for the public. Dee hopes that this will become a regular Halloween tradition for people. As someone who has seen the TSO, and also is a big fan of Halloween, I cannot wait for this to happen.

While I quite enjoyed the CD, I did have some minor criticisms. It delivers the creepy and moody Halloween overtones with success, but I think one or two vocal numbers would have added to it a little more. Yet in the long run this is not bad. My main gripe is the packaging. I found this one lacking in that the booklet is rather limited. Now, with a good storyline there should be a full booklet that denotes the tale which Dee narrates. This was only two pages. I would think it best to have included the story that was told in greater detail including more pictures to get a better visual. Also pictures of the group dressed as Dee maintained they will be. This is still a unique item and a recommended purchase. Especially with those who want some creepy background music to get them into the Halloween spirit at any time during the year.



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