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Van Helsing’s Curse – Oculus Infernum [Review]

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Van Helsing’s Curse – Oculus Infernum: A Halloween Tale
2003, Koch Records
Buy the album at Amazon.com

1. Patience (Introduction)
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

Producer:Joe Franco

Van Helsing’s Curse was a side project put together by Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider. The idea was Trans-Siberian Orchestra meets Halloween. On that front, Dee has succeeded. Oculus Infernum is a great collection of symphonic metal with just enough of a dark, spooky vibe that you can throw it on as background music to get yourself in the Halloween mood.

The project was meant to be so much more than that though. Snider envisioned the group touring every October. I know they’ve did a few live shows but I’m not sure whether they ever toured annually. The year that this album was released, the music was licensed out to a Six Flags theme park in New Jersey as the soundtrack to that year’s “Fright Fest”.

Though TSO occasionally features lead vocalists, there is none of that here. Dee Snider narrates a few tracks and there might be some choir chantings going on here or there, but the music is mostly all instrumental. What’s surprising is that the music is well put together. If I went into this blind, I would’ve thought it was Trans-Siberian Orchestra had started writing darker music.

I suppose that’s because TSO guitarist Al Pitrelli is involved with this project. One Amazon.com review states he co-wrote the album with Dee. I can’t find any confirmation he played on this album but I’m leaning towards ‘yes’ (he did play the live shows at least).

If you like TSO and you like Halloween, you will like Oculus Infernum. I hope some day we’ll get new music from this group because it’s a really cool idea.

www.vanhelsingscurse.com

Looking Forward to in 2012…

2012 is shaping up to be another spectacular year for rock music. This is a year that is going to see releases from KISS, Judas Priest, Aerosmith, Van Halen and Black Sabbath. WHAT YEAR IS THIS ?!?

In no particular order, here’s what I’m definitely picking up in 2o12:

AcceptStalingrad (April)
Accept really blew me away with Blood of the Nations. The band has proven there is life without Udo. In fact, I think many people would prefer the current line-up over the classic Accept roster at this point.

Crazy Lixx – Riot Avenue (April)
These solid modern glam-metallers are currently in the studio working on their 3rd album.

KISS – Monster (Spring)
Obviously, this is the album I’m looking forward to most. Sonic Boom was a triumphant return to the studio for these guys, now that the wheels are well-oiled, I think Monster has potential to be even better.

SunstormEmotional Fire (February)
I missed out on the last Sunstorm despite good reviews. In the past year I’ve come to appreciate AOR/melodic rock more so I think I’m going to try out this Joe Lynn Turner-fronted side project when it’s released.

Crashdiet
No date yet set by these sleaze rockers but they are supposedly in the writing process now. I’m guessing sometime in the Fall.

Black Sabbath (Fall/Winter)
Another highly anticipated album for me because I’m really curious what it’s going to sound like. I’m not a big Ozzy fan, either as a solo artist or in Sabbath. I’d much rather see Iommi w/ Geezer go on to new projects (Iommi needs to give Tony Martin another call) but I still will be pre-ordering this one. My expectations aren’t all that high though given who is singing. I feel like he and Sharon are going to bring everyone else down to his mediocre level. Still, it’s exciting to know that new Iommi riffs and solos are coming.

Aerosmith (May)
So much prima donna drama in this camp over the last 5 years or so but hopefully that’s gone long enough to give us a new album. Granted,  I don’t really expect much from these guys in terms of, well… anything anymore. They’re kind of a joke at this point but with the legendary Jack Douglas back on as producer, I have no doubts that he’ll drag something out of them that’s better than the last studio album (2001’s Just Push Play).

Van Halen (February 7)
Geez, it was starting to look like the new Chinese Democracy, wasn’t it? No album title has been released yet but a release date has been and the first single will be released on January 10. Van Halen is another band that has become a joke over the years (despite the last tour getting rave reviews) but I have a good feeling about this album. The first album with Roth since 1984 and 1984! Rumored titles have been The Future and 2012 but I don’t think either will turn out to be true. Maybe IV though..?

Judas Priest
The band hasn’t definitely said a new album is coming in 2012 but they’ve been working on new material for a while now and seem to be looking at 2012 for releasing it. It’s a different songwriting dynamic now though. Instead of Halford/Downing/Tipton, it’s just Halford/Tipton. By all accounts, new guitarist Richie Faulkner is carrying his weight in a live setting so I think the album is going to turn out quite good. I do think it’s time the band delivers a straight ahead metal album though. Angel of Retribution and Nostradamus were good but not excellent. The band really hasn’t given the world that kick-ass classic metal album that they should’ve already done since Halford has come back. They really need a PainkillerHell Bent for Leather or British Steel at this point and keep it simple.

Primal Fear – Unbreakable (late January)
I have heard this album. It’s good. Plan on reviewing it soon.

Mollo/Martin – The Third Cage (late January)
See above. It’s great to have a new album out with Tony Martin on vocals.

Buckcherry
Maybe wishful thinking on my part but they were working on new material this past summer so hopefully something new will appear by next summer.

The Last Vegas The Other Side
No date announced yet but they recently released the free digital Other Side E.P. so I’d imagine we’ll have the new album by the spring.

Slash
His first solo album was one of the best records from the last few years and this time, Myles Kennedy is singing all the songs. Everything is written, all that’s left to do is record the songs so I’m guessing spring for this one as well.

Trans-Siberian OrchestraRomanov: What Kings Must Whisper
The second non-holiday from TSO, it was actually planned to be their first album way back in 1994 but they held on it while trying to get a Broadway musical out of it first. Night Castle was dark and cool while still keeping that trademark blend of metal, rock and classical music, I expect more of the same here.

Dokken
With a deal in place with Frontiers Records for the new album, I’m expecting something special despite never being a huge Dokken fan. Lightning Strikes Again was good enough for me to be interested in a follow-up. The plan, as of this past November, was to have recording completed by February.

Stryper
This album was actually delayed from this past year in favor of recording and releasing the excellent The Covering album of cover songs. According to Michael Sweet, two albums are in the works: the first will be an album of re-recordings (Why? Can we stop this trend, please?)  followed by an album of all-new material written in the same heavy, edgy vein as “God” from The Covering.

M-Pire of Evil
M-Pire of Evil is the renamed Primevil which itself was the reunited late ’80s/early ’90s line-up of Venom that featured Tony “Demolition Man” Dolan on vocals/bass . I’m not well-versed on the comings and goings of the Venom roster but the “classic” line-up is split into two different bands right now. Conrad “Cronos” Lant is leading Venom with a few newer guys while the other two “classic” members (Jeff “Mantas” Dunn & Anthony “Abaddon” Bray) have hooked up again with Dolan for M-Pire of Evil.

They released an EP this past summer called The Creatures of the Black, which was pretty good and I liked the Prime Evil album (the only Venom release I’ve heard from this line-up) so I’m looking forward to a full length album. I couldn’t find anything resembling a release date but going by the band’s Facebook page, it should be soon because they’ve been teasing releasing the album cover.

Tooth And Nail (March)
The band that features 3/4 of the classic Dokken line-up. How does “Wild” Mick Brown still retain a position in Dokken while joining Tooth And Nail? Given Don Dokken’s reputation, you’d think he’d have been fired from Dokken by now. I mean, this band was named after a Dokken album and they’ve gloated over the fact that Don Dokken isn’t in the group (bassist Jeff Pilson will handle vocals). What’s weird is that on the band’s Facebook page, they list current Whitesnake drummer Brian Tichy as a member as well… I guess he’s there for the live shows in case Brown has to go off and play in Dokken?

I’m probably forgetting a few more albums but oh well!

Concert Review: Trans-Siberian Orchestra – 4/27/11

Trans-Siberian Orchestra
4/27/11
Pensacola Civic Center in Pensacola, Florida

My second time seeing TSO and understandably the show was a bit scaled back compared to what they do on their winter tours. Oh, don’t worry, they still have the full orchestra and band, smoke, fire, lazers, video screens, etc. It was just a smaller stage than when I saw them back in 2009 and that’s not because the Civic Center couldn’t handle a full show. As far as I know, the “Beethoven’s Last Night Tour” is the group’s first non-holiday tour so while they can pack ’em in during the holidays, they were probably just being cautious as to how well this tour will be received. I was actually a bit surprised to see them only making use of about a fourth of the arena. It was packed though so I would estimate around 3,000 people were there since the entire arena holds up to 12,000.

Obviously, being called the “Beethoven’s Last Night Tour”, the majority of the evening was devoted to the Beethoven’s Last Night album that was released in 2000 (which was their first non-holiday album). I have never heard that album in its entirety but I think anyone who is a fan of their holiday shows would also enjoy the music here. It’s all done in the same rock/metal/classical style,  it just isn’t about Christmas.

I knew Beethoven’s Last Night probably wasn’t going to be the whole show and luckily it wasn’t. For the encore, things got a bit heavier as the band played a few numbers from Night Castle and also a few Savatage songs as well (“Sleep” and “Chance”). The Beethoven was filled with tons of great songs but I really like all the encore numbers just because they were much heavier and darker. That’s when TSO really showed their heavy metal roots and reminded you that without Savatage, TSO may have never existed.

As for the performances, of course everyone was spot-on all night long. The core of Trans-Siberian Orchestra is Savatage so there was Al Pitrelli & Chris Caffery on guitar, Jeff Plate on drums and Johnny Lee Middleton on bass. I gotta say it was great seeing Pitrelli live, that guy is a monster (as one point during the Beethoven part of the show, he stopped to play a little Hendrix). The last time I saw TSO it was Caffery & Skolnick. Also, another highlight was seeing THE Jeff Scott Soto in person. He played the part of Mephistopheles and what a voice! He also came out for the encore and sang “Another Way You Can Die”. Two other great vocalists I should point out are Rob Evan (who played Beethoven) and Andrew Ross. Narrator Bryan Hicks did a tremendous job as well.

All the other musicians were fantastic like violinist Roddy Chong and all the female vocalists were mind-blowingly good (and sexy!) as well. Everyone is worth mentioning by name but you must forgive me because I can’t seem to find any tour credits at this moment.

While the entire Beethoven album is littered with many great songs, I have to say the encore is what I liked best. I love it when TSO gets fast and furious and heavy and that did definitely that. And it’s a good thing they chose to close the show with a cover of Savatage’s “Chance” because that song is an absolute show-stopper. Everyone came out on stage and it was a great way to cap off the night.

Set List:

Overture
Midnight
Fate
What Good This Deafness
Mephistopheles
What Is Eternal
Mozart and Memories
Vienna
Mozart / Figaro
The Dreams of Candlelight
Requiem (The Fifth)
The Dark
Für Elise
After the Fall
A Last Illusion
This Is Who You Are
Beethoven
Misery
Who Is This Child
A Final Dream

Encore:

Toccata – Carpimus Noctem
The Mountain
Sleep
Better Listen To This
Another Way You Can Die
Carmina Burana
Chance

www.trans-siberian.com

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