Van Helsing’s Curse – Oculus Infernium
Concept and Story by Dee Snider
Who says the concept album is dead? The art form, which dominated the ’70s post-Woodstock music scene, allowed an otherwise respected artist to wallow in whatever metaphysical slop they worshiped at the time, and inflict it on their installed fan base. Not that all concepts were bad, mind you, but they just got out of hand, like large hair or tail fins. This Dee Snider-driven concept falls firmly in the “Good Concept” pile, with a simple, clearly explained story. An Evil Entity terrorizes a small town until an innocent boy and a tough old biker dude take the monsters by the horns and save the day. (Thank god CNN never shows up — we all know how evil feeds on evil in the cable news business.)
What sets this Halloween-oriented item apart is a clever mix of heavy metal and hard rock riffs with classical pieces such as “Carmina Burana” and “Night on Bald Mountain.” The blending of evocative melodies and modern chord structure results in a very listenable, almost operatic work, with situations and characters told in a musical, leitmotif style. Repeated listening reveals new structures in the music, which sometimes sound like an animation soundtrack, sometimes an air guitar contest and most of the time like classical music appreciation class taught by an incredibly cool teacher. You really wish this would turn into some sort of video you could use to back up your next gothic themed party.
Dee Snider (ex-Twisted Sister, present morning drive time jock) provides narration over a superb set of musicians, lead by Joe Franco’s drumming and Nick Cipriano’s fervent keyboards. There’s real skill here, not just in the playing, but also in the detailed, complex and meticulous composition that lifts this far above typical classical music interpretation by now defunct pop stars. I see this as a long hair and tattooed remake of Peter and the Wolf, without all that boring business about French horns and oboes. Let your kid brother listen, he’ll never suspect he’s receiving PBS-grade culture.