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If ever there was an album to whet the appetite before even spinning the disc or hearing a single bar of music then this be it, Opera Diabolicus' '†1614'. Just by the personnel involved. Conceived by composer David Grimoire and lyricist Adrian De Crow, who also perform guitar/keyboards and bass respectively on the album, their aim was to give birth to a "theatrical and dark metal musical". Intrigued? I was, and even more so upon reading that Snowy Shaw and Mats Levén were involved (drums/vocals from the former and just singing from the latter). Add to that already powerful vocal duo singing contributions from Dream Evil's Niklas Isfeldt, Camilla Alisander-Ason, and Amaranthe's Jake E. then expectations are just that little bit higher. And with King Diamond's Andy La Rocque producing/mixing, what could go wrong? Further, there's the promise of "dramatic and dark doom metal with atmospheric, epic and progressive elements" together with "devious Death Metal twists and turns" and comparative mentions of Arcturus, Candlemass, Dimmu Borgir, King Diamond, Therion and Memento Mori. Opera Diabolicus have much to live up to and are evidently confident enough in their own art and the final product to make such assertions. Well, with Shaw being involved with most of said bands, past and present, and to various degrees, and Levén an ex-Therion singer, these are perhaps natural comparisons with the participation of both men. However, albums that promise so much on paper often quell such high expectations through the actual listening experience. And on how many occasions have you seen such an esteemed lineup of musicians fail to deliver? A "too many cooks" syndrome at work. Rather fortunately, '†1614' does deliver all that it promises and then some.

With the album title a reference to the year of Erzsébet Báthory's death, the third track named 'Blood Countess Bathory' and cover art a representation of the countess herself, it would be safe to assume what subject is being dealt with here. It's not new in the metal genre; Cradle of Filth covered the subject for their conceptual work 'Cruelty and the Beast' in 1998. And the Hungarian noblewoman has featured prominently within popular culture during the past 3-4 years with both Julie Delpy and Anna Friel assuming the role for two contrasting movies based on her supposed exploits in a widely debated and contentious history (and the reimagining of Báthory's true intentions and activities is particularly intriguing and, dare I say, iconoclastic, in Friel's portrayal). Anyway, I digress. A quick read through the lyrics for tracks on '†1614' reveals they seem to deal with the fictional resurrection of the countess so it's not mere historical reference utilised by De Crow.

Music-wise, '†1614' covers the broad spectrum of metal genres that have been promised, so elements of doom, symphonic, black, death and progressive are intertwined and seamlessly blended with sonically exciting results. And it's all bound together by a theatrical significance as each singer histrionically vocalises different characters as De Crow's dark tale unfolds. Cleverly layered guitars (of which Eric Rauti also contributes), keyboards (for which Dragonland's Ellias Holmlid is credited too), De Crow's bass and Jonas Heidgert's choral arrangements form richly resonant, heavy and innovative symphonies over Shaw's "drums of doom", creating aurally blackened soundscapes over which Opera Diabolicus' musical theatre comes to life with a plethora of polyvocal utterances. Although the songs are quite a way off the sonic derangement perpetuated by the likes of Arcturus, it's a similar vibe at work here and, for that reason, while the music on '†1614' is largely accessible from the very first listen, at least to a honed metal ear, it'll take a few spins to fully digest, and click with, the layered complexity of the tracks. Perhaps a final word about La Rocque's work on the album too - the man's production and mix is par excellence for it's a very nice sounding record indeed. Highly recommended.
Review by Mark Holmes
30th Jan 2012
1) Overture
2) The Gates
3) Blood Countess Bathory
4) The 13th Guest
5) In Memoriam
6) Mythos Lamia
7) Forbidden
8) Stone by Stone
"...richly resonant, heavy and innovative symphonies...creating aurally blackened soundscapes over which Opera Diabolicus' musical theatre comes to life with a plethora of polyvocal utterances."