The Girl Who Was... Death(Hurdy Gurdy - 1989)
If there ever was a band with a cult following, this has got to be it. Fronted by an enigmatic man that calls himself Mr. Doctor, this mixed Italian/Yugoslavian band usually boasts bewilderingly long 40 to 60 minute compositions, obscure references for the avid fan to research, wretchedly poor distribution of their albums, a smorgasbord of musical styles in a progressive or opera like blend, and probably the most bizarre and unapproachable vocal performances ever recorded. Lets start with the compositional critique: The only consistency throughout this 39 minute track is perhaps the mood, which is gothic and dark. Otherwise, the composition smoothly flows from rock opera (a darker The Who) and creepy soundtracks, to dark romanticism, choir filled funeral marches, syrupy haunting music, 19th century classicism, heavy or gothic metal, devilish vaudeville twirls, a violin jig, and so on. At times it brings to mind Cradle of Filth without the metal and it is never awkward or clumsy in its transitions. The ingredients for this rich soundscape consist of mostly piano and keyboards, and mixed uses of guitar, bass, drums, 2 superb violins, a chorus, a harp and of course, Mr.Doctor's vocals. These vocals are usually scattered in between excellent instrumental sections and accompanied only by a quieter piano for maximum creepy effect, but they are used in various other ways as well. And this brings us to the most difficult element of the music: While the music is not as avant-garde as some people think and is mostly unique in its eclecticism and the way it was all put together, the vocals however are not of this planet. They shriek, groan, rattle, squeak, warble, croak, whisper, sing, whine, and scream, often all within the space of two phrases. They make me think of the goblins in the movie Legend (even the accent is similar). Some will find them unbearable and gimmicky, some will overlook them in view of the otherwise great music, and the rare few will actually find them brilliantly done. I personally find that they make the music impossible to take seriously, but occasionally they do work well and thankfully, he actually sings and is under control in most of the latter half of this album. When the vocal antics start up I find myself thinking that I can never keep such a silly album, but as soon as they go away, I fall in love with the music again. I must have heard it a dozen times already and I still find it hard to make up my mind. This one may appeal the most to rock aficionados as it contains the most rock and metal elements of any Devil Doll album, but don't expect the huge orchestral sound from the latter albums as well. I think it's very worthwhile and a fascinating, enjoyable experience that grew on me, but try it at your own risk.
Eliogabalus(Hurdy Gurdy - 1990)
Comparing two Devil Doll albums is like trying to compare, say, two European capitals. It's easy to get lost in the myriad details, slight differences and new elements, and in order to sum up the essence of each and truly compare the overall effect, one has to be intimately acquianted. It would be easy to say that this album features more of the same variety as in the first but there is an overall, elusive difference, so that would be too easy. To my ears, this album features a much stronger 'rock' opera feel and is less atmospheric and creepy. This is due to many factors, the most important of which are: More vocals and emphasis on lyrics, fewer extreme and disquieting vocal antics, a more theatrical and jumpy approach to the composition, less focus, and a relatively lighter mood. So the good part is that the vocals, although still somewhat eccentric, aren't annoying, but unfortunately I find the music much less gripping, dark and focused as well. There is some progression and experimentation in the last third of the album. Some of it is brilliant (check out the tuba and avant-garde dissonance), but the album as a whole is too theatrical and lacking in structure and therefore power to my taste. If rock operas like The Who or Trans Siberian Orchestra are your thing and you would love to hear a much darker, richer and more progressive piece of work then check this out. I found it lacking.
Sacrilegium(Hurdy Gurdy - 1992)
Like Mr Bungle, one never knows what schizophrenic intermezzos, fascinating musical absurdities and other twilight zone elements may pop into this release. This album finds Devil Doll delving deeper into the unknown and the avant-garde, painting a 50 minute vast portrait of the sinister life in and beyond the grave. Well that's the theme of this quintessential Devil Doll creation in any case, featuring the mind's travels of a man being put to his rest amongst maggots and dirt while he revisits his now expired life. As you can imagine, the composition is as varied, dark and expansive as the subject matter, even more so than in previous releases. To comprehensively describe this creation, one would have to write a review as long as the composition. Although the album is all over the place, in this case the experience can be taken as a journey through soundscapes to good advantage. Forget about structure and development - the only nod in that direction is the appearance of a theme or two that pops up every once in a while with variations. This is enough to keep the whole insane piece together to a certain extent. As an experience, the journey is fascinating, rich and vastly epic in scope to the point of bewilderment. It can easily leave you exhausted halfway through though if you're not feeling up to it. As compared to previous releases, the overall sound is more 'orchestrated' (synth) or atmospheric and has less to do with rock, but it is also much richer and more creative, perhaps demented. Some of the new elements added to Herr Doctor's repertoire here are tangos, waltzes, Eastern European folk dances or laments played on violins and cellos, richer choir arrangements, better orchestral sounding keyboards, a pipe organ, more dissonant experimentations and of course, a few more voices from the 'Man of a Thousand Voices'. These highly eccentric and varied vocals have been much improved on this time, being less annnoying to my ears and actually contributing to the fast-changing vibrant postcards of sound. They are still hard to swallow at times but they grow on you. All this is of course in addition to the standard Devil Doll ingredients from previous outings. A vast, brilliant release that needs a special mood to enjoy. Not for everyone.
The Sacrilege of Fatal Arms(Hurdy Gurdy - 1993)
A vastly reworked version of Sacrilegium for use as a soundtrack in a movie with 25 extra minutes of music. Yes, that means this album consists of a single 70+ minute track. The additions are either in the form of thematic variations and repetitions, lengthened sections, more demented intermezzos, or atmospheric sounds. Some of the reworked sections are played on different instruments and have a more bombastic sound. So as you can imagine, this is a mess. The original pushed the limits of an audience and somehow worked with a transcendental dark grip of a story being told, but in this case I think too much fiddling killed the magical goose. This mad creation works a whole lot better as a fast changing experience than a lengthy soundtrack (I'm sure it did wonders to the movie though although I haven't seen it). On the one hand, it fakes more coherence by the recapitulation of, and variations on the themes, but on the other hand it just goes on and on and on. Tiresome.
Dies Irae(Hurdy Gurdy - 1996)
Enter the Slovenian Philarmonic Orchestra, and with it, a full realisation of Mr Doctor's capabilities and vision. This was simply meant to be. Most newcomers to orchestrations understandably balk at the huge array of instruments and options available in an orchestra and merely abuse this power as a single backing instrument, with some separation into the string section (and the ever popular use of tremolo), and at times, the brass section. Rock composers don't realise that they can separate individual instruments or sub-groups of sound for a much richer experience, have the oboe play the theme alone for a mystical moment, have the French horn play a lament in the background, and so on. Mr Doctor does the same here, but this critique does not apply to him simply because he already has his own array of solo instruments that enrichens the sound: The violin, a beautifully played cello, the guitars which feature a strong comeback here, the pipe-organ and choir, a new double-bass and of course, the ubiquitous piano. All this is blended amazingly well in a somewhat lesser schizophrenic smorgasbord of styles this time around. The bewildering Devil Doll signature is there however, in a more bombastic, powerful and dark sound that will appeal to metal fans. Beware of Mr Doctor's notorious vocals that reprise their jarring role of the debut again with extreme schizophrenia and quickly changing, highly eccentric voices. He seems to want to color each word or predicate of the lyrics in different tones. And as if he got tired of his 'Thousand Voices', he draughts a female soprano to reinforce the vocal repertoire and attempts to inflict on her some of the same dementia (just listen to her glissandos to see what I mean). Compared to Sacrilegium, this is a safer and more consistent release in terms of sound and style (that's not saying much), but on the other hand, it is somehow less coherent as well and harder to listen to from start to finish. This together with the very annoying vocals makes me turn to previous releases instead, despite the rich sound. For the first time, the 46 minute composition has been cut up into tracks on the CD for user friendly purposes (one stand out is track 10 that sounds like Elend in its non-musical postcards from hell). The vocals make me wish at times that they would release a purely instrumental work but then it wouldn't be Devil Doll would it? Recommended to the adventurous only. However, be warned that it doesn't grow on you as well as the previous recommended releases.