Karda Estra - Voivode Dracula
Karda Estraís creations have always been on an altogether higher plain, and Voivode Dracula is no exception. The man responsible for the music, Richard Wileman, is one of the best progressive, contemporary classical music composers to grace the planet today and deserved of wider recognition.
Due to the subject matter of this work, ex-Hairless Heart Herald editor and vampire in waiting, Chris White, was the obvious choice to review the album, though none of us on the team actually see much daylight.
"Oh dear Lord! What is this that draws goose flesh upon my arms and brings a tear of imminent and tragic loss to the eye on a pleasant summer's afternoon?" "Fear not dear child 'tis only Karda Estra's 'Voivode Dracula'." "Fear bloody not!? Who are you kidding?"
'Dracula' must have been rendered in ever-imaginable way in film, paper and on stage but I've never known it be recreated as music alone. And soundtracks don't count so don't whine! This is not one of those jobs, either, where an artist bolts on an idea to his latest collection of riffs and themes and calls it a concept album.
Karda Estra have set themselves a momentous task here and come through with flying colours. They have served the subject matter with no concessions to limitations of instruments or ability. Where specialist musicians have been required they've been drafted in. Where only a certain sound would work, they've got it. This is 'Dracula' as a completely emotional experience without dialogue or sight, the whole vigorous concoction distilled as a potent concentrate. There should perhaps be a warning on the sleeve to not close your eyes while listening to this.
The eroticism in the original story is almost invisible to our modern eyes, toned down for the ladiesí delicate sensibilities, but this disc is a veritable swoonfest! Get yer bodice on! One of the scariest lines, I always thought, was when Renfield, through the bars of his asylum cell, says to Lucy ď I pray, dear lady, that I may never see your sweet face again!Ē That feeling pervades much of this album. Not just poignancy but a palpable sense of terrible and utterly unavoidable tragedy laced with longing, sweet and fatal. Death is just the preface to a dreadful vaporous almost drugged-dull existence of hell on earth.
Most treatments of the story, I feel, deal with vampirism as an erotic and powerful existence to be desired. The Victorians knew the dubious pleasures of the poppy and Iím sure Stoker drew on that both for pleasure and pain; temptation and withdrawal (Mina beckoning to her husband, Arthur, like a junkie begging for just one more fix etc.)
Listening to this music itís entirely understandable why a stake though the heart might be the ultimate prize, feared and secretly longed for by a vampire as the only possible release from an eternity of suffering that one cannot even appreciate through senses dulled like some macabre fever victim. (I felt the same way about the music of Gary Numan but for entirely different reasons. I digress).
Mr Jem warned me that this might sound like classical music if only for the instruments and structure used (Iím one of those who feel I should like classical but canít). ĎVoivode Draculaí is how, to my mind at least, classical should sound. Thereís no grinding repetition here and themes twist and twirl like swaying mist rewriting themselves this way and that, deceitful and playful. And very bloody scary! I hope one of them doesnít drift back across my mindís ear, as they can, when Iím in bed tonight. Itís just too evocative.
In each telling and retelling of the vampire story each director or author likes to dangle us between the two cultures of Victorian England and rural Transylvania so that for a moment we are fascinated and mesmerised by the contrasts. We are also reminded that we have come to a precipice and that what we thought safe and sure may be about to be lost to us forever. Wileman uses the two musical traditions to place us there more than once to entrance and disorient and put us in the shoes of the characters he paints and to sense their own internal dialogue, unease and conflict.
Track 1 Voivode Dracula
Hundreds of years old, he has dozens of facets to his character, each a wonder and a horror, displayed in turn here. But you are caught in contemplation of him like a spider in his web as his eyes flick open at the end of the piece. He dazzles even while sleeping.
Track 2 Lucy-Festina Lente
A perfect painting in sound of Lucyís character and situation; a proper Victorian miss about to become a missus but on the brink of a bigger change too. At once frightening and challenging, daring and tempting, but for all the trials of the supernatural that she must endure, it is her own strength of character that is her ultimate salvation. A Victorian woman of such strength is a powerful creature in her own right too.
Track 3 The Land Beyond the Forest
Beginning with rural charm this rapidly falls into unease as Harker is drawn first into the Countís castle and then his deeper clutches. The drum slows, the heartbeat of a man falling under a spell and then illness while his mind becomes increasingly fitful, gradually forced to accept what it is still unwilling to even consider.
Track 4 Mina
Here is someone reaching for something half forgotten, being sidetracked, shown something they would surely much rather have. This happens repeatedly. Then dischord and horror realising what this prize truly means! Clarinet and delicious piano (sometimes strummed?) with zither suggested marking the cultures of Mina and Dracula but this time one is insinuating itself into the other attempting to subdue it. ďYou donít want that my dear. Wouldnít you rather have this instead? See how pretty it isĒ.
Track 5 Kisses for Us All
Mr. Harker meets the Vampettes. The naughty ladies do their stuff on the defenceless estate agent. I bet these pages were well thumbed by the gents of old! Itís also one of the creepiest scenes in the whole story. The Count catches them at it, reminds them that Harker is his and, donít forget, by way of recompense gives them a baby! It made me shudder to see them cooing over it before feeding I can tell you! Thereís lots of middle-European folk dance influence here (these ladies are natives, after all) reduced to a hypnotic sway as they put the fix on poor Jonathan. Lots of hints too at passing time. Suggestions of clock chimes. Eternity is offered but Draculaís plans are beginning to bear fruit and things are about to start moving rapidly now so there is a sense of anticipation too.
Which is why it seems to be a strange place to end the disk. Doesnít this leave the story (and the music) unresolved? While Wileman is the undisputed master of the minor (sort of pun there, you see, because, well I..anyway), it seems heís left us hanging. Perhaps he feels that the real core of the story, all the main themes and influences are expressed by this time and any more would be repetition.
Each character is drawn along with the influences on it all complete and independent of the storyís timeline. This is very clever because it allows Karda Estra to go for the throat (or jugular) as it were and to hell with the foreplay. You want to know Mina? Here she is, simple entranced and damned. Here is Lucy, true of heart but conflicted, fascinated, enraptured but ultimately triumphant. And Dracula himself has the richest piece of music, glamorous, sly entrancing and lethal.
This a remarkable work, truly! Buy it now but leave it where the light can get at it.
Voivod (also spelled Vojvod, Vojvoda, Wojwod, Wojewoda, Voivode, Voivoda, Voievod) is a term of Slavic etymology denoting a military commander, later the governor of a province (from "voi", plural "voie" - "warrior(s)", and "vodit'" - "to lead"). It was used by medieval Hungarian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Serbian etc. states, similar to the Turkish "Sanjaqbey". It was the highest military rank in armies of Montenegro, Serbia, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and among the Chetniks. The term is often translated into English as "duke" and vice versa.
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