When word of this rock opera treatment of Dracula from none other than The Rock King and Trond Holter (current guitarist for Rock King’s solo albums) hit the streets, let’s just say there was a difference of opinion between AMG and myself as to the merits thereof. Never much of a Jornophile, AMG wanted no mention of it on his pristine webpage. But how can we ignore a Broadway-inspired concept album about that immortal Lord of Darkness, Dracula Von Impalerstein? Especially when the Norwegian Wunderkind wants so badly to bring heavy rock to the mysterious lands of Transylvania. Obviously we can’t, so despite dire threats to shut down the site forever, you’ll now hear all about this ambitious, atrociously named project, allegedly three years in the making. Can you hear the boiling blood of a certain ruthless blog overlord? I can. Now, limber up those jazz hands!
If the very idea of “The Voice of Rock” shaking the bones of such a famous monster story gives you the willies, it likely won’t help when I tell you this baby was born to play on community theater stages everywhere. It’s more shit show than horror show, and as with many of Jorn’s solo outings, the quality fluctuates wildly. Uneven as it is, it’s an inspired mess with a tongue-in-cheek super-schlock appeal that may confer a cult charm.
Things stroll out of the mausoleum in typical Jornish fashion with “Hands of Your God” offering the mid-tempo, bluesy metal he’s known for, albeit heavier and lyrically darker. It’s serviceable, but not as gripping as an opening stanza should be. Things improve dramatically on album highpoint “Walking on Water” where Jorn gets to bully us with his burly barroom voice and rock a big, macho chorus. He displays considerable gravitas in a very good song and for a moment, just a moment, you start to believe Jorn is Vlad the Bad.
Then “Swing of Death” comes along and pulls the cape out from under your dreams, hopes and childlike naiveté. Approximating what a Holiday Inn lounge act would deliver when given jazz requests, the title track staggers between “Stray Cat Strut” rockabilly, quasi-jazz and eventually poppy hair metal tinged with regret. It bears traces of stale Meatloaf too and it might have worked as a transition piece in Rocky Horror, but here it drives a stake through the album’s seriousness.
From there it’s a wild rollercoaster ride, leaving the listener fearing what lurks behind every twist and turn. Decent moments like “Masquerade Ball” are offset by shockingly cornball tunes like “Save Me,” a duet where Jorn and Norwegian songbird Lena Floitmoen swap profound lines like “why can’t you see that we belong together, just die a little bit before you live forever” and “I don’t want your kiss of death, I think I’ll tell my father.” The music is of a frightfully faux-Savatage theatrical variety and you can almost visualize swirling smoke and dancing ghouls flitting to and fro behind the singers. If this song ever gets hungry, it could live off its own ham-handedness.
“River of Tears” and “Into the Dark” work, though the former has godawful lyrics and the latter is too close to Evanescence for my tastes. The best moment on the back half comes with the unbridled instrumental insanity of “True Love Through Blood” where Trond dabbles in nu-metal before going full Epica with a cosmic butt-ton of neo-classical symphonics and one face melting solo after another. It’s not subtle and even Yngwie might call it overdone, but it’s amusing nonetheless.
Jorn sounds as good as ever, but the man’s righteous David Coverdale wail is only as good as the song it appears in and some of these are not up to snuff. And the lyrics Jorn is asked to deliver…dear God, the lyrics! These low-wattage quotables doom the man to portray the Lord of Vampires as “creepy, pale-faced guy hitting on you in a 70s disco.” Lines like “Let’s get down and dirty, come and lay down on my bed. Tomorrow when you wake up you’ll be dead” are tough to stomach and though I’m sure they were intended as unadulterated camp, they still hurt my ethereal soul.
Trond Holter earns his musical keep throughout, with some wild and wooly guitar work, hyperkinetic solos and acres of keyboard noodling running the gamut of intrusiveness and tact. The man is talented and a lot of the music is interesting and diverse, though the cheddar factor is often at critical mass.
When the dust and cobwebs settle, this is a case study of everyone trying too damn hard. All things considered though, this could have been a whole lot worse and cheese rashes and cringe-wrinkles aside, at times this is an amusing piece of something, I don’t know what exactly.
It appears Jorn and company plan to take this beast to the stage for the full-bore rock opera treatment, and I’ll admit I’d pay a pretty penny to see this mess live, if only for that “is this real life?” moment. Hearty hails to Saint Jorn and his merry moustache of metal as he embarks on his off-off-Broadway tour. I’ll be eagerly awaiting Frankenstein: Screw That Neck.