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After the weaker "The wolves go hunt their prey" that had many heavier and thrash influenced passages and less harmonic, symphonic and magic moments, The Vision Bleak decided to not follow the path of commercial heaviness but to create another atmospheric masterpiece. This album is nearly as strong as the band's first two albums. Most of the songs are extremely atmospheric, symphonic and intense and the band already shows that it wants go back to the roots with the dramatic and poetic introduction "A curse of the grandest kind" that gets you in a creepy and intense atmosphere even if the song is maybe a few moments too long for an introduction. The typical horror metal topics are back and better elaborated than on the previous album. But the band didn't copy the style of the first two albums, but took some parts of the heaviness of the third album and even chose to do some experimental songs and try out something completely new. That's what makes this album really diversified and it all sounds very fresh and inspiring.
A good example for the little changes within the sound of the band is the song "Mother Nothingness". It is probably the slowest and longest song that the band has ever written has a strong doom metal touch. A very creepy and slow intro, dark chorals and an epic and a little bit overlong structure present the band in a completely new style. The new elements on this album work even better in the song "A romance with the grave" that combines the heaviness of the last album with the atmosphere of the second. The vocals are much more aggressive than usual and the growls are dominant on this song that is maybe the most twisted and surprising one on the whole album.
But we also get the band's typical catchy Horror Metal masterpieces like the very spooky and slow "I dined with the swans" that works well on both versions included on the bonus disc. The harsh and extreme voice of Niklas Kvarforth fits perfectly with the spooky piano and is even more interesting than the regular version. The band is able to innovate here by staying close to their roots and delivering another typical masterpiece. "The foul within" could have been placed on the band's second album with its haunting and hypnotic female vocals and dramatic and majestic passages. "The outsider" is catchy as hell and very addicting and could have been found on the band's first album. This song delivers everything The Vision Bleak represents and is an instant killer that you can't get out of your mind. It is my favourite song on this excellent album.
The other songs "Descend into maelstrom" and "He who paints the black of night" have both a great quality and are typical The Vision Bleak songs to open and close the album but they are not as surprising, epic, innovating or catchy as the four songs that I've mentioned but rather heavy stuff.
The limited edition includes a very well done deluxe booklet, an excellent cover song "By the misery of fate he was haunted" by the quite unknown Czech extreme metal band Master's Hammer that you wouldn't even expect to be a cover song because he has the typical band's style and works very well with the rest of the album and finally, there are a few short instrumental and classical versions of some songs of the band that drown you into a very inspiring and profound mood of melancholic tranquility.
There is really not much to argue about this album. It is only a personal choice that I prefer the first two albums and especially my favourite album of all times "Carpathia" to this album, because this album is nearly as good and will absolutely satisfy anyone who likes this original band and dark and inspiring music. The differences of quality between those three albums are very small indeed (the only "weak" points, if there are any on this albums, are the length of "Mother Nothingness" and the a little bit too ordinary and usual "He who paints the black of night") and it is only "The wolves go hunt their prey" which I didn't like as much as the other three ones.
I must confess to having never paid Vision Bleak a great deal of mind until they confirmed their London date with Alcest, and then for the past couple of months I’ve been uttering the words “must hear some Vision Bleak” until this finally pinged into my inbox. My expectations weren’t especially high; despite being on what I dubbed to be one of the most consistent labels in another recent review, that is, Prophecy Productions, I have heard less than favourable things and aside from that had drawn an assumption in my own head having most likely got my wires crossed with a rather uninteresting progressive power metal band of a very similar name. Ho hum.
The good thing about low expectations is that it’s not difficult to be pleasantly surprised when you hear it and turns out to be rather good; so much easier than on the numerous occasions when a band has been hyped up by the press and then you discover for yourself how mediocre they actually are. With the case of Vision Bleak I was very much pleasantly surprised. There’s a real sense of adventure to this album that feels rather like embarking on a voyage after stumbling upon a mouldy old map up in your attic that leads to unconquered land. We get straight to the chase here with ‘A Curse Of The Grandest Kind’ which sweeps in with a real sense of foreboding and gradually climbs the mast, the music rising with epic grandeur around the unyielding spoken word of Ulf Theodor Schwadorf. At this point what we hear is a very Teutonic bellow that kind of has me wanting to compare to Till Lindemann of Rammstein fame. It’s rather poetic as well.
As we ‘Descend Into Maelstrom’ we get to the thick of the storm and really get to know what they are about. Things sail full speed ahead with a true sense of purpose; riffs strong as cast iron while the keyboards rise up around the edges adding a real sense of pomp and spectacle to proceedings. There is a nice crunch to their sound, with a sturdy gothic metal foundation that drives things along without getting swamped by the keyboards and orchestration. ‘A Romance With The Grave’ stomps in with a really bold and brazen riff which is broken into by a rather cheeky sinuous melody which makes this one especially memorable. That romanticism perhaps shines through in a Gothic manner and conjures up necrotic imagery of the graveyard after nightfall.
‘I Dined With The Swans’ plays out with a rather dreamy, floaty waltz and it certainly has a swan-like grace about it. Interestingly enough, an alternative version of this one is currently being recorded with Niklas Kvarforth on vocals which I for one am curious to hear. ‘Mother Nothingness (The Triumph Of Ubbo Sathla)’ sends signals across the radar, trailing through murky waters at a slow pace creating an eerie atmosphere. This one is rather dark and brooding with a sorrowful tone, and towards the end the vocals really shine as they creep up into a rich, semi-operatic style that sounds incredibly dramatic. I find there to be quite a nautical theme to this which is projected well in the music, albeit in a more understated and mature way than certain other bands, and let’s hope their ship don’t get seized by pirates, yarr! The keyboards on ‘The Foul Within’ swipe crudely across the mix, haunting it with its creepy horror-esque tone. This one flits between a strong metallic chorus and a calm, contemplative verse and the female vocals while fleeting are a nice touch.
Overall I found this to be an enjoyable album that exceeded my expectations considerably. The songs are both catchy and epic; there’s a strong metallic crunch that is built around with atmospherics without getting swallowed up. Another shameless plug (one of several on this update); this is available in a limited edition hardback 56 page book with a bonus disc which includes the Kvarforth version of ‘I Dined With The Swans’, along with exclusive artwork and photography. Very nice if you have 38 euros spare. The real bonus now is that I have two bands to look forward to watching next month; here’s to a night of pine scented and sepia toned metal!
Written by Luci Herbert for http://www.metalteamuk.net
Gothic music in the metal industry is dominated by prima donnas and an unhealthy obsession with fronting bands with supposedly attractive women in order to win the hearts of red blooded teenage males. All the while modern gothic music seems to want to empower the few young teenage girls who follow it to believe they too can front their own gothic band which, of course, is bound to gain critical success as long as she dresses both provocatively and seductively. A lot of modern day gothic music feels far too synthetic for my liking and that has nothing to do with the all-too-often plastic dress sense of its members with their corsets and fake hair extensions. The problem with the idea of gothic metal is that is has become far too predictable in its evolution and is experiencing stunted growth. The genre cannot exist in its current form for very long because its formulaic approach is as boring as it is tedious. Occasionally I find myself enjoying the odd female fronted band simply because of the energy behind the performance but, there is no doubt that the genre needs an overhaul and to focus on bands actually doing the right thing. This is where The Vision Bleak comes into the picture.
I recently attended a live show which consisted of a line-up of local lads Fen, the experimental Fjoergyn, the much loved Alcest on their first tour and The Vision Bleak, the headliners. To my surprise, the audience seemed to treat it as if Alcest were headlining because after their performance had ended, which was marvellous by the way, the crowd began to leave. Personally, when I pay to see a show, I stay for the entire thing. At the time England’s troubles with public transport and strikes had been temporarily resolved, so I cannot fathom why people felt the need to depart during The Vision Bleaks set. I found it a tad disrespectful and I couldn’t help but enjoy the show more now that their backs were against the wall and, despite feeling sorry for them, The Vision Bleak, which consists of Markus Stock and Tobias Schönemann (as well as a session musicians for their live performances), were actually excellent all night long, though their set required a lengthier time on stage. At the beginning of the night I had very few expectations of the German duo. I hadn’t heard them before the gig, but knew of the musicians through other notable acts like Autumnblaze and Empyrium.
I had expected the two musicians to be adept at performing in a live setting as I understand they’ve toured extensively before and, according to people who attended previous gigs, they were an absolute riot in a live setting. Thankfully, having rushed home to listen to the latest full-length, entitled ‘Set Sail To Mystery’, the band have carried their endeavours in a live setting over onto their studio performances which are as energetic as a person on copious amounts of speed. The Vision Bleak give a really authentic feeling through their music, as they seem to be passionate about what they do, which instantly improves the listening experience. As I listen to them do their thing, I truly get the feeling that I am mentally being taken on a dark and twisted journey through all of the classic gothic novels and poems of yesteryear. The use of Lord Byron’s ‘Manfred’ in the introductory song is a good example of this. Not only are the German duo entertaining, but they’re also educational! As a fan of literature and all things dark, it would seem The Vision Bleak are catered to my personality. The band are obviously very fanatical about what they do, performing in a get-up which is gothic by nature with a wonderfully dark setting lit up by atmospheric lighting and candles.
Even the lyrics seem to play a fair part in the building of the dark atmosphere and surroundings as every word seems to revolve around connotations of gothic inspired tales of dark, grim and gruesome The atmospheric tendencies don’t stop there, but there is a lot more to The Vision Bleak than meets the eye. With the rather eerie introduction out of the way, the band begins a full blown assault with the likes of ‘Descend Into Maelstrom’ and ‘A Romance With The Grave’, the latter being my favourite song on the album. Songs like these focus more on a heavier touch than the slower, more ponderous build-ups on songs like ‘I Dined With The Swans’. Unfortunately, these slower songs take far longer to grab my attention with some of them never doing so, though the bonus material does feature a performance from Shining front man Niklas adding to the credibility of certain songs. The duo would benefit more from focusing on riff-heavy songs like ‘A Romance With The Grave’ which draws out that favoured energetic quality and fun-loving sound, though the duo always remain a serious outfit.
In a live setting even, it was these two aforementioned songs that really took command of the crowd, giving them a reason to nod their heads furiously and get swept up in the sheer energy, which is massive, of the songs. Tobias was the main reason for this as his performance, in the forefront of the band, was huge. On the studio album, he provides the clean vocals, which are exceptional (and make-up most of the vocal contribution on the album with Markus occasionally piping in with generic growls) and apt in their haunting portrayal of old horror movies and picturesque gothic novels based in stunning cathedrals, cemeteries and wonderfully crafted buildings. The lack of a female fronted vocalist is actually a nice change, as is the hard and heavy approach of the guitars and percussion, in particular. Though keyboards do feature, especially well on songs like ‘The Outsider’, giving the album a more majestic touch, the symphonic structures are toned down more than I had expected. Usually, the keyboards provide a really overbearing symphonic tone to modern gothic records, but not here.
They compliment both the clean and harsh textures of The Vision Bleak, which includes the two differing vocal styles of Tobias and Markus, which come to life on ‘The Outsider’ with two exceptional performances. The bass is generally very hidden beneath the depths of the atmosphere. The bass doesn’t seem to have much of a place amidst the bombastic guitars, stiff percussion and vocal approaches. Occasionally the bass does come to life, but this is usually only for a few moments and never prolonged periods of time. The charm with this German band isn’t in the bass anyway, so I don’t focus too much on that aspect of the album. In fact, it’s very difficult to focus on being analytical because the sheer energy and massive performance of the duo overtakes and overrides any negative aspect of the album. ‘Set Sail To Mystery’ is easily likeable and favourable given the extent of the troubles in the gothic genre, but that doesn’t mean to say this isn’t a genuinely good album because it is. The animated atmosphere, life and passion throughout the course of this records duration make it a hit on almost every level.
It’s been three years since The Vision Bleak’s deathship last set sail with The Wolves Go Hunt Their Prey, but the Bavarian horror metal duo have returned in grand style with their fourth album, Set Sail To Mystery. As always, Schwadorf and Constanz bring plenty of authentically gothic and romantic atmosphere to their work, without descending into overblown goth-metal melodrama. The album opens with ‘A Curse Of The Grandest Kind’, a stirringly epic orchestral arrangement of sombre minor-key strings, brass, pounding martial timpani and snare-drum rolls, Constanz reciting a malevolent incantation from Lord Byron’s 1817 poem ‘Manfred’:
And a magic voice and verse
Hath baptiz'd thee with a curse…
After this, ‘Descend Into Maelstrom’ explodes into action with an urgent, chugging, Metallica-esque riff and solid rock drumming predominating over the orchestral atmospherics and peals of thunder, leaving the listener in little doubt that, for all their frockcoats and facepaint, The Vision Bleak are first and foremost a metal band.
The next two tracks, ‘I Dined With The Swans’ and ‘A Romance With The Grave’, are pretty much pitched at opposite ends of TVB’s musical range. ‘I Dined With The Swans’ is slow and ghoulishly romantic, the first-person narrative of a demented murderer with Konstanz getting thoroughly into character with vocals that could almost be classic Alice Cooper. ‘A Romance With The Grave’, though, despite its gothic title, is easily the hardest track on the album, sounding again a lot like Metallica, though with a eerie, undulating synth line floating above the crunchy, energetic riff. I recently interviewed Schwadorf for Terrorizer magazine (#195), and in an unpublished part of the interview, he discussed these two songs:
[A Romance With The Grave] is a headbanging one, yeah, and funnily, it was the first song we wrote for the album. It was a little bit like maybe a leftover, it wasn’t written for The Wolves Go Hunt Their Prey, but it was the first idea I had, the first riff for the new record. I think it’s kinda ironic we used this really romantic title, and then we have this headbanging song for it…. Then I think the second song we did was ‘I Dined With The Swans’, and that’s completely different. And you know, it’s always the first couple of ideas or riffs you have that set the mood for the whole record, and with these two extremes, the very slow, super-atmospheric ‘…Swans’ song and then the headbanging ‘Romance…’ one, that kind of set the mood for the album, what we were going to do for Set Sail To Mystery.
‘A Romance With The Grave’ isn’t quite on the same level as TVB’s signature song, ‘Lone Night Rider’, but it was enthusiastically received on the band’s recent tour, and it’s equally suitable for headbanging to or doing that mystical wavy-hand dance that goths do!
‘The Outsider’ pays TVB’s customary homage to cult horror writer HP Lovecraft, but the following track, ‘Mother Nothingness (The Triumph Of Ubbo Sathla)’ is more interesting, being the longest track on the album at over eight minutes, and it’s something of a departure for TVB, being very doomy, with vast primordial respirations leading into a slow, dirgy riff, suffused with baleful majesty. It’s far from being extreme doom metal, but fans of bands like Pantheist or My Dying Bride will lap this up. There are operatic vocals towards the end of the track, provided by guest singer Thomas Helm of Empyrium, Noekk and Sun Of The Sleepless. (Ubbo Sathla is a monstrous, amorphous fertility deity invented by the fantasy writer Clark Ashton Smith, a contemporary and close friend of HP Lovecraft.) Set Sail To Mystery’s closing track, ‘He Who Paints The Black Of Night’, combines hard-driving riffs with tremolo soloing, orchestral drama, and some female soprano vocals courtesy of Sophia Brommer, who featured much more prominently on TVB’s second album, Carpathia.
Overall, Set Sail To Mystery is a more diverse collection of songs than either Carpathia or The Wolves Go Hunt Their Prey. Carpathia was a concept album, with an emphasis on orchestral atmosphere, whilst Wolves… was a much more straightforward metal album. Set Sail… combines elements of both these approaches, along with some innovations, such as the doom metal of ‘Mother Nothingness’. My personal preference is for the more metal-oriented Wolves…, but Set Sail To Mystery is certainly not a disappointment, and ‘A Romance With The Grave’ in particular looks set to become a permanent fixture in TVB’s live repertoire.
The album is available in three different editions, the standard jewel-case CD, a deluxe digipack which comes with a bonus CD featuring seven exclusive tracks, most notably a version of I Dined With The Swans featuring vocals by Kvarforth (Shining Skitliv etc) and a cover of the Master’s hammer song ‘By The Misery of Fate He Was Haunted’. Most sumptuous of all is the 1000-copy limited-edition artbook, which has both CDs housed within a 56-page hardcover book.
This review was originally written for Judas Kiss webzine:
Three years after its last release, The Wolves Go Hunt Their Prey, Germany’s powerhouse duo The Vision Bleak returns with a new gothic metal offering called Set Sail to Mystery. In keeping with the long tradition of true gothic metal hinged on the very formula that makes gothic metal a viable genre, the latest release is yet another plus for the band.
Aside from the current trend of “mall Goths” that infiltrated both our shopping centers and our music, some bands actually have the fortitude to stick with the correct gothic blueprint and create good music. The Vision Bleak is one of the very few bands that manage to do this with every release. Not quite doom, not quite power, not completely symphonic, TVB combines the best elements of these sub-genres and performs nicely throughout Set Sail to Mystery. Somewhat reminiscent of Italy’s Devil Doll (though certainly not as avant-garde or uneven) the tracks can transport the listener to a very deep well of musical euphoria, especially evident on the track “I Dined with the Swans,” which is a brilliant song. Unabashedly heavy metal, the classification of “true gothic metal” certainly applies to TVB, and deservedly so.
Ulf Theodor Schwadorf and Allen B. Konstanz still man the helms of the ship and offer up a great album of shadowy songs that are both heavy and picturesque with the right mind-frame. What passes for gothic metal music these days is nothing short of black humor; the feel and writing are so severely lacking or pedestrian. The only thing that even remotely resembles the lifestyle and music these bands employ is the inane clothing that even the Sisters of Mercy would burn. Also, to the band’s credit, they managed to excise a familiar demon in today’s gothic metal world: no female singer! Schwadorf handles this area in similar fashion to a slightly more baritone Peter Murphy and needs no help. Therein lies a perfect comparison; a heavy metal Sisters of Mercy or Bauhaus properly describes TVB’s overall sound. Creating romantic pictures of loss, love, death and pain is what sets TVB apart from most other bands in the genre, an already overcrowded elevator these days. Forget Cradle of Filth (I surely have) because this is what gothic metal is supposed to be.
Set Sail to Mystery has no real dull moments in the release; interesting musical passages over hauntingly authoritative vocals create one of the better offerings I’ve heard this year. For someone who isn’t really a fan of the gothic label since it’s seen a submerging with lackluster bands in the last few years, TVB is a large exception for me. Standout tracks are the aforementioned “I Dined with the Swans”, “The Outsider”, and the haunting “Mother Nothingness”, which is as close to old Black Sabbath as one can feasibly get. Backed by very fine production, the music here is allowed room to breathe as opposed to the veritable “suffocated” feel in some gothic music in an obviously failed attempt to make the listener feel trapped. This offering by TVB is the type of music that Type O Negative could never seem to master, in my humble opinion, hence the further belief that the underground well is usually the best refuge for the deeper waters of true majesty in metal music.
I really hope The Vision Bleak manages to find itself an even larger following, because as long as I have to walk the malls and be subjected to foolish kids playing the part without knowing the full magic of gothic living, then at least they should have the right soundtrack and not something that should be called “Sesame Street in Black.”
(Originally written for http://www.metalpsalter.com)
How long have I looked forward to this day. The Vision Bleak’s new album, Set Sail to Mystery has finally been released. A very promising piece of footage from the studio sessions had already been released months ago. The wait became even more painful after that. But now, the album lies in front of me. The main colour of the artwork has been changed from parchment yellow (the first three albums) into a dark rotten-wood brown. On the back of the album are the songtitles, in a elegant and curly writing. The Vision Bleak stay true to their archaic, gothic horror and mysterious image they build up for themselves.
But enough rambling about the image, because in the end only the music matters. Schwadorf announced that this would be their best album up to date. A daring statement, that meant that Set Sail to Mystery would be even better than Carpathia. That album gained its strength from the fact that it is a concept album, where all the songs are linked through a gothic horror story. Set Sail to Mystery isn’t a concept album, so chances are one song or another may not fit in with the rest of the album, be it in lyrics or in music.
Schwadorf and Konstanz have the balls to begin their album with a nearly four minute long recited poem. A Curse of the Grandest Kind is a poem by the historical figure Lord Byron, written for his prose work Manfred. The poem is recited by the two band members and accompanied the music of a symphonic orchestra. The orchestra builds up towards the end of the song, but it isn’t a headbanger or even a real metal song. There is no guitar to be heard on this one. But it fits in very well, as it adds to the build up of the atmosphere and mood needed to enjoy The Vision Bleak. Darkness has fallen, the stage is set. Let the drapery fall, the Deathship has set sail once more!
Set Sail to Mystery differs a lot from it predecessor, The Wolves Go Hunt Their Prey. The latter has most of its songs in more or less the same style, while the new album consists of various styles. Even more diverse than The Deathship Has A New Captain or my favourite Carpathia. Some songs are even made with another recipe than the “standard” The Vision Bleak song. I Dined With The Swans has Konstanz singing in a madman’s voice. He sounds mad and evil, he whispers and shouts, he sings and he enjoys it. Which fits a song about a mad murderer (this murderer was said to drink the blood of swans before he killed someone). Another atypical song: Mother Nothingness is a very doomy song, heavy and slow. The guitars and the drums play a in slow tempo, the guitars shut up every time Konstanz begins a new line and play a dark melody when he ends the line. This start-stop riffing makes the song a little difficult to digest from the first time. I never expected such a song from The Vision Bleak: despite their dark nature they never showed a sign of doom. But after a few listening sessions it gets better.
Concerning the guitars, not much has changed. If you know the other albums, you know how the guitars sound. C-drop, heavy riffs that vary in tempo between the different songs. A Romance With The Grave is one of those faster songs, with those dark riffs pounding without mercy or ending. Descend into Maelstrom sounds a little like Secrecies in Darkness (of the Carpathia album). It follows directly after the intro, consists of fast riffs and orchestral contributions. Mother Nothingness is as mentioned above a very slow song. The guitars are heavy but slow, and the opening riff of this song reminds me of Celtic Frost’s Monotheist’s riffs.
For the drumming: nothing significant has changed since the previous release. It’s not too technical, but still interesting. Varying throughout the song, with most of the drumming done on the toms and cymbals. The drums can clearly be heard in the mix, but luckily they do not dominate the music.
Next to the traditional metal instruments, The Vision Bleak also uses keyboards or orchestral arrangements. In I Dined with the Swans, the guitars are quiet during the verse. A piano plays a slow melody, and is accompanied by a high, eerie keyboard tune. The sort you’d expect in a Disney horror movie. It isn’t scary, but it works for a mad murderer song. The normal feelings associated with murder (hate and rage, despair and hopelessness) are replaced with sounds (or emotions) totally unfitted for this kind of deed. To understand the idea behind this one, you need time and you must know the story behind the lyrics. In Descend Into Maelstrom or The Outsider the orchestrations give the song a certain feel of greatness and drama. These orchestral contributions make it easier to imagine a gigantic storm on the wild seas or an eternal life of despair and desolation in stygian catacombs.
The vocals still are what they were on the previous albums, mainly done by Konstanz in his clean, deep voice. Because of this way of singing the lyrics can be understood easily, adding to their importance (luckily these are still interesting). His range goes from totally a absorbed madman to omniscient storyteller. The lyrics are sung with passion, and in combination with the dark heavy music all pieces of the horror puzzle fall together. But there are also some changes in style. As already mentioned there are the madman’s whispers and shouts on I Dined With The Swans. Mother Nothingness brings us vocals that are tormented with the thought that all life is just a spark in an absolute dark void. They are slow, deep and very intense: Konstanz as we never heard him before.
Schwadorf makes some vocal contributions too. He provides the more chaotic and desperate vocals. For example, in Descend into Maelstrom, he sings a couple of lines, beginning with the words: “Flashing lights! Chrushing seas!”. At this point, the situation in the story of the song is without hope. On The Outsider he embodies the protagonist perfectly, his screams are emotional and filled with despair. Especially the line where he sings “In smell of ages gone”. He sings the first words with pain, it seems as if he loses for a very short time the grip on his voice and lets it go. A chill goes down my spine every time I hear that line.
The lyrics are once more horror, but now some songs have lyrics based on real-world stories. I Dined With The Swans has already been mentioned. A Romance With The Grave is about making love to the dead: disgusting, but not impossible. The Outsider is the Lovecraft song of the album, which means supernatural horror as on the previous albums’ songs.
This album is without doubt in the traditional style The Vision Bleak, but they have experimented a little bit on some songs. It turned out well, a mix of different styles that are all connected in their dark sound and their horror lyrics. However, because no real connection in story or concept the album is more the sum of very good songs than a collection of songs clinging to each other. Therefore I still choose Carpathia as my favourite, but Set Sail to Mystery is a good album that’s worth the long wait. Fans will not be disappointed!