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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!