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Proving that doom metal and goth rock are made for each other - 90%

Agonymph, December 22nd, 2019
Written based on this version: 2016, CD, Prophecy Productions (Digisleeve)

Gothic rock’s mournful melodies and doom metal’s crushing heaviness appear to be made for each other, both having an irresistibly ominous theatricality to them. More often than not, however, gothic metal bands go for the goth aesthetic rather than the stylistic properties of the genre. For every ‘Irreligious’, there is a symphonic power metal band with operatic female vocals calling themselves gothic. Germany’s The Vision Bleak actually managed to create a genuinely atmospheric sound that is almost equal parts gothic and metal, although their most recent album ‘The Unknown’ is significantly heavier and more metallic than some people might expect.

After the more upbeat, folky nature of ‘Witching Hour’, ‘The Unknown’ was a bit of a surprise. It’s not like The Vision Bleak displays a completely different approach here. The music is still lead by slow to midtempo, not too complicated riffs and the deep gothic baritone of Konstanz. It’s just that the increased heaviness makes ‘The Unknown’ the most immersive listening experience since the band’s sophomore ‘Carpathia’ album. The keyboards and symphonic elements have been toned down a bit, but that doesn’t make the album any less atmospheric. If anything, the compositions and the choice of instruments create a nightmarish musical landscape.

The Vision Bleak were always masters of dynamics. Even their heaviest tracks have a great sense of build-up. An excellent example from this album would be ‘Into The Unknown’. The slow gallop – which would technically make it a trot, but whatever – may be pounding quite heavily throughout the song, but the riff takes a back seat to Konstanz’ vocals and Schwadorf’s clever clean guitar touches during the verses, only to make the chorus sound extra bombastic. ‘Ancient Heart’, the album’s most gothic moment, alternates between big, beefy riffs and mostly acoustic sections with an almost Middle-Eastern feel to them. Highly effective and above all enjoyable.

Elsewhere, the band reconnects with their extreme metal roots without forsaking their sense of atmosphere and melody. Opening track ‘From Wolf To Peacock’ is built upon mournful riffs and melodies, but the drums are somewhere between a polka and a blastbeat, while the climaxes of the particularly theatrical, Moonspell-ish ‘How Deep Lies Tartaros?’ have a black metal-ish vibe to them. A full album of those tracks would get old soon, but when they are alternated with moments of amazingly atmospheric doom and gloom, such as the annihiliatingly heavy doomster ‘The Whine Of The Cemetery Hound’ and the climactic closer ‘The Fragrancy Of Soil Unearthed’, it just works.

While The Vision Bleak is another one of those bands with a wide appeal of which I don’t understand why they don’t have a larger audience, ‘The Unknown’ is definitely the perfect album to check out for the metal side of their potential fanbase if they have not heard the band. Schwadorf’s big riffs and clever use of simple, yet effective melodies are all over the album. The combination between those and Konstanz’ charismatic vocals are definitely what won me over. A must for gothic metal fans, but adventurous doom metal fans should probably give this a chance as well.

Recommended tracks: ‘Into The Unknown’, ‘Ancient Heart’, ‘The Whine Of The Cemetery Hound’

Originally written for my Kevy Metal weblog

All October, all the time - 80%

autothrall, October 18th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2016, 2CD, Prophecy Productions (Limited edition, Boxed set)

The Vision Bleak have been faithfully preaching the gospel of Gothic metal for 16 years now, long after the arguable summit of the style's popularity (i.e the H.I.M. and Type O Negative days) has eroded in the wake of other niches. And they've done it with hardly a single mar on their body of consistency. Full-length after full-length of equal parts atmospherics and rocking references to traditional horror literature (up to around the early 20th century) and classic film (a few decades later), dour vocal poetry and a public image that is in turn vaudevillian and endearing. This new record, The Unknown struck a chord with me for abandoning the band's kitsch cover motifs of the past for the transformed, alien vista of nightmares that it promises, and the questions that evokes...have the Germans changed up their style? Are they aiming for some sort of grand Lovecraftian concept?

For the most part, this is business as usual. The somber Sisters of Mercy inspired Gothic rock clad in more meaty, metallic guitars, sent back in time a century or two, with synthesizers and acoustics used tastefully to complement a set of dependable if not always entirely unique chugging and driving rhythms. The Unknown is mildly heavier in terms of drumming, speed and thundering riff structure, at least on a handful of tracks like "From Wolf to Peacock". If the band had changed its name to The Vision Bleak With a Vengeance, it wouldn't have been without merit. But despite its marginal sense of urgency, this disc has a fair degree of variation between it's murkier, Gothic doom swells "The Whine of the Cemetery Hound") redolent of Paradise Lost and the more urgent, aggressive material. Thick palm muted patterns perform a percussion unto themselves while the vocals and guitars drift above them, as if afloat between dark valleys of jagged rock and wolf-prowled pine groves, elevating tracks like "How Deep Lies Tartaros?" to seismic, sodden glories that I wouldn't have expected in their opening moments.

The true calms here are relegated to shorter pieces like the intro or the instrumental "Who May Oppose Me?", but these are all perfectly placed to allow the listeners a chance to breathe after what ever Transylvanian (or Victorian) terror has stalked them through the woods or streets. The vocals of both Schwadorf and Konstanz provide elegant, brooding mantras which assist even the most base of the guitar progressions to hypnotize beyond their due. Instruments are mixed very well. Production is polished, and complexity minimal, but the oblique nature of the lyrics (EXCELLENT lyrics) and note selections keep it from broader accessibility. That is not a negative. This is definitely not an album which has many sugary spikes of catchiness, even by comparison to some of their own past material. The songs all work rather well, both on their own and in unison, but it's the overall mood and imagination of this album that had me absorbed more so than its ability to compose some nuanced riff. You've heard a lot of it before, just not put together quite the way this duo accomplishes it, and The Unknown, while not the standout of their career, is another reminder of how a project's convictions can persevere well beyond the trendiness that might have provided them some grand entrance eons ago. Try and grab the version with the bonus disc, both of those tracks are also worthwhile.


A step forward into acoustic and doom territories - 82%

kluseba, July 16th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2016, CD, Prophecy Productions (Digisleeve)

''The Unknown'' is the sixth full length studio record of German gothic metal duo The Vision Bleak. Even though the characteristic gloomy atmosphere and horror lyrics are still there, the band manages to go beyond its unique trademarks. The dominant organ sounds and playful folk elements from the convincing predecessor ''Witching Hour'' are gone and the band didn't go back to its conceptual releases or catchier genre anthems of the past either. ''The Unknown'' isn't limited to a concrete concept or guiding line and offers seven songs that are a little bit more complex, diversified and harder to digest. The only exceptions are a concise, gloomy storytelling overture entitled ''Spirits of the Dead'' that offers entertaining business as usual and a relaxing instrumental with decent orchestral passages, moving acoustic guitar melodies and a slight neofolk touch called ''Who May Oppose Me?'' where the band breaks new ground.

This record needs more than just a handful of spins but patient gothic metal fans will get rewarded with seven intellectual, profound and soulful growers. The easiest track to digest is probably the shortest among the remaining seven songs called ''The Kindred of the Sunset'' because it recalls previous efforts of the band and could have found its righteous place on a release like ''Set Sail to Mystery''. This is probably the reason why the band wisely chose this tune for its limited EP released three months prior to the new album. The track summarizes all of the band's strengths. The charismatic, low and powerful vocals of Konstanz are elegant, haunting and perfectly executed while Schwadorf adds his charismatic black metal shrieks in the right spots to evoke a truly sinister atmosphere. The mid-tempo riffs are addicting, the dark guitar and keyboard melodies are hypnotizing, the drum beat is steady and the bass guitar adds some gripping drive in the right moments. The chorus is also quite addicting and comes closest to past hits like ''Wolfmoon'', ''Carpathia'' and ''The Outsider''. This track will definitely secure its place on the set lists for upcoming concerts and festivals.

The Vision Bleak explores both extremes of its genre in the apocalyptic, fast and straight ''From Wolf to Peacock'' that recalls the origins of blackened gothic metal with a symphonic touch and the almost entirely acoustic, slow and playful ''Ancient Heart''. While the former song sounds angry, extroverted and pitiless, the latter feels melancholic, introspective and plodding. The band also explores the doom metal side of the gothic genre more than ever. The title track ''Into the Unknown'' might be the best of its kind as it's a quite good indicator for the entire record with its restrained pace, lazy instrumentation and gloomy atmosphere that is playfully interrupted by occasional airy acoustic guitar sounds and symphonic elements while the surprising chorus uses unusually high and clean vocals. The band put more ideas into this song than other genre artists in their entire albums and that's why it takes a while to fully embrace most of this album.

In my opinion, The Vision Bleak convinces most on this record when the duo slows down the pace and develops a gloomy, lazy and lethargic atmosphere with the help of repetitive riffs, a steady rhythm section and a clever use of liberating yet limited acoustic guitar and orchestral sounds. These passages recall smooth neofolk elements in the key of Empyrium but also gloomier gothic metal bands like The Foreshadowing in a positive way. The band manages to sound like itself yet to add a slow, lethargic and hypnotizing soundscape that hasn't been that present before. Even though ''The Unknown'' might not be among the band's greatest efforts, it's a step forward in the right direction like the last album as the duo doesn't repeat itself but advances in an original, slow and sure manner. Old fans will enjoy the band's creativity, credible gothic metal fans should own anything the band releases anyway but potential new fans should rather start with the new compilation ''Timeline - An Introduction to The Vision Bleak'' or buy the group's first two outputs ''The Deathship Has a New Captain'' and ''Carpathia - A Dramatic Poem'' that are much easier to get into.