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A dark ride with organ sounds and folk elements - 76%

kluseba, July 14th, 2014
Written based on this version: 2013, CD, Prophecy Productions

The Vision Bleak is one of my favourite bands. They mix dark Lovecraftian lyrics with epic gothic metal, basing their music beautiful melodic vocals and a few occasional blackened shrieks, great guitar play varying between melodic mid-tempo riffs and faster parts with some thrash metal tendencies, and a powerful rhythm section. Cinematic symphonics add just the right atmosphere to the appealing music and never feel overwhelming. The band calls itself a horror metal band, and this is a perfectly apt term. Their music creates creepy scenery inspired by elegant classic horror literature instead of modern brutality and gore tendencies. These guys are the gentlemen of the gothic metal genre, and care about an authentic atmosphere without trying to shock you with tons of superficial violence like BlutEngel or Gothminister do. And that’s exactly why their unique approach is so intense. Their first record, The Deathship Has A New Captain, included a fresh wave of unforgettable horror anthems. Their second output, Carpathia – A Dramatic Poem, is not only the most authentic and intense concept record I’ve ever experienced, but my favorite album of all time.

After a mixed third record entitled The Wolves Go Hunt Their Prey (that had a rougher tone and threw some atmospheric elements overboard to replace them with harder riffs), the fourth album, Set Sail To Mystery, was a convincing return to old strength and the band’s most diversified album to date. Now, the German duo consisting of Allen B. Konstanz and Ulf Theodor Schwadorf, who have also been active in bands such as the epic neofolk cult band Empyrium, the morbid electronic gothic metal band Ewigheim, the more intellectually appealing project Marienbad, and the blistering black metal band Panzerkreutz among others, are back for the fifth output of their main band. This time, they deliver us a conceptual album about witches, as the title suggests.

Even though the new record isn’t a bad one, I feel rather disappointed by it. It feels too much like The Vision Bleak by numbers. It offers nothing truly innovating or surprising, the single songs are not catchy or intense enough to equal the songs from the first two albums, or even the last release. After the usual instrumental opening “Witching Hour”, the true heavy opener “A Witch Is Born”, has a great narrative vocal performance that introduces dark melodic vocals. At the same time, the track and its guitar riffs feel predictable, and the chorus is too simplistic to convince. This song represents the entire record very well: it has its moments and many trademark sounds, but the final result isn’t as impressive and original as it was eight years ago.

“The Blocksberg Rite” makes things better, and is by far the best song on the record. It includes appeasing, dark, and mysterious flute melodies, atmospheric organ sounds, and a great folk break towards the end of the song. This is the most innovating song on the entire record, and even the spooky vocal performance immediately grabs your attention. Another atmospheric and gripping track inspired by creepy folk elements is the apocalyptic “Pesta Approaches”, the second greatest track on this release. This vivid song varies from calm folk elements over slow to mid-tempo paced verses to blistering passages. The diversity is definitely there, but I’m missing the magical key element that keeps all these influences together and would make this song even better.

The other songs on the album aren’t all that bad, but are simply too predictable. The short and catchy “The Wood Hag” begins instrumentally appealing, but soon becomes repetitive. The chorus is also too simplistic to mess with the classics. The song’s music video, however, is one of the best I have ever seen. It was made by Fursy Teyssier of the spooky shoegaze and post-metal band Les Discrets. Be sure not to miss this if you’re interested in the album. The Type O Negative-influenced lengthy doomer “Cannibal Witch”, the faster and thrash metal inspired banger “Hexenmeister”, the overlong closer “The Valkyrie”, and the bonus track “The Call Of The Banshee” (where too repetitive verse riffs meet an atmospheric and majestic chorus) all have their moments as well as their weaker parts. After all, they simply can’t compete with the band’s glorious past. Even the instrumental bonus tracks of the deluxe edition are completely redundant and worthless for me.

In the end, Witching Hour is a good record with one excellent, one very good, and a couple of solid tracks that happens to interest me a little bit more or a little bit less depending on my mood. The record has a clear guiding line, a strong atmosphere, and some new elements – such as more dominating organ sounds or a few folk elements that I feel should have been used more. On the other hand, I’m missing truly majestic anthems that send shivers down my spine or that are crowned by passionate choruses that haunt me like a nightmare. This is what made the band’s first two albums so special, and the last effort very solid as well. The new record is overall better than The Wolves Go Hunt Their Prey, and not the band’s least convincing effort, but I know that they could have done better. Despite this letdown, there is no doubt that any gothic metal fan has to get this release as I don’t know any other record of that genre that would have come close to this output this year. From that point of view, The Vision Bleak are still a high quality band and the kings of their genre. If you don’t know them yet, you are definitely missing out a really intense dark ride.

Originally written for Black Wind Metal

From the grottos of hell...once more - 90%

abyss_metal_uk, January 31st, 2014

The Vision Bleak released their fantastic debut 9 whole years ago in 2004! Well that was a shock - where does the time go? It was at the height of gothic metal and their dark theatrical 'horror metal' (as they dub themselves) fit perfectly alongside that genre, but with a heaviness and intensity that set them aside...as you would expect from members of Epyrium. Each subsequent release then seemed to drift away from that debut's feel and with each album I'm afraid I drifted away a little too. I was less impressed each time, until I'm sorry to say, their previous record only got a couple of spins before I decided that what I loved about that debut was now just a distant echo.

Then I saw the press release for “Witching Hour”, claiming that the band had decided to re-visit the sound and feel of their earlier days. It's a brave claim (but it got me intrigued...), understanding that if a band regresses too far it negates their latter works, so they needed to strike a balance. And I think they just might have pulled it off!

It was a tough ask for me personally. I absolutely love 'Deathship Symphony' and 'Elizabeth Dane' from the debut. The bravery and tenacity the band had to put these songs on a debut is so impressive (after all, 'E.D.' is there own working – with film samples – of a Movie theme, yet it works and fits perfectly), and I don't expect anything quite as audacious, but what I was hoping for is the same darkness, the same underlying menace, a similar energy, conviction and yes, that big, full sound. By third track 'Cannibal Witch' it's more than clear that this is in evidence once more. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

The intro to the album is so simple, yet so effective. Three bass notes, repeated, complete with un-cleaned string rattle (an excellent touch) and growing eerie sound effects - it just seems to capture the mood immediately. Other instruments are added with a second dark 'melody' layered above and there is no doubt about the feeling of the songs to follow. Yet, surprisingly 'A Witch Is Born' is initially quite a speedy number that fair jogs along for a TVB track. It kind of brings to mind a full-on Metal track by The Damned. The great news for me personally is that the drums are HUGE and guitars/bass totally up in your face. The exact traits that I liked about the debut. They slow it down towards the end and...oh yes, go on, just turn up that volume - their sound is just so full and all-encompassing! Then suddenly it's all over and we have the quiet intro to 'Blocksberg Rite' – a sinister flute tune no less! I've never heard a flute sound so ominous, which gives way to what is best described as Cathedral gone gothic (I was going to say gothic Cathedral but I didn't want anyone trying to work out what York Minster had to do with it). It kind of skips...yet lurches too...like Igor in a Hammer Horror film! The Hammer Horror image really is the thing to have in mind throughout the album. It's Horror Metal, but sinister, creepy (and a tiny bit tongue in cheek) rather than a slashing gorefest.

Then it's time for 'Cannibal Witch'. A giant of a track that there just doesn't seem a loud enough volume for - THIS is what the debut had! It chugs, it plods, it drives and it pounds. TVB really know how to groove! These moments are almost stoner at times...but WAY bigger! And the word “Crone” isn't used in Metal enough – another plus point there. Next up, 'The Wood Hag', has a real feel of 'Wolfmoon' from the debut and lyrically it's becoming clear that TVB have Granny issues. Old women have really rattled these chaps – no doubt lectured them at length about getting a proper job and not knowing they were born - but something has got the guys warning us of evil Hags, the aforementioned Crones and all manner of Witches and Banshees. But every TVB album should have a theme and released 4 weeks before Halloween, 'Witching Hour' is embroidering on a very different type of "Girl Power". "Crone Power" maybe...

'Hexenmeister' is a groove/speed/groove style track that had me thinking of King Diamond. It was inevitable really - if it's Metal and has anything to do with Theatrics and Horror, old KD will be in there somewhere, like a corpse-painted, shrieking rat up a drainpipe. But the comparison isn't immediately obvious without those patented vocals. 'Pesta Approaches' has another eerie intro, but then I just love the feel of the thrashy pounding riff that ensues, all discordant and a bit messy...that just stops, and the slow plod of the stripped-back verse is then allowed to slither and wind it's way through your conscience before the speed riff slaps you round the face once more. The time signatures are all over the place, slow/fast/slow/bit slower/fast again/really slow/bit quicker/slow again... The lyrics are also very King Diamond...but to be honest it took three listens for me to pay any attention to the vocals as there was so much going on with the tempos and music! 'The Call of The Banshee' is another great mid-tempo pounder that TVP do so well. Utilising an up-stroked guitar riff to give the guitar and drums an offset feel that isn't heard in Metal too often. There's a suitably sinister sounding acoustic passage in there too, that, like many parts on “Witching Hour” is over almost too soon and I can't wait to hear again. And much to my amazement we welcome in closing track 'The Valkyrie'. Ironically, there is quite a bit of Empyrium in this one. With a bit of Katatonia...doing something despicable to Monster Magnet whilst Dimmu Borgir, The Sisters Of Mercy, Paradise Lost and Opeth look on, slightly disapproving at first but then clearly think what the hell and happily dive into the melee. A dark, slightly confusing, highly intriguing and fitting end to an album that I'm playing again already. And for many times to come.

The press release is pretty much on the money, this IS the closest thing TVB have done to their debut, but it still encompasses later forays and even some new elements that keep it fresh. “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Portals of Darkness are open and the Dead hunt over the Earth. Here Comes, The Vision Bleak”...again!

First Published on Ave Noctum