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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 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 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