Metal long has been tied to horrors and great beasts, fantastical terrors that, while they look intimidating on an album cover or in one’s imagination, they’re not authentic in any way. But, in the words of the intro to the great podcast Sword & Scale, the worst monsters are real. Those include the ones living inside of you, the demons that torment and stretch you to your very worst.
For the longest time, German duo The Vision Bleak leaned on those old-style horror elements more than anything when constructing their songs. From inspirations including Poe, Lovecraft, and Carpenter, these guys constructed a world that was bloody and spooky, which suited their brand of dark atmospheric metal very nicely. The fact that they always had many dramatic flourishes worked into their songs helped as well, which gave a sense of theatricality to their music. But on their latest opus “The Unknown,” the band turns their respective guts inside out and instead examine personal horrors and darkness. That makes this the most personal record the band’s ever created, and one that does prove that what lurks inside of you indeed if more terrifying than any macabre tale.
The Vision Bleak have been staring into the eyes of terror for the past 16 years, having formed in 2000. The core members Ulf Theodor Schwadorf and Allen B. Konstanz (they obviously roll out a much larger cast live) dropped their first record “The Deathship Has a New Captain” in 2004, and after that they released four more studio albums, the most recent before “The Unknown” being 2013’s “Witching Hour.” The band’s new lyrical twist on this record might throw some for a loop at first, but honestly, it’s the same sound you’ve come to expect from The Vision Bleak. Every ounce of power and presence bursts from this thing, and it’s a damn fun listen.
“Spirits of the Dead” is a quick intro piece built with mallet-tapped drums, acoustic guitars, and folk-style vocals, and that leads into “From Wolf to Peacock” that greets you with glorious riffs. Huge vocals bellow, later crumbling into fierce growls, and as the track goes on, it gets more aggressive and penetrating. Proggy thrash meets black metal strains on the back end of the song, and a dramatic burst brings it to an end. “The Kindred of the Sunset” also has great riffs, with deep, gothy singing providing darkness, with shrieks mixed in later. The song goes cold, with whispers poking, and there are some great hooks, with Konstanz wailing, “We are the children of the sunset.” “Into the Unknown” has guitars buzzing, unfurling into steady thrashing and dramatic singing. Some reflective notes arrive before the band starts trudging, with howls of, “I will never be the same again,” adding a sense of uncertainty into what’s a really strong song. “Ancient Heart” has a calculated start, with chant-like vocals spreading before the pace kicks into high gear. The tempo kicks up and starts clobbering, with strong melodies mixed in, keys quivering, and a smashing finish.
“The Whine of the Cemetery Hound” sounds from its title like a track from their horror tale past, but it’s not. Drums strike hard as bells chime, and the chugging pace does serious damage. The singing is dark and moody, while the song halts for a stretch of solemnity and comes out of the other side with heaviness and vicious growls. “How Deep Lies Tartaros?” is punishing and fast, as if it’s trying to drive you through the center of the Earth to answer the song’s question. Harsh vocals are mixed in with clean, with the song having moments where it’s purely guttural. Spoken lines punch into cloudy synth, and the song turns again, coming to a furious end. “Who May Oppose Me?” is a surprising one, and it’s less defiant than its title indicates. The song has murky synth, strings, and acoustics, setting the stage for gigantic closer “The Fragrancy of Soil Unearthed.” The track in menacing from the start, though the riffs are catchy and the clean singing pushes the mission. The song bursts open later, with the singing coming into full life, and the dramatic piece comes to an end amid fairytale strings and mystical power.
The Vision Bleak’s world may have changed a bit, but musically, they’re right where you’d expect them on “The Unknown.” Perhaps turning inward for this record injected them with even more inspiration and vitriol, and it’s too soon to know if this is a one-off curveball or if this is the path they’ll take into the future. Regardless, they’re sure to find enough morbid twists and turns in their own psyches if they’ve already wrung their old texts dry.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/thevisionbleak.official/
To buy the album (USA), go here: http://www.theconnextion.com/prophecy/prophecy_index.cfm?
For more on the label, go here: http://www.prophecy.de/