Though The Vision Bleak‘s newest opus, The Unknown, was late in getting to the AMG offices, no review is too late for one of my favorite bands. Since discovering them in 2006, the band’s entire discography must be spun and loved in order to become a new member of the Grier household. It is law and bound by contract. Yes, animals included. Hell, their back-catalog is as familiar to my children as my laughter is at their disgust for my cooking. It doesn’t matter where you find me, you will most likely find one of TVB‘s albums in my possession. The Wolves Go Hunt Their Prey screams from my mom-car windows, Set Sail to Mystery rocks the foundation of my home, and Carpthia haunts my walk to work. Few bands are capable of transporting me to another world in the way that TVB does. Their sound is as gothic as Type O Negative and Moonspell, but the approach is very much their own. Now you understand the anticipation I had for this album. So, let’s not waste another second. Promo in hand and the real world pushed out of my mind, I sit back and drift into The Unknown.
And within a minute, I am lost forever in the bleakness of its world. It’s times like these and albums like this that keep me from ever wanting to return to the real world. Like all TVB releases, the album’s simple introduction reels you in and sets the mood for the rest of the disc. “Spirits of the Dead” then passes off the baton to “From Wolf to Peacock”—one of the moodiest tracks the band ever penned. Captivating and seething with sorrow, “From Wolf to Peacock” abandons your soul somewhere deep in the cover art.
After a more “upbeat” TVB number, “The Kindred of the Sunset,” you’re once again knocked down by the album’s hopeless disposition. This time it comes by way of “Into the Unknown,” which much like the opener, is brimming with melody, emotion, and memorability. From here, you sink deeper and deeper into the darkness and, by the time you reach of the end of the album, you’re emotionally drained. Instrumental “Who May Oppose Me” sets up “The Fragrance of Soil Unearthed” with flawless precision. The instrumental is short and sweet, but is enough to drown one in despair. Together, these concluding songs are some of the most passionate songwriting the band has ever put to tape. All melodic, all powerful, all consuming.
The Vision Bleak have always been masters of atmosphere. Always capable of dragging lonesome victims (like myself) into their engulfing “horror metal.” Being the fan that I am, I have to admit I stopped after Set Sail to Mystery. Topping that album would be as easy as pile-driving a rhino. And, unfortunately, 2013’s Witching Hour couldn’t pile-drive a reindeer. Now it’s 2016 and The Unknown has delivered the goods. Not quite to the same degree as Set Sail, but damn close. The biggest flaw being that the midsection of the record lacks some punch. “The Whine of the Cemetery Hound” and “How Deep Lies Tartaros?” settle into long concept tracks that range from slow to mid pace. They incorporate the soft with the hard and the gentle with the rough, but their placement side-by-side drops the album’s energy a touch.
Diehard fans know that without the unique vocals of Konstanz and Schwadorf, The Vision Bleak would not be The Vision Bleak. If you know the band, you know what to expect. Layered, booming cleans (like those of Peter Steele and Fernando Ribeiro) and the occasional harsh rasp. The former balancing between beautiful and venomous, while the latter provides variety and emphasis to the music. The approach is dark, the mood is hopeless, and the atmospheres are blanketing. The balance is good and the dynamics are respectable. But, as with all their albums, larger dynamics would make a dark tower out of The Unknown.
Regardless of the slight rut due to these epic ditties, The Unknown is outstanding. The Witching Hour wasn’t bad, but The Unknown feels like the proper follow-up to Set Sail to Mystery. For me, Suidakra and The Vision Bleak delivered two beautiful examples of epic and emotional songwriting this year. The former restricted to folk and the latter to goth, but both currently sit on my year-end list.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 128 kbps mp3
Label: Prophecy Productions