The Vision Bleak
The Vision Bleak is tagged as a "gothic metal," though the German duo prefers the more precise "horror metal." This is worth noting, not for an immediate point of reference, but to prey upon your staunchly held stereotypes. Gothic metal to many, in the States at least, connotes a style so stuffed full of overwrought, self-serious, and flowery melodrama even the Moz-iest metalhead won't often board its double-decker bus. Worse, in the none more sic manicured mitts of its nü producers, it's instantly skippable industrial-tinged dreck. But, to call you to the stand as a surprise witness, would you skip this?
I'm guessing not.
Witching Hour, full-length number five for these current and ex-members of Empyrium, Ewigheim, and Nox Mortis, upsets your predetermined "goth" narrative over forty minutes of tightly constructed, brawny modern metal. Plus, if someone never planted the seed, you'd figure "Hexenmeister" and "The Blocksberg Rite" would have more in common with a Solefald or Vintersorg focused on chart domination than filthy cradles, Nightmare Before Christmas temporary tattoos, and pale complexions igniting in the noonday sun. After all, The Vision Bleak is inescapably catchy in the Type O way, possessing more hooks than a Bass Pro Shop. It's a pleasant reminder things can still dodge expectations, even in this era where life's mysteries are easily dispelled one Google search at a time.
Konstanz (vocals, drums, keyboards) and Schwadof (vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards) cleverly find consistency in Witching Hour's concept of covens, binding the strong central lyrical theme to boulder-sized ________ n' roll riffitude. (Songs the Wolverine Blues Taught Us, perhaps?) Indeed, the record rocks a heck of a lot more than it mopes, giving style neophytes the impression TVB is to this strain of metal what old AFI was to its permutation of punk. Thankfully, the gents offer more than a heightened pulse. The dense rock bed acts as a mooring, allowing the wizards to subtly jump genres. At times, the two delve into a woodsy folkiness complete with haunting flute (the sorta-Schubert through Jeremy Steig melodic hook on "The Blocksberg Rite") and harpsichord-driven chamber rock ("The Wood Hag"). On the other wand, "The Valkryie" is so sweepingly epic, we could probably use it to force Amon Amarth into retirement. These shifts are done with nary a wink or the spastic stretching of an attention-deprived pupil who knows the umpteenth answer. Their auxiliary skills are effortless, more asides than anything else. "Oh, right, we're a goth band with jams," they might say, frying their voices in a Steele-ian stew, "And we have more dark arts at our disposal than Helvete's jukebox. No biggie."
These pigeon-height flights ably fill in and suppress the typical goth gimmickry, even when it's not fully removed from the list of ingredients. That said, the strange thing is whenever the crooning takes on a Lugosian quaver or Transylvanian synths bare their ivory teeth, The Vision Bleak becomes distinct. While the straight-spine, strutting badassery of its main mode of transportation is certainly tasty, it's also sort of faceless. It's heat and eat grub from a metal chain. However, if an eye of newt surfaces in your soup, it's a welcome shock and shot of exotic flavor. Again, to reiterate, it's strange. The cringe-worthy sounds which are normally such a turn-off transform into a siren's call in this standardized setting. Ignoring the rousing "The Valkyrie" – which, really, is worth your soul alone – you want more of the kinks and quirks to permeate the metal membrane. You know, though, bringing that pot to a boil will likely lead to irritation. It's a thin broomstick The Vision Bleak surfs, something which has bucked plenty of pointy hats in the past. For the most part, Witching Hour is successful, ending up on the good side with Glendas such as Divercia rather than under a hell house. Still, you're left wondering if you enjoy it only because it doesn't stray too far from your comfort zone. Maybe you haven't heard enough of the good goth stuff. Maybe you're more beholden to prejudices than you thought.