Saturday, 24 April 2010

The Vision Bleak - Set Sail To Mystery (2010) 75/100.

Gothic music in the metal industry is dominated by prima donnas and an unhealthy obsession with fronting bands with supposedly attractive women in order to win the hearts of red blooded teenage males. All the while modern gothic music seems to want to empower the few young teenage girls who follow it to believe they too can front their own gothic band which, of course, is bound to gain critical success as long as she dresses both provocatively and seductively. A lot of modern day gothic music feels far too synthetic for my liking and that has nothing to do with the all-too-often plastic dress sense of its members with their corsets and fake hair extensions. The problem with the idea of gothic metal is that is has become far too predictable in its evolution and is experiencing stunted growth. The genre cannot exist in its current form for very long because its formulaic approach is as boring as it is tedious. Occasionally I find myself enjoying the odd female fronted band simply because of the energy behind the performance but, there is no doubt that the genre needs an overhaul and to focus on bands actually doing the right thing. This is where The Vision Bleak comes into the picture.

I recently attended a live show which consisted of a line-up of local lads Fen, the experimental Fjoergyn, the much loved Alcest on their first tour and The Vision Bleak, the headliners. To my surprise, the audience seemed to treat it as if Alcest were headlining because after their performance had ended, which was marvellous by the way, the crowd began to leave. Personally, when I pay to see a show, I stay for the entire thing. At the time England’s troubles with public transport and strikes had been temporarily resolved, so I cannot fathom why people felt the need to depart during The Vision Bleaks set. I found it a tad disrespectful and I couldn’t help but enjoy the show more now that their backs were against the wall and, despite feeling sorry for them, The Vision Bleak, which consists of Markus Stock and Tobias Schönemann (as well as a session musicians for their live performances), were actually excellent all night long, though their set required a lengthier time on stage. At the beginning of the night I had very few expectations of the German duo. I hadn’t heard them before the gig, but knew of the musicians through other notable acts like Autumnblaze and Empyrium.

I had expected the two musicians to be adept at performing in a live setting as I understand they’ve toured extensively before and, according to people who attended previous gigs, they were an absolute riot in a live setting. Thankfully, having rushed home to listen to the latest full-length, entitled ‘Set Sail To Mystery’, the band have carried their endeavours in a live setting over onto their studio performances which are as energetic as a person on copious amounts of speed. The Vision Bleak give a really authentic feeling through their music, as they seem to be passionate about what they do, which instantly improves the listening experience. As I listen to them do their thing, I truly get the feeling that I am mentally being taken on a dark and twisted journey through all of the classic gothic novels and poems of yesteryear. The use of Lord Byron’s ‘Manfred’ in the introductory song is a good example of this. Not only are the German duo entertaining, but they’re also educational! As a fan of literature and all things dark, it would seem The Vision Bleak are catered to my personality. The band are obviously very fanatical about what they do, performing in a get-up which is gothic by nature with a wonderfully dark setting lit up by atmospheric lighting and candles.

Even the lyrics seem to play a fair part in the building of the dark atmosphere and surroundings as every word seems to revolve around connotations of gothic inspired tales of dark, grim and gruesome The atmospheric tendencies don’t stop there, but there is a lot more to The Vision Bleak than meets the eye. With the rather eerie introduction out of the way, the band begins a full blown assault with the likes of ‘Descend Into Maelstrom’ and ‘A Romance With The Grave’, the latter being my favourite song on the album. Songs like these focus more on a heavier touch than the slower, more ponderous build-ups on songs like ‘I Dined With The Swans’. Unfortunately, these slower songs take far longer to grab my attention with some of them never doing so, though the bonus material does feature a performance from Shining front man Niklas adding to the credibility of certain songs. The duo would benefit more from focusing on riff-heavy songs like ‘A Romance With The Grave’ which draws out that favoured energetic quality and fun-loving sound, though the duo always remain a serious outfit.

In a live setting even, it was these two aforementioned songs that really took command of the crowd, giving them a reason to nod their heads furiously and get swept up in the sheer energy, which is massive, of the songs. Tobias was the main reason for this as his performance, in the forefront of the band, was huge. On the studio album, he provides the clean vocals, which are exceptional (and make-up most of the vocal contribution on the album with Markus occasionally piping in with generic growls) and apt in their haunting portrayal of old horror movies and picturesque gothic novels based in stunning cathedrals, cemeteries and wonderfully crafted buildings. The lack of a female fronted vocalist is actually a nice change, as is the hard and heavy approach of the guitars and percussion, in particular. Though keyboards do feature, especially well on songs like ‘The Outsider’, giving the album a more majestic touch, the symphonic structures are toned down more than I had expected. Usually, the keyboards provide a really overbearing symphonic tone to modern gothic records, but not here.

They compliment both the clean and harsh textures of The Vision Bleak, which includes the two differing vocal styles of Tobias and Markus, which come to life on ‘The Outsider’ with two exceptional performances. The bass is generally very hidden beneath the depths of the atmosphere. The bass doesn’t seem to have much of a place amidst the bombastic guitars, stiff percussion and vocal approaches. Occasionally the bass does come to life, but this is usually only for a few moments and never prolonged periods of time. The charm with this German band isn’t in the bass anyway, so I don’t focus too much on that aspect of the album. In fact, it’s very difficult to focus on being analytical because the sheer energy and massive performance of the duo overtakes and overrides any negative aspect of the album. ‘Set Sail To Mystery’ is easily likeable and favourable given the extent of the troubles in the gothic genre, but that doesn’t mean to say this isn’t a genuinely good album because it is. The animated atmosphere, life and passion throughout the course of this records duration make it a hit on almost every level.

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