TVBThere’s no denying that when you are a fan of a band a press release bandying about phrases like “reinvention”, “new beginning” and “second birth” can be very worrying. Hideous thoughts of a Gothic Bon Jovi flash through your mind. Or…good god no…Dragonforce crossed with Cradle Of Filth!!!??? (shudder…surely that’s a step too far even for Roadrunner to dream up). And hang on, this is The Vision Bleak, they are so distinctive and have painstakingly developed not only their own immediately recognizable musical style, but a whole image and theme surrounding it – surely they wouldn’t throw all that away? Thankfully, they haven’t, they’ve just…expanded a little.

It’s not like the band were likely to have turned into Morbid Angel or Dismember overnight…actually the artwork IS by Dan Seagrave who has done covers for, well, Morbid Angel and Dismember…but that’s pretty much where the Death Metal links end. There’s still their trademark creepy intro, there’s still plenty of dark, drawn out deep guitar chords and pounding drums, but I suppose it’s in the drum department where they have broadened the spectrum a little. There’s almost blast beats in the opener ‘From Wolf To Peacock’ and throughout the album there is more variance in the moods and tempos of the songs, but the overall feel of the album is still utterly Vision Bleak. There’s a noticeable amount of lead guitar melody lines this time around, which were kind of always there, but seem to be a little more of a focal point now which gives the band another angle. The lyrics are a little different, concentrating on previously unexplored topics rather than just Gothic horror. The vocals are still of the lower register – there’s a couple of grunted sections thrown in for good effect, but no real difference in approach, just slightly more diverse in delivery to suit each song.

‘The Kindred of The Sunset’ could be from any Vision Bleak album to date, dealing in that familiar Gothic driving Metal that the band do so well, but then when the band push things in other directions it also works really well. ‘Into The Unknown’ makes me think of Amorphis and Moonspell jamming with Cathedral – epic and slightly doomy, it strides along like a big down-tuned behemoth, plodding menacingly into it’s dynamic chorus. ‘The Whine Of The Cemetery Hound’ also blends a bit of the doom with the dark, but almost inverts it, re-affirming that no track on “The Unknown” is like another. ‘Ancient Heart’ is very tribal or even Gregorian at it’s heart, and also sees the band upping the drum tempos again making parts of the track zip along with an urgency that Vision Bleak aren’t normally known for. These various traits have always been there in small ways on past albums of course, but now it feels a little less restrained and more unleashed.

‘How Deep Lies Tartaros’ is a sombre and melancholic instrumental – any Pagan/Viking Metal band would be proud to use it as a soundtrack to fallen comrades, yet it is the perfect introduction to what is for me the album’s crowning glory. ‘The Fragrancy Of Soil Unearthed’ is The Vision Bleak at their finest. It grooves like only they know how and is based around a monolithic riff that twists and morphs around the first half of this great song, with drums pounding in classic style. The vocal hook is SO Vision Bleak that you realize what a unique sound this band have crafted over the years.

This final track twists once more, and finally brings the whole thing to an epic conclusion, leaving the listener in no doubt that this is just a band exploring their own style to it’s furthest corners, making sure they don’t get backed into a corner further down the line. “Second Birth” is maybe stretching it a little, but this is certainly an expansion of the Vision Bleak sound. That very sound though is in the capable hands of two excellent musicians – they ARE The Vision Bleak and whatever they choose to write IS The Vision Bleak. I trust them, and if this album is anything to go by, the future is not bleak, it’s more Vision Bleak.

(8/10 Andy Barker)