So, Hallowe’en draws nearer and our Creepy Countdown continues. Today I’ll be discussing soundtrack choices for this spookiest time of the year, and oh there are so many to choose from! It’s a well known cliché that the Devil has all the best tunes and this is a great time of year to put that to the test. The soundtrack to Hallowe’en can run anywhere from the old classics like Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” or Bobby “Boris” Pickett & The Crypt Kickers’ “Monster Mash” through The Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack (always a good choice) right through to horror-inspired rockers like Alice Cooper, Rob Zombie or even the much missed Type O Negative who have numerous Hallowe’en themed songs (RIP Pete Steele). But today I’m going to enthuse about a band you perhaps may not have heard of. Ladies and Gentlemen, I bring you symphonic German horror metallers The Vision Bleak.
The archaic structure of the band’s name together with their ornate logo should immediately clue you in to their interest in horror, and not just any horror but the epic grandeur of old school creepy tropes: candlelit journeys by horse and carriage through dark, sprawling forests, highway men and mysterious strangers. As I commented recently in my review of Dan Simmons’ faux-Victorian novel, Drood, there’s something particularly atmospheric about spooky tales set in the past. The Vision Bleak are a band who understand this and manage to bring an 18th/19th century classic Gothic sensibility to their music even while rocking out with modern electric instruments and drawing on a much wider range of overall influences: from dark fairy tales of werewolves, witches and headless horsemen right through to the works of H.P. Lovecraft and the films of John Carpenter…
Formed in 2000, The Vision Bleak are a two piece comprising Ulf Theodor Schwadorf (Guitar, Bass, Keyboards) and Allen B. Konstanz (Vocals, Drums, Keyboards), usually augmented by additional musicians when on tour. They have released 5 full length albums so far: The Deathship Has a New Captain (2004), Carpathia – A Dramatic Poem (2005), The Wolves Go Hunt Their Prey (2007), Set Sail to Mystery (2010) and Witching Hour (2013). Pretentious? Well, these titles show that the band certainly have a love of macabre theatricality but lofty themes are only pretentious if the perpetrators are po-faced about them and Schwadorf and Konstanz can’t be accused of being that (though being Edgar Allen Poe-faced is an entirely different matter!). Here’s a band with a passion for horror who are certainly enjoying themselves creating music around the movies, literature and characters they love, and that passion is wonderfully infectious.
A great example of this mix of morbidity and fun is their Headless Horseman inspired track, “The Lone Night Rider”:
When night has fallen dark and cold
And mists rise up from ground of old
When fullmoon lights the earth in fright
The lone grim rider chills the night
Such atmospheric (if simplistic) lyrics here play out over some dense riffs but are intercut by a catchy, almost danceable synth refrain. When B and I saw the band live (during the 2013 Wave Gotik Treffen Festival in Leipzig, Germany) this was the track that got even the most serious-looking audience members smiling and bouncing around!
Fellow Lovecraft fans will find plenty to enjoy in The Vision Bleak’s discography from the epic “Kutulu!” (again that exclamation mark creeps in as a sign of a band who don’t take themselves entirely seriously) to my personal favourite, “The Horror of Antarctica,” a song inspired by Lovecraft’s classic story ”At The Mountains of Madness” which even makes a surprisingly ear-wormy chorus out of the Shoggoth’s cry of “Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!”
Another good pick for a Hallowe’en soundtrack is ‘‘Elisabeth Dane” a piano-led instrumental from the band’s debut album, which as, film buffs will no doubt already have recognised, is a homage to John Carpenter’s great film The Fog. This track pretty much just samples the film’s spooky scene-setting opening tale of shipwreck and then builds into a rocked-up version of the music from the movie. It ought to be skippable filler, but it’s actually really enjoyable; perhaps because the music in that film was already so good, or perhaps because the band handle it with such a winning mix of reverence and enthusiasm. Either way it’s a nice tribute that works surprisingly well. All The Vision Bleak’s songs feel cinematic, this one just makes that a tiny bit more literal.
The band’s most recent output is a concept album about witches, check out the wonderfully old school puppet-animated video for their track “The Wood Hag” which draws on the Hansel and Gretel story, though with nary a gingerbread house in sight.
To sum up, with their doom-laden riffs and macabre theatrical pomp, a few tracks from this self-described “horror metal” band would make a great addition to add some weight to your spooky playlist. But of course, if you’ve got a penchant for the Gothic and for doom-laden metal melodies anyway, The Vision Bleak aren’t just for Hallowe’en, they’re for life!