After 25 years and now 12 albums it’s hard to imagine that My Dying Bride can find much more to be miserable about, and yet they do. Their particular brand of melancholy has remained relatively unchanged since their inception, despite a number of line-up changes, and only a brief swerve during their late ’90s electronic period (the much maligned but actually under-appreciated album 34.788%…Complete) would cause concern amongst elements of their fanbase.
As one of the most reliable and effective doom bands in the UK, it’s not an exaggeration to suggest that they, along with Paradise Lost, are the progenitors of the current doom scene. They set the template early on mixing doom with death metal (1993’s Turn Loose The Swans) and embracing aspects of folk and romantic artistry. Over the course of their career, they’ve honed their craft becoming almost legendary in stature.
Fans have plenty to be happy about, despite being encouraged to feel the misery. For a start, there’s a new My Dying Bride album, but it also marks the return of guitarist Calvin Robertshaw, who was present on the band’s seminal works during the ’90s. His re-introduction into the fold doesn’t appear to have unsettled the band or particularly altered their course, although this is the most focused and direct album they’ve produced for some time.
Their opening gambit, And My Father Left Forever, sets the tone perfectly. Initially, it eschews funereal pace for spirited charge. The riffs come fast and hard right from the off, with the verses sounding not unlike mid ’80s Helloween as they’re driven by the double-bass kick of Dan Mullins (who also oversaw the recording of the album). Over the course of the song’s 10 minute duration the band slow things down, become introspective and then build the atmosphere and pace once again, as Aaron Stainthorpe’s Eno-esque vocals (a tonal quality that becomes more evident on the title track) that somehow manage to feel both warm and shivering with sorrow. After such a rousing opening, they kick down a few cogs, for To Shiver In Empty Halls. Stainthorpe drifts into a death metal growl, as band fully lay into a weighty doom groove. Once again they shift between bombast and introspection, and the final few minutes slow to a crawl as pianos and spoken word are introduced and folk flourishes take over from the crushing guitars. The band’s mastery of dynamics has long been one of their strongest aspects, and this creepy outro proves that they’ve not lost their touch.
A Cold New Curse continues in a similar vein, with switched vocal styles and thunderous guitars and drums giving way for quiet moments of reflection (complete with NWOBHM styled guitar solo), which is not to suggest that the band are a one trick pony, far from it. A Thorn Of Wisdom’s piano motifs hint at ’80s synth pop, whilst the title track’s repeated mantra possesses a hypnotic hook that not only insists the misery not only be felt, but constantly ruminated upon via the medium of chanting. It’s the gothic balladry of I Nearly Loved You that stands out though; it strips everything back to piano and strings and tells the tale of love and betrayal. There’s no need for riffs or pounding drums to drive the point home, it’s at this point where the misery is at its most elegant and palpable. Whether it’s the church organs that underpin the doom masterclass of Within A Sleeping Forest, the beautiful atmospherics of I Nearly Loved You or the perfectly executed riffs contained within these songs, My Dying Bride make melancholy impossible to escape, and in doing so have delivered an album that cements their reputation.