It’s quite difficult to be critically objective about your all-time favourite band. As I have said before in reviews of My Dying Bride, I can count on this band to produce exactly what it is that I as a fan have come to expect and what I have yearned to hear. My Dying Bride perfected and defined the elements that make up dark Gothic Metal, and while many imitators have come and gone, they still remain secured upon their seemingly indestructible thrones, as the reigning kings of Romantic misery. It must be stressed however that My Dying Bride has not just repeatedly rehashed the same formulaic material. They were fated to work within the parameters of an expressive style of music that elicits a variety of approaches and delivery. They are one of the most focused bands that continually develop and thoroughly explore their potential. The themes they dwell upon deal with the innate truths that most questioning humans face: the joyous as well as disastrous effects of love and the mysteries of religion and death. As long as the members of this band continue to suffer through these uncertainties, they can find ways to invoke fear, sadness, longing, and hope with their guitar melodies, vocal expressions, and flourishes of tasteful synthetic orchestration. As long as the poetic man feels pain, and as long as he yearns to transcend his existential obstacles, My Dying Bride will have ample material to produce. It all sounds so ridiculously overdramatic and exaggerated, but it is the stark simple truth. They found their niche and the well is far from having dried.
Longtime fans of this band will understand what I am driving at. MDB has never been everyone’s cup of tea. A lot of dark metal fans have raised a great many valid critical points about the band, but for whatever reason, as I grow wearier with the dark metal scene and what it has to offer, My Dying Bride has never disappointed me and the few shortcomings they do have in terms of the way they chose to perform their music or its common sound have never succeeded in turning me away. I can’t help but respond with transfixed awe at whatever they do. Their work never fails to resonate within me. They are the only band I can listen to in any mood, at any given moment. I inevitably fall under their spell even at my most resistant.
Whenever a band that has been active for many years releases a new album, it is difficult not to compare it to past albums. But when My Dying Bride releases an album, I see it merely as an extension to their legacy, an additional chapter to a tale that will hopefully never reach its end. So it is with Christian Death, Current 93, the Legendary Pink Dots, and other prolific dark bands. Perhaps people could have applied this phenomenon to Pink Floyd, or Led Zeppelin and The Beatles at one time too. Whatever the case, with Songs Of Darkness, Words Of Light, there is another masterful addition to My Dying Bride’s artistic legacy. And that is really all that matters.
This time around, the band seems to be wallowing in darker, more confrontational realms. Though they are not altogether absent, the band’s trademark use of evocative twin guitar harmonies is utilized sporadically throughout this release. In their place appear more massive, dense, and nightmarish guitar chords. There is a greater focus on what can be accomplished through rhythm as opposed to melody alone. To say directly, most of this album is heavy as fuck! MDB is a band in the strictest sense, in that all of the players work in unison, the instrumentation being very concise and all encompassing. Though the guitars are at the forefront, everything comes together to create a coherent impenetrable wall of sound. There are a lot of unexpected shifts in dynamics, weird guitar effects (including what sounds like an ebow, which I never really noticed before in their material) and some discordant feedback modulations. Sarah’s keyboard contributions do not distract from the songs’ organic structures, but instead succeed in fleshing out the decayed atmosphere with subtlety. Her accompaniment consists of chilling pianos, subtle strings, and droning pipe organs and other tasteful orchestral offerings that help fully realize the band’s timeless sound. The drums pound away with precision and finesse, anchoring most of the album at a dirge-like, Doom-laden pace. As always, there are those climactic, energized gallops that crackle and cut through the atmosphere of dreary contemplation to reach an epic explosion of rage, yearning, or frantic passion. The pinnacle of which reveals the band’s Death Metal roots, but these aggressive excursions always remain tempered with the refined grace that only this band is capable of.
Vocally, Aaron also has a few new tricks up his sleeve. He experiments with more layering effects, pairing icy shrieks and guttural growls for the more frenzied moments, yet he also perfects more cerebral conceits consisting of whispers and ‘clean’ vocals. He sings with a soaring pinch on a few tracks, treading the fine line between major and minor keys for a rather refreshing effect, that ultimately makes the other passages sound ever darker. Some narrative recitations appear, a device rarely used by Aaron, and the effect is similar to what Iron Maiden did with Coleridge’s “Ancient Mariner.” Something about the English, Romantic poetry, and Heavy Metal indeed. Aaron’s passionate and effective nasally tenor is as riddled with unrest and defeat as it ever was. He pleads to God with an astonishingly powerful need in one unforgettable passage on the track “The Prize Of Beauty.” It invokes an image of a man on his knees, in desperation and in dire need of emotional rescue, pleading for the mercy of a God he has no doubt is well-attuned to his cries, but persists on ignoring them. I happened to buy this CD right before I had seen Mel Gibson’s controversial film, and I couldn’t help but notice the artistic parallels between Jim Caveziel’s anguished private prayers to God and Aaron’s theatrical performances / cathartic expressions in this band. Listening to this disc on the way home from the theatre was one of those rare moments where all your hobbies and artistic distractions somehow manage to synthesize, and the feeling was one of fullness and understanding. However lame it may sound!
While tracks like “The Prize of Beauty” and “The Wreckage Of My Flesh” seem to delve deeper into Aaron’s own personal religious uncertainties, there are other more fantastical lyrical elements as well. Though no less genuine, Aaron’s storytelling reaches its zenith in both “Catherine Blake” and “The Blue Lotus.” The first of these two songs is unique in that it appears to be about a woman on her deathbed (the characterization summons the image of the invalid, consumptive Victorian female archetype) who is tormented with apocalyptic visions. The first half of the song is steeped in funereal erotic mystery, the guitars and vocals entwining together as if in grief or sexual ecstasy, before the song charges into more nihilistic pastures, detaching from the isolated disintegration of one particular woman to reflect the disintegration of the entire world as we know it.
“The Blue Lotus” on the other hand, bravely ignores the inevitable cries of purist pretension and recounts a tale of vampirism, steeped in a folkloric and literary Gothic style. In effect, the track sort of picks up where Dani Filth left off on “Dusk & Her Embrace” when he exchanged his knack for graveyard poetry and embraced shock tactics instead. Aaron narrates the propulsive track with Filthish sepulchral tones, as the character stumbles through a moonlit sylvan setting to reach an ominous castle, which houses a seductive horror only rumoured to exist. Lust and curiosity spur the man onward to a sanguine oblivion. The poem is rendered beautifully; the music accompanying it is suitably diabolical and decadent, evoking a masterful balance between horror and romance, metallic crunch and Gothic elegance.
“A Doomed Lover” also stands out in that it is perhaps one of My Dying Bride’s purest Doom Metal songs. Though always referred to as a Doom Metal band, My Dying Bride more regularly utilize a variety of tempos and atmospheres to create a more momentous Gothic Metal sound, not limiting itself to the uncompromising density and slowness associated with Doom Metal. They have moments of pure Doom, but haven’t often produced a song so concentrated to be referred to as such. This track however is pitch black and seething with cacophonic darkness, and is quite focused all the way to its finale. “A Doomed Lover” is perhaps the band at their rawest in many years, stripped to stark simplicity and all the more powerful in its lumbering, minimalist crunch.
I am still absorbing much of this album, and each time I listen to it I find more to enjoy. Longtime fans I trust will be anything but disappointed, and new fans could be hooked just as easily with this release as they could by any of the other masterpieces in this band’s discography. After all these years, this is still Gothic music at its absolute finest.
“Catherine Blake slept fitfully in the
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