We are a bit late to the party here and when I say party it’s not a happy one in the slightest; no jelly, ice cream, balloons and clowns here. The reason why for the delay is that we were sent this via a stream to review and quite honestly having it on pre-order already I decided to wait until the official CD turned up and play and digest then. After all when My Dying Bride first appeared on the scene back in 1990 and I like many others discovered and fell in love with them, there was no such thing as MP3 and streaming music; in a way I miss those times and am sure I’m not alone.
Anyway on to the Halifax miserabalists and their 13th studio album, a couple of things have occurred between it and last one ‘A Map Of All Our Failures.’ Firstly long serving member guitarist Hamish Glencross bowed out after 14 years of service to concentrate more on his crusty old school death outfit Vallenfyre. Replacing him sees Calvin Robertshaw re-joining the group after having hung up his strings back in 1999 after having been in the band for nine years. Another event that seriously affected the band was the passing of singer and lyricist Aaron Stainthorpe’s father Alwyn and naturally this album is dedicated to him and opens up with an incredibly heartfelt and poignant number ‘And My Father Left Forever.’ How difficult this was to both compose and perform for Aaron and the other members one can only imagine but it can’t have been easy in the slightest. As far as the listener is concerned it drops us straight into a well-recognised sound that could only possibly belong to one band on this earth. It’s a hefty number with a lot of weight to it as the drums beat a tattoo and Aaron’s voice swoons in on the wings of a gorgeous melody. Surprisingly the mood and emotion is not all dismal and sorrowful here and it’s a song with a sense of proudness and love at its heart. As it slows we are touched once more by the return of the violin and no doubt it has been welcomed back by many of the band’s followers, myself included, adding a great sense of atmosphere when it puts in an appearance.
Many of the eight songs here are of sturdy length and the album just breaks over the hour running time. It has taken a fair few listens to get properly into it and I did find that I quickly formed an affinity and love for the opener and title track most of all. That’s not to say anything else here is lacking in the slightest and each and every number has a sense of the band going back to their classical roots, of which some may say they never really left. Lyrics are important, although they are for you to discover for yourself but the sheer poeticism of them is illustrated in track titles like ‘To Shiver In Empty Halls’ which thunders in with huge beefy vocal bellows. It’s got a feel of anger and indignation about it and the riffs tremble and quake mightily but with a unique juddering melody enforced within them and the maudlin central theme of the musicianship. Naturally thoughts turn to how these songs are going to sound live and the prognosis is very favourable, perhaps the opener may prove just a bit too personal to unveil in this respect though and I guess we will have to wait and see just what they include. As for shivering as spoken words sorrowfully tell their tale through these empty halls I am more prepared to feel their cold grip run down my spine. ‘A Cold New Curse’ is full of emotion through clean vocal harmonies and weeping guitar lines, it still has ballast with some mighty roars and gravid tempos rocking slowly through it and shaking things like an oncoming storm and this one really contrasts this with fragility before building with underlying symphonic elements beneath it. You should be prepared to be hooked on the title track it’s not quite so epic lengthwise and a real quick number to get beneath the skin with the song title being crooned out over a regimented drum beat and then the addition of violin swooning in and carrying you away with it.
Moving on to the B side (yep let’s be totally old school about it) and a tinkling piano melody takes us into ‘A Thorn Of Wisdom’ it’s a slow one that keeps things relatively minimalistic with electronic parts and some choral sounds before the guitars join in and play a sorrowful refrain. On reflection it’s a bit different for the band as is the 5 minute running time. ‘I Celebrate Your Skin’ is also quite slow and ponderous, the second half of the album really does drench in misery which may be a bit more doomy than some can cope with. This is a bit of a requiem mass of a number with a funereal pace augmented by hoary roars. The violin of course makes it all the more abject in its suffering. There always has to be a track suggesting doomed romance on a MDB album and the Byronesque ‘I Almost Loved You’ is surely it this time around. Another surprisingly short soliloquy for the group it has a classical feel with keyboard and vocals and violin dragging you into the depths of despair and dispensing with more metallic influences and instruments entirely. Going out on a low with the albums longest track ‘Within a Sleeping Forest’ serving as a very dark fairy tale this second half of the album is really full of misery compared to the first which when you think of it really should be but isn’t quite so. Perhaps that will make sense if this is an album that you too have consumed and of course you should be doing so. My Dying Bride have never let us down and even in the face of adversity and hardship have been spurred on to write another album that could well be considered a classic of the future. The Matt Vickerstaff artwork is every bit as classic to go with it too.
(8.5/10 Pete Woods)