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This album starts out with a few distorted chords with delay, twanging, hanging in the air above you for a short second before they come crashing down. The beat is not at all slow, but the strumming is hardly discernible through the distortion and drums. Aaron Stainthorpe begins singing, and it is distorted and sounds quite nasal. “Tell me that I'm a sinner / Lay me down again / I need a soft flesh bed”… It’s sludgy and dirty, and thick with keyboards. A melancholic guitar melody enters and ends. And then, after a few minutes, the music breaks down into feedback fluttering with tremolo effects, finally fading and leaving you with only a distant clean guitar in a bare, clinical building, with what sounds as the bleeping of a medical apparatus keeping a hypnotizing beat. Some murmur is heard after a while; apparently Stainthorpe is answering questions about his life: “Umm… Thirty-one”, “Uh yeah, two cats”. However, you are left guessing what the questions actually are, unless you speak the Asian (?) language they are asked in (or look in the booklet). After one final question, Stainthorpe snarls “Fuck you” as an answer – and another heavy part concludes the song, its final words “Be mine forever more / Until I'm fucking sick of you”.
That monolithic twelve minute track opens this infamous My Dying Bride-album, and is one of the best of the songs. The juxtaposition between the heavy and filthy parts and the slow, ambient-ish interlude is absolutely brilliant. But having listened to other MDB-songs, you might be in some confusion about certain statements here. Distorted vocals? Swearing? Everyday-life-themed? Not slow?!
My Dying Bride is known for their dark, romantic, sad soundscapes. This album, however, while pretty “dark”, is hardly romantic and not very slow. The tempo is mid-paced for most of the time, and the feel is rather “anti-romantic” than romantic, the attitude being quite cynical and the atmosphere dirty. When shutting your eyes and listening to this music, you may find yourself lying sleepless in the shaggy bed of a tiny, untidy apartment; or walking through a littered alleyway at night, tramps and low-lives lying or sitting hunched in doorways and corners. The lyrics deal with loneliness, monotony, and sex. And sex is here viewed as nothing beautiful or tender, but merely a perfunctory routine, a destructive addiction.
The very odd track “Heroin Chic” exemplifies this. The track contains little metal elements at all, it is more of experimental rock. Electronic sounds, a trippy beat, and Aarons vocals sound like a drugged and/or dead tired rapper. Yes, a rapper. As in hip-hop. The line “Calmly walk from slut to slut” pretty well summarizes the theme of the lyrics. The monotonous, apathetic vocals contemplate the utter lack of meaning in the life depicted, and the whole track sounds like a wretched parody of the cockiness in hip-hop and r’n’b-music. The only thing that stops this song from being brilliant is that someone in a deranged moment decided to add white noise to the vocal track whenever Stainthorpe cusses.
In contrast to the rough sexually directed songs there is for example “Der Überlebende”, another of my favourites. The song is 7½ minutes and only consists of three semi-slow riffs, being repeated again and again and again… The slightly distorted chords rock you into a peaceful state of mind and give a pause from the gritty feeling of the other songs. Also the lyrics display a streak of hope, “…but I'm alive, I’m alive”. A very comforting song; something to listen to those days when life feels like shit.
Then there is “The Stance of Evander Sinque”, the probably most accessible song here, about a man living and dying oppressed without accomplishing anything. Heavy and a little doomy.
There is “Base Level Erotica”, another ugly song about sex, with squealing harmonics, and a riff repeated endlessly at the end. The song gives the impression of a sexual act more like a fight. Horrible and great.
“Apocalypse Woman” is a decent song following the same theme of relationships that only bring misery to both parts.
The album ends with yet another song along that theme – or is there some hope here, a wish to break free? “They come, they go / Will you stay here?” - the lyrics can be interpreted in different ways. Unfortunately, the ending is a bit sudden and anti-climactic.
The musicians’ playing skill and style has not been dwelt into in this review, and really, there is not much to say. This is a doom band after all, even if this particular album does not stay within conventional doom boundaries. The whole point is not to play extravagant solos, but to conjure up an atmosphere. With this, My Dying Bride succeeds just as well as they almost always do. Even without violins, without dual guitar melodies, and without playing slowly they manage to convey a bleak, yet strangely comforting feeling, different from anything else they have ever made, and probably ever will make.
This album stands unique to me; I cannot think of anything it really sounds like. I cannot say who will like it and who won’t, the best anyone can do is judge for themselves, without preconceptions. This album is different.
A few songs that only qualifies as "pretty good" are all that prevents this album from getting a really high rating.