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Having picked the bones of the monstrous The Barghest O' Whitby clean of its sumptuous doomed red meat, and having lost meself quite readily in Evinta's maligned, dark and ambient sprawl, my expectations for future material from the Bride were at a high unseen since the aftermath of the excellent behemoth that was A Line Of Deathless Kings. Releasing so many between-album projects could be a sign of confidence and fulfillment, or seem a tad desperate. These boys have never been interested in sales and media attention just for the sake of it, so I took it as a sign of good things to come, and refreshingly, I haven't been disappointed. With this record the Bride secure their spot among the (surprisingly) growing legions of oldies still going strong (the law of diminishing returns can fuck off, it seems).
A Map Of All Our Failures sounds like it has been worked on carefully and at length; I can imagine the bluff ol' Yorkshiremen behind it poring over its every note and lyric, possibly attempting to link it all together using an actual map, explaining why there be more monsters on this album than most. For once, a statement made by a member of a band actually describes it pretty well - either Glencross or Mackintosh, can't remember which, described it as "a controlled demolition of all your hopes". That sums it up nicely - one of the key appeals of this album is its patience. MDB has always moved a bit glacially and been a compositionally patient band, but the songs here are a little sparser where they need to be, so that when the demolition comes in - the miserably triumphant climaxes, the weightier riffs - it has more impact. The sound of the album also enhances the boner - where For Lies I Sire had a somewhat deadened, flat production that sapped any throb and thud from the guitars and drums, the band's stated intention to combine the rugged heat of The Barghest O' Whitby with a more "clean" sound "appropriate" for a full-length works very nicely.
Aided by the improved production, the drums sound a lot better, with some of the work in 'A Tapestry Scorned' particularly thumping. The violin also gets abused more aptly for this outing - For Lies I Sire was apparently written before the band was availed the services of a violinist, and it sort of showed in the instrument's relegation to odd little accents rather than the memorable punctuation familiar to the works of more than a decade ago. For this 'un the tone of the instrument is more jarring and its use more tasteful.
The record makes its mark most impressively where it shifts things up a bit, nailing some more varied compositions in the vein of what For Lies I Sire attempted to do. 'Kneel Till Doomsday' is, dare I say it, the perfect MDB song. Distraught and crawling riffs and clean vocals give over to an energetic harmonized pulse reminiscent of songs like 'She Is The Dark', before snarling into one of the grittiest blasting sections the band has yet been responsible for - almost bestial in its filth-tainted and blackened excess. An entire album of that squalling bile would garner as much attention in the extreme metal underground as Greg Mackintosh's groovy death metal project Vallenfyre. 'A Tapestry Scorned' is another highlight, matching Stainthorpe's grim lullabies with patented bleak guitar weeping, some grinding death metal riffage and a simple but chilling lyrical story. The keyboard organs are a particularly nice touch for the MDB devotee. The title song uses some clanging, desert rock/ doom style guitars to great effect, while 'Hail Odysseus' has a proud, marching riff structure with accompanying horns, beset and spiked with eerie roars and whispers of the mythical hero's name.
Stainthorpe, undoubtedly one of me favourite vocalists for his brooding Yorkshire intonation and still impeccable lyrics, manages to sound as tortured as ever, tapping both the noble expostulations of Evinta and the howling of The Barghest. The Dreadful Hours, The Light At The End Of The World and perhaps Like Gods Of The Sun remain his finest hours, but Map makes for a solid performance. From the almost choral wailing on 'Like A Perpetual Funeral' and at the beginning of 'The Poorest Waltz' to his still evil-sounding rasps, he sounds as if he is challenging himself and thoroughly enjoying what he's doing - at least, far more so than with For Lies I Sire or even the two 2011 releases. The gnarly wails to end 'Abandoned As Christ' are pretty nifty too - in fact it makes for an all-round excellent closer, terrific gurning guitars, a crowning performance from Stainthorpe, cracking.
A Map Of All Our Failures delivers, in parts, on levels the band hasn't crested since its inimitable century-turning duo The Light At The End Of The World and The Dreadful Hours. While it ain't as consistent as the aforementioned 2006 monster, it plumbs the band's catalogue for long draughts of dire inspiration and, more often than not, hits the ground running. Or whatever an album that generally moves at this pace would do in that situation. Stride, I reckon.