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This is a very difficult album to review in a balanced way. 'As the Flower Withers' is undoubtedly an influential, atmospheric slab of unique death/doom, yet it is also undoubtedly a dated, poorly recorded slab of haphazard death/doom, wherein lies all its charms and repellants. As the first MDB album it clearly has a few songwriting wrinkles that are yet to be ironed out, but those idiosyncracies made the album a milestone in the early development of the genre. As such, it sometimes works very well and sometimes quite poorly, and has dated in a way not unlike doom/death peers Anathema's 'Serenades' album, also released in the early '90s. We thus end up with an album that sounds much older than its release date, which is only partly intentional.
The combination of instruments and the atmosphere that they generate make 'As the Flower Withers' sound like a blast of foetid air from the Middle Ages. Vocals are always gruff, tortured, and ragged; however, this rarely renders them indecipherable, except when they are pronouncing Latin words (I am assuming a limited general knowledge of Latin), which is naturally an aging factor. The guitars are heavily distorted, very deep (MDB were one of the first bands to regularly tune down to C and below), and are usually utilised at minimum pace, which seems to exaggerate an everyday toil and struggle that wouldn't be out of place in your average labourer or (I'm going by the lyrics here) monk. The slow riffs are more emotionally than physically crushing, playing in a mournful, melodic style, usually with both guitars contributing layers of the riff.
There are some faster, death metal sections on about half of the songs, which seem like an accurate depiction of the brutal sweep of a bloodthirsty crusade: the guitars are a little crusty here and tend not to riff technically, focusing more on pure speed and nastiness. There are blastbeats during these sections, but the drums do not dominate like in most extreme metal. In fact, they do not penetrate to the fore at all on this album, which is something of a blessing in disguise, since they can sound plodding and would spoil the contemplative melancholy of the lead instruments. Bass is surprisingly thick and meaty and just about stops the recording sounding too bare and weightless, though the basslines themselves are often difficult to pick out.
What really set this album album apart - and continues to do so - is the violin. Remember that this was released back in 1992, when there wasn't even a gothic bandwagon to jump on. The violin isn't merely for show either. It creeps and aches and wails in a way that even Gregor Mackintosh of Paradise Lost could never manage (and I consider him the most talented and original guitarist of all the original death/doom bands), adding a layer of menace and emotion that means the album remains more than an exercise in style and possesses its own medieval character. The violin doesn't dominate, but it crops up on the majority of the songs here, particularly those which sound like MDB's later output. The constant threat of this unknown element gives the album an unpredictability, meaning that it stays exciting even at a slow pace.
The level of invention on 'As the Flower Withers' extends beyond the addition of violin and is its strongest point. 'Sear Me' and 'The Return of the Beautiful' are both doom epics that contain huge riffs, a distinct atmosphere, and enough progressive touches (sorry, no choruses) to ensure the listener remains unsettled until the end. 'The Forever People' is the only track that could be classed as death metal and, since the style of DM that MDB play was never revolutionary, is the least interesting thing here. 'Vast Choirs' is also more death metal in style, but throws in enough changes in pace and mood to elevate the average musicianship.The hypnotic, monkish chants over the fast riffs are a touch of genius and there is a frenetic, thrash-like solo too.
The main problems with the album are its dated feel (you can argue for atmosphere all you like, but the recording quality is poor) and the slightly haphazard construction of the songs. MDB songs have always been progressive and structurally asymmetrical, but this trait is most pronounced in their early material and (especially if your mood does not match that of the album) it could make the songs seem directionless. This is mostly down to personal taste, but more adventurous doom fans will be enraptured.
A band’s debut album is always an interesting one. In some cases it exemplifies a band at their creative peak, while in others it shows a band still struggling to find their own identity. In the case of My Dying Bride with their influential debut, “As the Flower Withers” the former option best describes it their premiere effort.
First and foremost, at the time this was pretty revolutionary stuff. Mixing death metal, doom metal and doing it in a way that came off as dark and sad, was quite unheard of at the time. For the most part, the band succeeds, with this being their heaviest full length to date.
Aarons beautiful clean vocals were inexistent at this point in their career, with death growls being his style of choice. His gutturals are raspy and very raw, and add a very distinctive style to the band. The riffs are all heavy as hell and exemplify the brutal nature of both doom and death styles perfectly. Something that may come to a big surprise to fans of their newer material would be the amount of blasting found on the album, and it is in that where the only problem with this album lays, its struggle with identity.
“As the Flower Withers” shows a band unsure of where they were headed in their career. Some songs such as “The Forever People” and “Vast Choirs” are straight up death metal. These few tracks are not terrible, but the aggressive and fast paced nature of them seems fairly out of place on an album from a band that are known for making beautiful, down tempo epics.
Other songs like the opener “Silent Dance” and the classic tracks “Sear Me” and “The Return of the Beautiful” are beautiful pieces of death/doom that lay the groundwork for their oncoming opus “Turn Loose the Swans”, but they do seem as if they are missing something. Without Aaron’s clean vocals to contrast his rather raw harshes, there is something about these songs that feel unfinished and as if they are not playing these songs to their full gloomy potential.
All in all though, “As the Flower Withers” serves as a very competent debut that laid the groundwork for many future classics such as “Turn Loose the Swans” and “The Dreadful Hours”. Although it may not be anywhere near as strong those albums, it still serves as essential listening for any fan of My Dying Bride or doom metal curious of their roots.
Listening to a classic album is always hard. This is often because you “know” the music is great before having heard a single note, which makes it very hard to form an unbiased opinion of your own. Less frequently do you bump into an album like ‘As the Flower Withers’ – everyone is fully aware of its historical significance, but the actual musical quality has remained a subject of some debate to this day.
There were no clear predecessors to the sound My Dying Bride reached on their debut. Or, rather, did not reach: what was to later become their trademark is remarkably seldom heard here. Instead of being the ultimate definition of melodic death/doom, the music here seems much like a death metal band wanting to try something different – and not entirely succeeding. There is the special case of the main theme of ‘Sear Me’, where the future appears like a dreamy premonition, but this is an exception. The fact that the band were still in the midst of finding their style is crystal clear – the parts that most resemble what was to follow are easily the least interesting ones on the album. Take ‘The Return of the Beautiful’ as an example; the effort is there, but the song is hopelessly numbing with its simple chord-based riffs repeated endlessly. The famous violin is an obvious plus, but ultimately can’t do much on its own.
What is by far more interesting (and all too often overlooked) is My Dying Bride’s take on straight-up death metal. Listen to ‘The Forever People’ or ‘Erotic Literature’ and tell me this is not one of the most original DM acts of the early nineties. I know that’s saying a lot, but there you go – the fast-ish riffage bordering on technical doesn’t sound much like anything else made at the time or later. And this appears on ALL the tracks (save for the intro, of course), creating the kind of musical variety without which this release would be close to having no value at all. Even if this is not where the album’s significance stems from, it is not only the most interesting but also the most important part of the music, in my honest opinion.
Given the band’s status today, it is easy to forget that on ‘As the Flower Withers’ they were youngsters just starting a career. It shows, in ways that (depending on your attitude) you will either accept or hate. Not love, in any case. The only band members performing their part even adequately are Aaron – whose growls are a major high point of the album – and violinist Martin, whose work brings undeniable uniqueness to the overall atmosphere. As much as I am a fanboy, it must be said that the guitarists can just barely play what they intend to, and the drummer, while having a rather exceptional style, could not hold a steady tempo if his life depended on it. Beginning musicians’ common flaws, these – a little irritating, certainly, but to my ears forgivable. The songwriting leaves much to be desired as well, in particular the way how the two different styles are mixed is patchy, to say the least. The tracks seem to have been put together more or less at random, with little or no concern over the big picture. Actually, even MDB’s more recent material suffers from this. If you ever happen to think one (any) of their songs is logical in its musical development, I suggest you learn to play it, if at all possible – you will soon notice that ‘logical’ most definitely isn’t the correct word. Still, it can always be thought of as originality rather than lack of talent, and on this album their early stage as an outfit offers an acceptable excuse.
The production is something I wouldn’t bash much, even if it’s not exactly up-to-par with modern standards. The music can be heard (with a little effort, at times), and as far as I’m concerned, that’s good enough. Low-budget as the mix may be, it actually fits the music quite well and plays a part in creating an overall mood for the album. I have a funny feeling that having “better” production would not make this any better in general, and might even take something essential away from the effect the music has.
Now, I initially caught up on ‘As the Flower Withers’ relatively early on and have since grown to appreciate (almost) everything the band has ever put out. Their debut was a remarkable release for its time – in retrospect, anyway. It might not be as remarkable anymore, but if you ask me, it is compulsory listening to anyone who’s even slightly interested in My Dying Bride. Chances are you will learn something.
While numerous people own 'As The Flower Withers', I haven't heard of more than a handful who actually like to listen to it regularly. Or listen to it at all, for that matter. Before My Dying Bride became an overwrought gothic metal band (admittedly one that's occasionally very good, though they have enormous difficulty stretching those very good moments into actual songs) they were a rather clumsy and droning variety of doom/death metal which hasn't quite been replicated anywhere else. Then again, there's a reason WHY it hasn't been replicated: it's very awkward, strangely atmosphered, and lacking accessibility or memorability in just about every way. I can't deny that this is an album of immense historical and musical importance, but I can see little reason to listen to it when there are numerous other doom/death albums that are far superior. I guess that a variant of that point might be salient, though: there aren't really any other doom/death albums that sound like this in particular, so if you have a peculiar desire for something so plodding and dismal, this is really your only bet.
There's an orchestral intro (of course), and then 'Sear Me' enters, marking the best and most important part of the album. The reason that it takes both those titles is the same: this track sounds the most like what My Dying Bride would later become, and in actuality, the main verses are probably some of the best material that My Dying Bride ever turned out. The distinctive melodic riffing, the gently subtle violin, the unique drumming, and Stainthorpe's growls (they were the best they ever were on this song; it's all downhill from here) mesh flawlessly to create something verging on the sublime. In fact, 'Sear Me' is also notable for having dismal midpaced sections which are, if not especially interesting, listenable enough to not impact the song negatively, allowing it to rest at its comfortable level of greatness throughout its nine minute duration. Then the rest of the album just sort of stumbles/falls and I stop paying attention.
While I realize that the conventions of doom/death metal were in no way set in stone around 1992, I still find this to be a very clumsy album. This is not a synthesis of doom and death metal into a single entity as much as it is an abrupt collision of the two genres into each other. Reasonable given the time, yeah, but expecting to get punched in the face doesn't make that punch any more satisfying or acceptable than had the punch been a delightful surprise. 'Sear Me' is easily the most well-crafted and, for lack of a better word, logical song on the album. The rest is a fumbling combination of midpaced death/doom sections, weirdly distant and plodding moments infused with awkwardly employed violin, and fastish death metal which sounds kind of like... I don't know what. Some Bolt Thrower, maybe? Whatever, either way, nothing quite sounds like this album.
'As The Flower Withers' does have a good deal of atmosphere. The closest replication of it, and even it is a rough one, is the sort of thing that Xasthur does; that dismal, desolate feeling of emptiness that's specifically designed to be more void than substance. It's more active music, and so the atmosphere is more active, I suppose; there's a modicum of aggression and bitterness at points which distinguishes it somewhat, though nothing like what you would hear from Winter or similar artists. The main issue that really hurts this album is just how jumbled it is. There's riff after riff that really goes nowhere of significance, with some agonizingly long stretches of repetition of the simplest ideas drawing a great deal of attention to the fact that, quite honestly, the band didn't really know what they were doing or how to go about it. That's a fair thing when you're blazing a new trail, but it's nothing that I can really celebrate. Additionally, the old Xasthur issue comes back again: while there's a great deal of atmosphere, it's not an interesting atmosphere that particularly demands to be explored.
I think the production actually hurts this album quite a bit. 'The Return Of The Beautiful' was re-recorded for 'The Dreadful Hours', where it has a more powerful, clearer production, which makes the track much more engaging, if still not very exciting. The production on 'As The Flower Withers' is low-level studio, with a strained, cheap-sounding guitar tone, plastic drums, and vocals which are just sort of slapped over the top of the instruments. Everything feels very messy, and it seems like the band falters during the faster, more demanding portions, where it feels like the instrumental chops of those involved just aren't that good. These qualities give the whole album a dull, listless feel, which is atmospheric, but also isn't very interesting. Too much of this album feels arbitrary; a lot of the riffs just feel like random collections of notes, and the vocal patterns seem improvised on the spot with no connection to the music as a whole. It just feels like work to listen to.
I file 'As The Flower Withers' as another one of those albums that I appreciate but don't really like. It's an album designed for a very specific niche of metalheads who would like this sort of thing that I don't happen to be part of. It is very important, and I do recommend that everyone give it at least a couple listens, but it's not something that I find particularly entertaining in any way. I generally just listen to 'Sear Me' and put something else on, as I imagine that many others do as well.
“…adorn magnificent costume for I come to judge the world…”
And the air freshened, not with the proven aural aroma of deep groove, bearish death/doom, but with something that would become its wide-eyed sibling, a child that would take the role of a pupil crying the provision ‘the student shall surpass the master’. The master in this case is the death/doom bands, good or bad, already treading ground, setting standards, planting roots, sowing oats. And the student? As the Flower Withers.
Just as Aristotle arguably improved upon the teachings of Plato, My Dying Bride unrolls the not-so-dusty scrolls penned by Paradise Lost, Bolt Thrower, Amorphis, and even Goatlord, and illustrates them with hues the death/doom genres dreamed of in hushed celestial nightmares. With Symphonaires…, sleeping eyes fluttered, flinching with every inharmonious, sour string note remorselessly laid to the title track that would still be mere ornamentation of a bad sleep. But there it was dangled in front of us in almost tangible glory, and with that realization came the knowledge and hope that it wasn’t over, that something more revolutionary was right around the corner, and that the hibernating beast would awaken with more than just hunger on its mind. Of course, the beast is what it is – a death and doom hybrid not at all panther-like in its foundation, but this smarter creature, this heir to the sound, will eventually wake up and its narrow eyes will gleam with vengeful melancholy.
It would not be an immediate interruption of slumber, however.
Of the seven songs, four travel beyond the 7-minute mark with one finding the outskirts of twelve, and in that perpetual time Aaron will bellow from the pit of his stomach with lyrics awash in acidic prose. Peculiar timing and rhythmic shifts bear the fruit of signatures most uncommon as death and doom styles battle for dominance at the borders. “Silent Dance” is a noteworthy false start, an orchestral anomaly that’s an allusion to what had been heard fleetingly on last year’s ep and acts only as an intro in the thought of, but not like Frost’s “Innocence and Wrath”. Stalking into existence is the drear of “Sear Me”, a Latin-tongued half-caste gushing with a great sweeping doom rhythm that even in its mirthless tread manages to instill an odd, hopeful reverie onto the listener. Rays of light keyboard backdrops this joylessness for another streaming spasm of atmosphere. The comparably short “The Forever People” is more a cannonball of death aggression, straight and deadly with frenetic force somewhat like finale “Erotic Literature” that also engages a tragic interlude sneakily backlit by keys. “Vast Choirs” possesses some of the slowest drones as well as some of quickest charges on the disc.
“…I can see from your smile you’re not here for the sunset…”
Finally gonging the baptism of violin are “The Bitterness and the Bereavement” and “The Return of the Beautiful”, two colossi amongst songs that in their altogether twenty-minute length define despondency, lyrics or no: a frustration of poverty, a solidarity of anguish and life, the companionless (“…away bastard dogs, down from your throne, a dagger glints in my hand, you’ll perish alone…”), the sixth hour of wandering lost through a dank lightless cave…emotional and physical relevance is infinite here, which is probably why it works as well as it does. Of course, some will find these tedious regardless of the atmospheric vestige, the soundtrack to a train ride to Snoresville, but who wants to please everyone?
Solos are short-lived and offered in passing (usually in the faster parts), seemingly happy to let the countless quasi-main riffs to tow the line, which isn’t bad because most of them are quite commendable, but if they’re not that hot they’re usually diverted promptly.
While this isn’t wholly entrenched in multi-instrument atmosphere, it isn’t a dainty toe in the water either, and compared to previous efforts As the Flower Withers is a bold, leering assurance to what boiled in the minds behind My Dying Bride. As a student the band was still learning, swooping in like an owl that’s homed in on its prey…or is that a swan?
“…marvel at the hanging gardens…”
I don't listen to this album a lot and it isn't because the CD sucks or the band is terrible. It's not everyday that I listen to such bands like My Dying Bride because listening to this kind of music will (and I mean WILL) get you depressed... real fast. In My Dying Bride's case, this is a good thing.
Most doom metal is very epic, but when you talk about doom/death, many people might beg to differ and slab on the "gothic" or "dark" metal label. This album though is different... unlike Katatonia and other top contenders in the doom/death genre, this album is epic... every song has a deep vibe and "takes you places" let's just say. It doesn't take you to paradise or Shangri-la, but when you hear this album (especially the second track Sear Me,) you feel like you're standing out in the middle of a desolate, abandoned park in the rain as leaves fall towards you from the dying trees.
The opening riff on that song sets the tone of the album and immediately sets the mood of all the music on this "wretched" album. Everything on this album is slooow, yet has a very crunchy production to it. The guitar/bass sounds have a very disharmonic sound to the overdrive, the drumming is raw and the vocals further demonstrate the iniquity behind this album. From hearing the vocalist, you can feel that most of these songs of despair aren't just gimmick like most bands try (with their over-hyped evilness and/or sadness,) it all feels and seem real, which makes the music even more credible.
As I said before, most of the songs on this album are super slow (hence the long times for most of the tracks) but there are moments in some songs where it goes to a death metal onslaught attack. "Sear Me" has this mini break in the middle, and somehow My Dying Bride made this transition quite enjoyable; it's not like some groups which try doing this and sounds awful. Still, the fast break establishes that sorrowful sound behind the music so it doesn't ruin the mood. A song like "The Forever People" is another track which is quite speedy (and is the shortest track with lyrics) but it maintains that "My Dying Bride" quality and sounds very blasphemous. Most of the other tracks are very much the same but distinctive; they all don't sound the same.
The sole purpose of any doom metal album I believe is to set that specific depressive mood to you, the listener, when you're playing their music. This CD really accomplishes what it is meant to do, and that's to create a unique, atmospheric mood of despair and doom. At the same time, it's quite a listening experience and just doesn't serve as a means for someone to go and kill them self. This kind of music really brings me to tears... it really does. For any fan of doom metal and/or death metal, this underrated classic is highly recommended and for anyone who doesn't know much about the doom/death genre, this is a great masterpiece to start with. Just be warned this isn't a CD you could listen to everyday so yeah. Anathema, Katatonia, Paradise Lost and many others may have had their glorious doom/death days, but My Dying Bride will remain one of the inevitable champions of the doom/death genre that really hits you like a crestfallen bulldozer. This indeed is a classic... a lost classic.
Now if you'll excuse me, because of this music, I'm going to hang myself to death from my room doorknob with a grey sock... don't ask.
Ear Candy: Sear Me, The Forever People... mostly all of the tracks.
How could nobody review this album!? It is such a special album that it has to be reviewed.
Altough not my favourite Bride album (I'm still deliberating between "Turn Loose the Swans" and "The Angel and the Dark River) it still carries those unique moments that are memorable.
The first and obvious thing is that this is the rawest Bride album, which may not suit everyone's taste. For me it's just fine. Apart from that, this kind of production which makes this album great. But maybe it's just me.
The album kicks off with Silent Dance, nice synth effects but for me it's just a filler. But it is a nice prelude to their legendary Sear Me. Damn i love this song! it's one of the highlights of the album. The drum intro it's just Exquisite and it builds to the melancholy riffing. The music then changes into this Death/Doom metal style but still retaining that bitter sweet sadness.
Aaron's echoing growls are amazing and his knowledge in Latin is really evident in the lyrics.
The Forever People is my least favourite in this album. Too bad because it's popular amongst their fans. It's a bit repetitive for my taste and altough the vocal arrangements are the same as the rest of the album, i don't like them that much, they seem emotionless. But maybe it's me :P
Now this is Fuckin Doom! The Bitterness and the Bereavement is a materpiece! The Violin is now introduced in the album through this song, and such sadness! It has to break you down through the first listen. The guitar work is cool especially when it changes in the "Blessed in the womb..." part. But then it descends to that memorable riff that left me humming for weeks
After the sample Vast Choirs starts off in a really Melodic Death style before it descend to our usual dose of Bride. Btw Aaron's sinister laugh is wort an ear! :] Seriously, this is a stoner, especially when Aaron sings. The most memorable part (at least for myself) is that part before "Poena damni", it's just so fuckin cool that it has your head bangin in no time. Overall it's a very versatile song.
This is my favourite Bride song of all time.The Return of the Beautiful is an epic song of life. It's a cycle which every being has to go through, from birth to death. It's about self conflict, paradox, lust and the return to the beautiful which is earth itself. The amount of riffs is uncountable and the atmopshere which we are put in is unique. It all builds up in a rather bleak and gloomy manner and then it explodes into the Battle part. Very Impressive. Then it just flows to a sudden end. Aaron's vocals are impressively sad and emotional. I don't have anymore to say exept that the lyrics are written in a way that it should effect everyone in a different way. My Fave Bride moment.
The album closes with Erotic Literature, not bad, but after Return I don't know what could be better! It features some cool drumming/guitar combination and some nice moments, especially after the "I cannot die" part. Again, it's a versatile song but it doesn't quite fit the ending of such an incredible album.
I would have preferred that Return would have ended this album.
One of the best debut albums, highly versatile in taste and music. It was their first opus and the start of a highly succesful carrer, thus epitomizing the genre of Doom metal.