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My Dying Bride seem to have really embraced their craft the last few years, playing more live shows than they have in quite a while, putting out live albums, DVDs and all sorts alongside their full-lengths. Now we all know that aging metal bands have to plan for retirement like anyone else, but this a far cry from a band that didn't even want to get on stage previously. Since they are unlikely to appear on MTV or be able to buy gold toilet seats any time soon, I intend to continue innocently enjoying their current prolificness.
This time round they've plumbed the archives for three discs of classically reimagined hits - inasmuch as the word "hits" may be used here. By hits I mean, you know. Songs you or I might recognize. The idea is that, instead of simply re-recording their personal faves in the style of 'Sear Me MCMXCIII' and 'For My Fallen Angel', or as Virgin Black-esque symphonic doom, classical rendering of themes and motifs from old songs have been worked into tracks with new lyrics and titles. That way, we all feel like we're getting something new, and the band can pick the most suitable passages for the project. It's one of the smartest ideas I've come across for a reworking of old material, and a lot of work has clearly gone into it.
There is more than two hours of material here, which consists predominantly of quiet, keyboard-driven atmospheres punctuated with violins, pianos, even flutes and the occasional bit of electronica. 'In Your Dark Pavilion' and 'Vanite Triomphante', with their violins and soaring soprano passages, are at times bleakly exultant, while later tracks like the grim closer 'And All Their Joy Was Drowned' supply a deathly, minimalist climax that is suggested at more and more throughout the album's running time.
Aaron Stainthorpe joins in to mumble distraught stanzas, and occasionally supply a bit of singing. Stainthorpe has been muttering these lovelorn lyrics for twenty years now in his baritone sung lament. However, every now and again the sheer poetic patter of his slow incantations on Evinta can still raise the hair on your arms. For me, it's the sparse moments when he embraces his old, more murderous '90s self for a macabre reminiscence of bitter triumph:
I leave splashed with blood
Your ribbon locks my hair
And all their joy was drowned
Not - of course - that I care
The man should have been on stage with that brandy-soaked voice, the slight northern accent only adding to the various menace and moroseness. But better a loss to theatre than metal.
Part of the fun is the easter egg hunt-like experience of finding and identifying your favourite songs, jumbled as they are into new compositions. These compositions can, of course, never capture the same bleak majesty as the originals they are culled from. 'The Burning Coast of Regnum Italicum' makes me want to listen to the title cut from The Dreadful Hours, and the menacing strings of 'That Dress and Summer Skin' make me want to put on 'She is the Dark.' But the meshing of sequences from albums ancient and recent into classically oriented mood music, with the narration adding to the build of tension throughout, is a very interesting and rewarding experience.
Thing is, you're in the third disc before these sequences from 'The Wreckage of My Flesh' and 'The Dreadful Hours' are introduced, and Evinta's final act acquires a much darker hue. Most versions don't feature this third disc, and for the full experience you need to splash. The packaging makes it worthwhile for collectors, but it's a shame to deprive the un-moneyed or tentative of possibly the best disc in the set.
What with the excessive length and repetitious nature of the material, as well as the complete and utter absence of new songs or guitars, this probably is only something a Bride devotee need pick up. Having heard everything they've done over the past seven years, I'm getting a lot out of it, but it isn't recommended to this feast's latecomers.