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As if to prove they haven't gotten old and soft after the indulgent three-disc classical release Evinta, My Dying Bride are right back and grittier than they have been in almost two decades. The Barghest O' Whitby is one, impenetrably long song, in line with much older material in terms of sound, and their single most ambitious work yet. Alright, so it was originally planned as separate tracks, but the choice to release it as one makes for a more challenging and involving listen and the piece(s) benefit from the decision.
This is basically the sort of thing I did not expect them to do, but here they are forsaking all the slight differentiations in sound they explored during the last eighteen years and plugging in for basic, brilliant English doom with a cool story to boot. The song is basically slow right until the end, marked by a couple of quiet moments, twice or thrice building into emotional climaxes that suggest catastrophe and tragedy with more aptitude than in a long time. From a more tense, understated first half to the all-out melancholic keening guitars in the song's third quarter to the explosion of death growls, chugging guitars and double-bass drums at the end, this is everything you want from the Bride.
The band is tight. Craighan and Glencross are utterly reliable throughout. Howling wind (obviously) before the creaking, groaning guitars burn menacingly into life at the beginning, introducing the least goth-friendly the band have been for a long time. Heavy and melancholic by turns and at once, and also escalating. At about 8 minutes you get the sort of guitar riff you really need from doom, low, slow and heavy, before one of the band's more familiar melodies breaks through like light over a cemetery, seeming like it was lifted from 1999. The whining, repeating motif that marks the song's middle seems to tip its hat to the memorable opening of 'The Cry of Mankind'. It fades out so that the song can come back in with a highly miserably, keening section that must have been the beginning of a separate track to begin with - but as another chapter to the darker first half, it works brilliantly, utilising the sort of sad, epic and effective leads they were known for originally.
The violins are still there, but now they add the same macabre unease they did for Turn Loose the Swans, rather than the slightly more flamboyant arrangements heard of late. Aaron Stainthorpe sticks to the rasping growls that peppered recent songs such as 'A Chapter in Loathing' to such great, grisly effect, for the song's first six minutes, bringing them back later with some snarled narration to top it off. Simply put, this first section is genuinely a return to the sound of the band's first, never forgotten album. His clean vocals have some of the desperate, perverse poeticism I remember being so chilling on Songs of Darkness, Words of Light and such classic tracks as 'The Wreckage of My Flesh'. The wailed double-tracked backing vocals later on work awesomely, with a big dog's howl sampled at one point for further awesome points.
The drums get more space than they usually do in the band's increasingly compact songs. When drumming slow you really have to sound individual to impress, and particularly in the early minutes of this opus, Dan Mullins supplies some really atmospheric, crashing fills and tumbling drum rolls that sound in line with some of the more experimental sludge drummers. The cavernous, echoing sound afforded by the production helps as well, a far fetch from the sterile drum sound on For Lies I Sire.
The kid who got his hands on a download of The Dreadful Hours all those years ago (bought it since, keep your wig on) would really dig this. It makes me more interested in buying their next album than I have been since hearing the excellent A Line of Deathless Kings five years ago. Mandatory purchase for fans of these old English daddies.