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To get an idea of the mood of this album, just imagine you’re standing on a desolate plain by a very gloomy stormy night, looking in an old well filled with utterly dark water. Indeed, dark is the key word here. Some may praise Turn Loose the Swans as the best My Dying Bride release, but this sounds far more depressive and, in my opinion, better than Turn Loose the Swans. Over the years the band has managed to take the best of traditional doom metal (I’m referring to Candlemass or early Paradise Lost) and gothic metal without forgetting the death metal touch of their first albums, and even the avant-garde atmospheric experiments of the infamous 34.788%... Complete, to combine them into this unique piece of pure DESPAIR.
This album exhibits several tracks which sound close to the previous MDB opus The Light at the End of the World, like Black Heart Romance or A Cruel Taste Of Winter. But even in these tracks you can notice the slight difference which makes this album so exceptional. Because this work shows an undeniable GOTHIC feeling – which will be found again on the last to date MDB full-length Songs of Darkness, Words of Light. That may come from the slightly more tortured clean vocals from Aaron, or the impressive keyboard background due to guest keyboardist Johnny Maudlin of Bal-Sagoth fame. Keyboards which sound sometimes similar to the violin of the first MDB outfits (until Like Gods of the Sun), especially on My Hope, The Destroyer where they almost sound like a genuine violin, only more powerful. And, eventually, keyboards which have the good taste to shut up when the time has come, what is not so common.
Almost every song begins with a lively (hell, for doom metal of course) guitar-driven verse which generally in the middle of the track turns into a very slow melodic and emotional (in the best way) part more or less interrupted by heavier growled passages. Song structures are indeed complex and exhibiting a single pattern for the whole album would be rather hard. Clean vocals (predominant), growls, short atmospheric interludes, straightforward death-metal parts, spoken passages sometimes (in The Deepest Of All Hearts especially), and RIFFS alternate in the most perfect manner. Because yes, this album has riffs, both slow and raspy doom metal riffs which account for much in the melancholy of the work, and prevent it from falling into unstructured gothic/atmospheric garbage. Here might well be the secret of this genuine piece of art.
Each song sounds, of course, unique. The gorgeous The Raven And The Rose with its heavy as fuck verses, its both slow, melodic and pathetic bridge, its minimalist piano solo and its melancholic ending riff. My Hope, The Destroyer and its majestic keyboard intro. The 14 minutes long closing track The Return To The Beautiful which is pure tribute to the similarly named song on the band's debut As the Flower Withers and which is, as such, the most "death-metalish" song here. Without of course forgetting the darkest of the dark, the lowest of the low, the bottom of the well if you prefer, that is, the title track and the oddly named Le Figlie Della Tempesta (yes, a track sung in English with an Italian title, never understood why).
These two tracks, the most atmospheric and gothic-inspired of this release, aren’t similar to anything in the whole MDB discography. The inspiration for them might well be found in the experimental 34.788%... Complete album, coupled with, actually, the whole rest of the band’s works. Both of them exhibit sound landscapes, rain samples, and haunting semi-acoustic minimalist guitar parts alternating with heavier death/doom passages (The Dreadful Hours) or distorted choruses (Le Figlie Della Tempesta). This last song, crazily and hypnotically bass-driven, might well be the most hopeless and agonizing piece of work MDB ever recorded.
Lyrically all songs deal with love and death, with a strong emphasis on the last. But really, the band could have sung about flowers and butterflies than it wouldn’t have been less depressive, the music itself being amongst the saddest you might ever imagine.
Some may prefer the more direct, black-sabbath-ish doom metal of the 80’s doom bands, or may be disturbed by the gothic side of this work, preferring the rawer Turn Loose the Swans or As the Flower Withers. As far as I’m concerned I consider this album as the best release My Dying Bride did so far, and one of the best “dark metal” albums ever.
Highlights: The Raven And The Rose, Le Figlie Della Tempesta, A Cruel Taste Of Winter, My Hope-The Destroyer, The Deepest Of All Hearts