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I clearly remember my entrance to the doom metal genre via gothic metal. My Dying Bride was my gateway, and this album served as a "Doom Metal 101" to me. Even to this day, I can still say this is my favorite MDB recording that I've heard so far, and it may very well be the band's most consistent and well-honed offering. Things in MDB's camp took a triumphant return to the dreary, depressing, and ultimately epic brand of doom/death/gothic metal for this album, making it somewhat of a modern classic when looked at in the context of past albums which strayed from the band's original formula.
The Dreadful Hours is very much a doom/death album; the majority of Aaron's vocals here are either screamed or growled, tempos are stuck in the mid-range dirge, (which is a good thing) and the bottom-heavy guitars give everything a very oppressive, rainy, nocturnal atmosphere. However, the famous gothic elements that the band are known for are in full swing here, with a new breath of life; "My Hope the Destroyer" switches beautiful guitar harmonies and strings with Aaron's signature croon, and "A Cruel Taste of Winter" sees the return of the dark romantic flair in the lyrics and foreboding keyboard parts. The "gothic" aspect is written all over the band's sound, but is especially prevelant in, obviously, the keyboards, which are skillfully composed. "The Raven and the Rose" utilizes twinkling, tragic pianos at the song's end before bursting into a slug-paced passage with melancholy guitar harmonies. Many will claim that the keyboards consist of nothing more than background ambience of choirs and strings, but the synths play an essential role of the aesthetic and atmosphere behind the music.
Even more impressive than the flawless performance from the band is the seamless integration of the death metal and morose gothic metal passages. Moments of ferocity and scorn are perfectly interplayed with tranquil, almost melancholy passages. "The Deepest of All Hearts" starts with chugging death metal riffs and ominus growls before going into even deeper territory that borders on funeral doom. A huge switch-up comes, though; a shuffling drum beat enters, complimented by harmonized guitars and Aaron's seductive clean vocals. It doesn't last long, though; as the keyboards enter, everything climaxes and becomes more foreboding before falling off into melodic territory again. This is constant throughout the album, and shows the band's versatility at creating a dramatic backdrop to everything; the narrative lyrics only help this case, and the constantly winding song structures only heighten that sense of atmosphere. "Le Figile Della Tempesta" takes a totally different stance altogether, being a very quiet, eerie song that straddles experimental territory with its sparse clean guitars, spider-like bass work, and cascading drumwork. Interestingly, this album never wears itself thin; it constantly has great riffs or arrangements at hand, and Aaron's vocal performance is one of his best yet. It is constantly enjoyable and interesting, and further listening will only open up more possibilites in the sound.
As a unit, this is an incredibly tight performance, aided only by a warm, punchy production job that makes wise use of effects on the instruments. The drums are rock-solid in the album's course, and the improvised, seemingly random fills only help things out with a sense of urgency and upcoming change. All of the guitar passages are executed flawlessly, even the heavier, more technical riffs seen on the beginning of "The Raven and the Rose." Both guitarists use a wise sense of dynamics when switching gears, whether it's from bruising tremolo riffs to sustained, encompassing power chords. This adds a lot of replay value to the album, in retrospect. Each song structure is carefully balanced to play off of the lyrics, which is something you don't see often in metal bands.
Aaron offers up one of his best performances here. His growls have been fine-honed to perfection, as seen on the bitter verses of "The Raven and the Rose" and through the course of "The Return to the Beautiful." This offers a startling counter-attack to his clean vocals, which have improved considerably; "My Hope the Destroyer" sees the outpouring of one of his best clean performances, and the desperate title track is another excellent example. Lyrically, not much has changed; the majority of the themes still revolve around love, loss, death, and the occasional tale of revenge and lust. It's all good though, because this is what the band succeed at, and we wouldn't have it any other way.
Overall, The Dreadful Hours may be MDB's most entertaining and best album all-around since Like Gods of the Sun or Turn Loose the Swans. Lovers of the band who haven't heard this album will thoroughly enjoy it as yet another grand opus from the band, and it proves to be a great introduction to the band, since this album in particular sees the apex of the doom/death style before the band headed into more gothic-tinged territory.
Highlights: "The Raven and the Rose," "A Cruel Taste of Winter," "My Hope the Destroyer," "The Return to the Beautiful."