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Okay, well maybe not elegant, but surprisingly well considered, perfectly proving that anyone so inclined could and would produce a death metal demo in the 1990s. My Dying Bride moped onto the scene to little fanfare in late 1990 with Towards the Sinister, a far cry from just about anything they've ever released since. Even its full-length cousin As the Flower Withers, about its closest counterpart sound-wise, has that ponderous, gothic style which separates it from this monstrosity. Nope, even with their gothic-ass name, the Bride played straight up death on this, about the closest thing to the later works here being the slow drums as opposed to the traditional death metal tactic of hitting absolutely everything. Anyway, I digress...
Musically, this is a token death metal demo affair, however there are some occasional atmospheric keys which do add a nice layer to the songs on which they appear. Other than keyboards though, what separates this from any other demo is the lyrical content. Yes, Stainthorpe's meanings are convoluted as fuck and it can take hours for a song's message to filter through but by god the man is a talented lyricist. The obscure nature of the lyrics here and the Romantic literature-ish sound to them makes this far from standard. The riffing does have a certain doomy quality (mainly speed-wise), but are mostly deathy for the entirety here; however that's not to say that they aren't clever.
The songs demonstrate two very different types, split directly down the middle. The opening two tracks are representative of everything the band stands for: pushing boundaries and taking stuff off on many tangents. The two closers have not been re-recorded, not surprising given that they are stock death metal songs attempting to jump on the already burgeoning bandwagon of extremity. Thus, the two pieces of real interest here are songs 1 and 2, "Symphonaire Infernus et Spera Empyrium" (nope, I have no idea what that means) and "Vast Choirs". The opener, in particular, is a great song, alternating between slower segments and frantic, heavy parts and the keyboards adding sparse but well-done background sound in some parts. "Vast Choirs" is a little more of a narrative, with some obscure meaning, really dominated by Stainthorpe's lyricism, and featuring a choir (how they managed that on a demo is beyond me) with, again, a nice atmospheric touch. At this point, why the band didn't choose to get a decent mix and release the first half as an EP is a mystery, instead they chose to write two death-metal-by-the-numbers songs and put them on as little more than filler.
But what about the instruments and sound quality? The playing is generally good, but a bass to add some depth to the guitars would be more than welcome. The drumming, however, is very competent and holds everything together nicely, maintaining a steady pace with playing which avoids over-the-topness. But the show is stolen by the guitars and vocals. Andrew Craighan and Calvin Robertshaw play some inventive parts and although the second guitar is largely unnecessary, it does increase the expansive feel of the two in general. And the vocals, well...wow. Aaron Stainthorpe sounds fucking brutal on here, gurgling his way through the lyrics with a tone which menaces and attacks, seeming contemptible of humanity and totally full of hate. For a singer who isn't the best technical growler, his performance here is a fantastic one. Finally, I've skirted around it for long enough, the sound quality. It is very poor, even for a demo, but if you turn up the volume loud enough it is better.
In all, this is a bit of a mixed bag. The first two tracks are awesome and so are the performances, whereas the final ten minutes and the sound quality are crap. I would say that it's well worth a listen if you like obscure death metal stuff, and it is entirely possible that someone who is a bigger fan of death metal than me would give this a score in the high 90s. So there's a fair bit to like here, but it's all relative to taste.
When people think of My Dying Bride, they immediately think of the classical, landmark, doom/death albums like Turn Loose the Swans and The Dreadful Hours. The band was at one point, however, a more purely death metal affair, and it was a damn good one, highly technical, and extremely ahead of it's time. The production aside, all tracks but the first have a very modern brutal death metal sound to them. This demo manages to capture all the intensity of a Suffocation or Morbid Angel record while still achieving that morbid, gloomy, darkness, and depression My Dying Bride's later releases focused on more exclusively. This is far different from any other My Dying Bride recording, it's blast heavy, it's very fast, and there is not a trace of beauty nor the trendy, somewhat commercial gothmosphere which seemed to entrench itself in later recordings.
Which brings me to one of the most important points, the lyrics and vocals. I don't know what his educational background is, but Aaron Stainthorpe's command of the english language supercedes some of the greatest poets, novelists, and writer's of our time. Whereas the recurring themes in following works tended to be based on angst, the pains of love, and yes even vampirism (*cringe), this release addresses the human condition in a mature, poetic, and far more scornful and furious manner. I have no idea what happened inbetween this release and Turn Loose the Swans, but the lyrics suddenly dumbed down into uninventive language and fairly simple, universal, themes, repeated over and over again. The vocals on this album are largely unprocessed and at their absolute most vicious and indecipherable. They're among the most evil sounding vocals in death metal, at a sickening mid pitched howl. He sounds angry enough to go back in time and help crucify jesus. Chris Barnes would be both jealous and proud.
The album is of course bound to have one crippling weakness, that being the production quality. Think worse than Darkthrone but better than Judas Iscariot. As you might expect, there is no bass guitarist. Two of the songs were given the treatment and rerecorded properly, Symphonaire Infernus Et Spera Empyrium and Vast Choirs, however Vast Choirs plainly sounds better in it's lo-fi demo version, largely in part due to the keyboard intro. The keys scattered throughout this release have a terrifying, creepy, and morbid sound to them, unlike the overused choir "ahhs" that ever doom/gothic band and their mother uses today.
Overall, this release will probably appeal to those death metal fans out there that are craving that sonic darkness and morbidity often lost in modern death metal, without sacrificing on excellent musicianship, speed, and intensity. The closest comparisons I can make to this release would be diSEMBOWELMENT, Funebrarum, Bloodbath, and maybe a bit of the oldschool Swedish stuff.