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High on the list of 'bands that I never want to listen to because of the terrible band name', My Dying Bride were a band that I had avoided for quite a long time indeed. It's hard to think about this band (and still is) without thinking of all sorts of pretention and terrible gothicness, for some reason the band's name also brings to mind some terrible sort of faux-Shakespearian attempt at poetry, but I digress. Terrible name, perhaps, but this is pretty good nonetheless.
I guess a good comparison would maybe be a more depressed and much better Opeth; certainly there's some similar elements between the two, but whereas Opeth fail to get any sort of good momentum and flow between their riffs, My Dying Bride manage to give everything a good sense of flow and momentum, changing around with the riffs and offering some li'l bits of flowing, classically inspired clean parts just for shits and giggles. Certainly this sort of 'flowing' sense doesn't always work for the band; the riffs tend to blend in a fair bit together and overall it's not always clear as to which song is which.
Still, as far as problems go it's not that big a deal. My Dying Bride may sound a little bit samey in this album but there's still plenty of good moments. The title track offers a rather tasty selection of powerful doomy death riffs before everything sinks into a slower sort of dirge, where everything gets all the more heavier and despondent. While My Dying Bride are quite good at their faster (albeit still mid tempo) moments, it's when they fully embrace the doom metal that things get seriously good. There's plenty of examples throughout the album, certainly it's no surprise that the deep, (to borrow a phrase off another reviewer) subterranean keyboard break in 'The Crown of Sympathy' is one of the best parts in the album, and the duel guitar 'lead' at the end of the song is also freakin' excellent.
I guess the main problem with this band is that while most of the songs have some truly marvelous moments, with the possible exception of 'Crown of Sympathy' the songs seem to be stuffed with some filler. Again there's Opeth comparisons to be made here; MDB aren't as bad as Opeth when it comes to adding in unnecessary parts but there's certainly some filler riffs and changes that don't need to be there scattered throughout the album- 'The Songless Bird' opens up with a real turd of a riff that has absolutely no reason to exist, and 'The Snow in My Hand' wanders around pointlessly for a few minutes then ends. Combined with Aaron's occasionally awful vocals (main offender being Songless Bird, again), you'd be surprised as to just how much there is to hate here.
However, a panning is definitely saved by some songs and riffs. When My Dying Bride get their formula right it's quite breathtaking indeed. The best songs here have got a very elegant touch to it that for some reason reminds me of Thergothon; no idea why but I guess its, again, the "flowing" nature of MDB's stuff. The best of MDB's stuff flows along at a very dignified, stately pace, and Aaron's excellent lyrics really work in favour of said dignity. It's worth mentioning, again, that "Crown of Sympathy" is an absolute beast of a tune, a rather nice mid tempo doomy beginning flowing (there's that word, AGAIN) into a truly chilling keyboard break with some excellent vocals from Aaron. Sure, the trumpets are shit but the end riff is immensely satisfying, slow doom at it's finest, and overall you can't help but think that it's one of the best songs ever written by anyone. The title track is a similar stunner, albeit in a fiercer, doomy-death style and the symphonic intro and outros are both well worth mentioning, as they're really, really good, the piano and strings combo coming off as quite tasteful and well played.
I guess it also helps that even when MDB are indulging in a bit of filler, or just going through the motions, they still sound quite good. Aaron's angsty/bored vocals get on your nerves occasionally, but they're rarely all that bad. The riffs are sometimes a bit unsatisfying, but I would hardly say that they are offensive- either they're good or you don't really notice that they're there, which isn't that bad a thing. There's no place here where My Dying Bride drop below the "average" sort of quality; it's all either really really good or somewhat mediocre but still quite ok, and while that's not a good thing I don't really have much of a problem with it.
To conclude, then. I quite enjoyed this album, it's got some excellent stuff and it's quite solid all round. Recommended if you like your Doom deathy or your death doomy, although chances are you've already got this if you like this genre.