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A return to form for a band once scorned - 95%

absurder21, October 19th, 2012

When it comes to gothic metal, there are two different sounds that are attached to the name, making it somewhat confusing to people introducing themselves to the sound. There’s the original style which immerged in the late 80s/early 90′s that is a mixture of the romantic gloom of gothic rock (specifically Dead Can Dance, Bauhaus and Sisters of Mercy), complimented with the heaviness and physical catharsis of doom, doom/death metal such as My Dying Bride, as well as Paradise Lost, Type O-Negative and Tiamat. The other type is a lot more recent and seems to be defined purely on having female vocalists who sing about vampires/werewolves, sexuality or mildly depressing themes, bands of this style include Lacuna Coil, Epica or Cradle of Filth (zing!). This style is generally just a poppier, upbeat version of black, power or alternative metal and it rarely shares any conjunction with gothic rock or death/doom metal, other than the dress code and some lyrical content. While My Dying Bride definitely have flirted with more friendly representations of themselves, later eliminating the death metal elements in their sound and speeding up the tempo past a funeral crawl, on A Map of All Our Failures we see a return of focus on the pure gloomy, doom-based version of their defining sound found on As The Flowers Wither and Turn Loose the Swans.

Right away the album opens up with the appropriately dark ring of a funeral bell, which is then followed by a slow, crushing doom riff that sets the mood to “soul-crushing gloom” instantly – and immediately I got excited for this album. As the riffing sinks even lower into melancholy with the addition of dual-lead harmonization, making the riffs grander and more effective, the emotional and catchy solos effectively demonstrate that playing slow doesn’t imply any sort of lack of talent, and sometimes shows more depth than any whirlwind-tech display. As the guitarist’s Andrew Craighan and Hamish Hamilton bring the doom side of gloom to the table perfectly, they also finally revived the death metal side of My Dying Bride that fans have been pleading for forever. By sprinkling the record with bombastic, pummeling death metal drumming and mid-paced, tremolo picked riffing (which is pretty much light speed in comparison to most of the album), the emotional ride comes full circle as anxiety, aggression and frustration pulls the stress of such dark emotions into place and adds a contrast that at some points is direly needed. These are then pulled together by all sorts of gothic rocks aesthetic, such as dreary violins, baritone croons and church organs, giving the record the same sort of grey, bleakness of 14th century Europe.

The vocal work on this record tends to centre around Aaron Stainthorpe’s morbid bellows, which while still sung with melody, are also more alike to a musical poetry reading, being dramatic and emotionally timed. As mentioned before, he will also break into the barking vocals he uses for the death metal passages, although they have diminished in power since then, but despite this they are still effective. While I probably don’t have to explain to you what the general mood of this album is, the imagery and lyrics are incredibly evocative. Generally evoking images of dark stone work, wolves, ghostly shades and other bleak images, one could definitely relate a lot of this album to old European architecture and art. Lyrically, it’s saturated in the images mentioned above, as well as the depressing and funereal emotions the band has embraced ever so much. And while some may assume its petty whining, the work is actually very well written, being mature and clever and not to mention containing some of the catchiest phrases I’ve heard in metal in awhile, absolutely defeating the plight of naysayers.

All in all I’ve got to say this is one of the most legitimate return to form I’ve ever heard. Not only does the band incorporate a vast majority of the sounds that made them the pioneers of true gothic metal that they are, but they also upped the ante and made sure their riffs matched the heaviness of the modern icons like Reverend Bizarre, Solitude Aeturnus and Warning/40 Watt Sun. While there is the one or two instances where I feel a change in setting would be appropriate, for the most part they do a fantastic job structuring and producing the album to avoid such, and the addition of death metal elements, more dramatic gothic elements and pace changes help with that. With morbid riffs, soul crushing despair, European melancholy and cathartic lyrics, My Dying Bride have effectively been able to do what a lot of bands this old rarely manage to do: release another classic.

[Originally written for AXIS OF METAL as Adam Korchok]