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How to trap the whole death/doom aura in amber - 87%

Perkele, January 24th, 2023

To me, an effective album is a product in which songwriting, production, and lyrical themes all work in unison to convey a specific and intentional mood. I need to experience some level of "synesthetic" pleasure from it (I'm being pretentious now, yes).

On "As the Flower Withers", My Dying Bride manage to give me exactly that. A quick look at the cover art, and by the first eerie notes of “Silent Dance” I am already teleported to some pseudo De Sade novel in sonic form. I can vividly imagine a castle or mansion, where an 18th-century aristocrat is raving maniacally on eros and thanatos in front of a fireplace. I could also draw comparisons to the corrupted sophistication of Nicola Samorì's artworks or, for the gamers here, the atmosphere of titles such as Layers of Fear or Amnesia: The Dark Descent.

Now onto the practical aspects, let's mention the musicianship on display. For a band in its infancy, it is certainly very competent. The guitars do their job in providing a collection of memorable – though one could say canonical – riffs, not skimping on variations in dynamics and tempo. The keyboards are employed as little accents to provide extra ominosity to the more pivotal moments of the songs: the whirling section at the end of "The Forever People'' is a perfect example, such a nice detail! The violin is given a more prominent role, mostly on the slower episodes like "The Bitterness and the Bereavement", with more freedom overall to range over the doomy chords. In some way, it functions as a more organic, visceral lead guitar. We are not yet dealing with a violin feast such as the following three LPs – and especially "The Angel and the Dark River", to me their creative pinnacle – but it stands way in the foreground. Not yet a full member, Martin Powell was already key to My Dying Bride's sound and, from an artistic standpoint, I think they were never fully themselves again after his departure. It should not be understated how by 1992 there were few prior examples of integrating violin into extreme metal, if any at all: they were daring from the very start. Aaron's growls are technically rough but rich and expressive, they sound just right for the music. Unfortunately, I believe he was never able to reach this level again in his career, when it comes to harsh vocals. The catch is there is no trace of clean singing, thus it might appear a bit unidimensional to some folks. Rick Miah, the original drummer, deserves equal credit for his work, in a genre where drums are easily overlooked. He really enhances the cadenced parts as well as the more straight-forward death metal accelerations with some elaborate playing, and his contribution is highlighted by both songwriting and production.

Maybe paradoxically, the latter is both filthy and clear, with a beefy low end and gnarly treble, but enough room for each instrument to breathe. Compared to other death/doom classics from the same era, such as "Serenades" or "Transcendence into the Peripheral", the sound on this one has aged much more gracefully. Actually, I find it odd that producer Paul Halmshaw is the same as Anathema's debut, because to me he did a much better job here. However, we are still far from the flawless standards achieved by collaborating with Robert "Magz" Magoolagan on subsequent releases.

A feat of this record is how well it is paced. The band didn't always get this aspect right, with many of their later works often resulting bloated, or plagued by awkward tracklisting choices (yes "The Light at the End of the World", I am looking at you now). Here, every track flows beautifully into the next, and the record moves like a tight unit. Maybe I can complain about "Erotic Literature" (bonus on the CD release) left for last: it would have been a strong opener, showcasing the album's main qualities. It's also a shame not to climax with the epic "The Return of the Beautiful". On the other hand, this results in an almost perfect alternance between slow and fast tracks. You can tell the greatness of this record when that's the biggest issue I can think of. By the way, speaking of "The Return of the Beautiful", are there still people who deem early MDB as plain death metal? They have to listen to this one (again?). It is quintessential death/doom that the Englishmen themselves were hardly able to improve when they reworked it on "The Dreadful Hours".

As much as I like “As the Flowers Wither”, it is obvious to me in retrospect how this was only the beginning for My Dying Bride. They needed to move forward, gradually explore new directions, and in fact I'm happy they did. At the same time, this makes this album all the more important and unique in their discography, as it immortalizes a specific moment in time for them and for British metal scene as a whole.