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Stained glass kaleidoscope - 93%

gasmask_colostomy, June 22nd, 2017

Since releasing the slightly odd but very exciting EP The Barghest o’ Whitby, My Dying Bride have been in surprisingly rich form: surprising because the band were patchy at best even at their creative peak and rich because every release has added something new to an already colossal artistic record stretching back more than 25 years. This album admittedly snagged me due to its snazzy cover art, though the gulf between this colourful image and some of the previous bleak emblems is somewhat reflected in the concomitant variety of Feel the Misery. I say just somewhat reflected since staunch MDB supporters don’t need to run screaming for the exits: this is not an about-turn in style as on 34.788%…Complete but a refraction of the band’s many qualities through a stained glass kaleidoscope.

If my preceding comments seem intriguing, rest assured that a truly boring reason explains the colourful nature to which I alluded. Quite simply, the production on this album is what MDB needed to make the most of their formula, since full-lengths such as Like Gods of the Sun, For Lies I Sire, and this album’s predecessor, A Map of All Our Failures were respectively flavourless, restrained, or gritty in a manner that would not suit the material here. A Map of All Our Failures was an attempt to regain the leaden heaviness of the band’s earlier days, though with more of a tendency towards funeral doom than death metal, while the sparser melodic features of those three albums seem particularly apparent in light of the lack of depth in the sound. Feel the Misery benefits from the most lush production in MDB’s career and makes use of that quality to highlight intricate melodic riffing, gracefully twisting leads, and a healthy keyboard presence that could draw comparisons to The Dreadful Hours or, outside the Bride catalogue, Draconian and recent Funeral, though is ultimately more adventurous than both those bands.

If the words “good, clear production” and “melodic” did nothing for you, perhaps you will be interested in the following - huge, memorable doom riffs. It’s key to the appeal of Feel the Misery that the woven tapestry of lead melodies is balanced by several brutish slugs that whack ‘Within a Sleeping Forest’ and ‘A Cold New Curse’ up the scale from ‘listenable’ to ‘exciting’, not factoring in the catchiness of the hook in ‘To Shiver in Empty Halls’ and the sheer crushing sloth of ‘I Celebrate Your Skin’. The guitarists had a fine outing the last time in Bride colours, yet here they include both sides of the equation, ensuring that power meets its partners in delicacy and detail. What truly makes Andrew Craighan and Calvin Robertshaw successful, however, is how wide-ranging and distinctive their contributions are, never failing to capture the essence of MDB though also scooping handfuls of inspiration from modern melodeath (the chugs and slickness of the fills), death metal (occasional bursts of pace and anger), post-metal and rock (the shading during lulls in the action), and both sides of the doom metal divide, funeral and gothic. Along with a sterling drum performance from Dan Mullins, the eight songs weave in and out of different styles with hardly a join showing, seemingly dashing off ideas with the nonchalance of improvisation.

Nevertheless, there have been middling MDB albums that have included most of the above characteristics, so it falls to the actual songs and particularly Aaron Stainthorpe to seal the deal. The frontman does exactly what one would hope in the vocal department, mixing up the rhythms, phrasing, and mood of his emotional clean vocals, then interspersing some of the longer compositions with a brief burst of satisfactory growls, as befits the musical approach. He and Lena Abé turn ‘A Thorn of Wisdom’ to their advantage in its sparse first half, the listener’s attention being attracted by Stainthorpe’s peculiar stress (a whole lot better than some of his past melodrama) and the prominent post-punk bassline. Lyrics are thoroughly winning too, covering the fertile ground of Stainthorpe’s poetic narratives, some romantic darkness, and a few more obscure pieces. There are magnificent lines in ‘I Celebrate Your Skin’ about “the sexual wisdom of a thousand years”, yet I take my hat off to what is surely a tongue-in-cheek comment in ‘A Thorn of Wisdom’, where Stainthorpe glibly declares he “sometimes enjoys solitude”. Yeah, and I sometimes enjoy heavy metal.

There is a great deal more that I could say about the songs, though to leave something for others to explore, a few comments should suffice. The structure of the album is a little odd, pushing three of the most complex songs up front and then darting through four shorter numbers (at about the pace of the average continent) before finishing up with another epic; odd this may be, but it gives us Bridesmaids a chance to really get our fill of the classic elements before risking a little more in the more straightforward title track and no-frills ballad ‘I Almost Loved You’. The mixture of heavy and light plus slow and very slow in the longer numbers is rather more complex and progressive than the structure of ‘Feel the Misery’ with its repeated refrain, though that means my attention is focused first on trying to unravel the intricacies of ‘And My Father Left Forever’, then - just as that would begin to drag - the simpler material arrives and I find myself not ungenerously inclined to a ballad. In general, I’ve hated Bride ballads since the brilliant ‘Sear Me MCMXCIII’ thoroughly emasculated me aged 18 but again these are well-planned, ‘A Thorn of Wisdom’ doing little to offend and even packing a decent riff in its latter stages, while ‘I Almost Loved You’ goes full-on piano with Stainthorpe a delicate presence and escapes with a judgement of bearable.

My Dying Bride are a band that are difficult to understand and Feel the Misery is no exception. It takes quite some time before all of the pieces come together, whether that be the awkwardness of the song structures, the slowness of the music, or merely Stainthorpe’s idiosyncratic manner of using his voice. However, I feel that this is one of the most joyous examples of the band exploring the limits of their sound without overstepping the boundaries and - in the same way as Cradle of Filth’s excellent Hammer of the Witches - proves that the early ‘90s British upstarts still have a lot to offer. There are some exquisite songs on here, not least the hulking ‘Within a Sleeping Forest’ and gripping slow-motion of ‘I Celebrate Your Skin’: I don’t know about just feeling the misery, because there’s so much to experience here.