Register Forgot login?

© 2002-2020
Encyclopaedia Metallum

Best viewed
without Internet Explorer,
in 1280 x 960 resolution
or higher.

Privacy Policy

Power and lust - 88%

The_Desolate_One, October 3rd, 2019
Written based on this version: 2004, CD, Peaceville Records

Similar to other 90’s doom bands, one may speak of “old” and “new” My Dying Bride as somewhat different groups, though the difference isn’t as pronounced as with, say, Paradise Lost, Anathema, Tiamat. Old MDB had their schtick clearly defined as a doom/death metal band (often more death than doom) with violins, and then each following album saw them softening their sound further: first by featuring a less raw production and emphasizing the classical instrumentation in Turn Loose the Swans, while also introducing clean vocals, then dropping the growls and their more aggressive edge altogether on The Angel and the Dark River. By the time of Martin Powell’s departure after Like Gods of the Sun, the band likely struggled with an identity crisis, which birthed the infamous 34.788...% Complete, an experimental exercise in self-awareness as it witnessed MDB doing away with all that made them recognizable. Probably afraid of alienating their fanbase, one year later, in 1999, without so much as a single or EP between releases, they immediately gave us The Light at the End of the World, which announced a return to doom/death, though now Aaron’s harsh vocals began sounding more like a snarl than a growl. This, for me, marks the new MDB: a sort of self-awareness, as well as an awareness of what the fans have come to expect from them and a willingness to do it (which meant bringing back the violin in 2009, for instance) in detriment of their early phase’s more organic development. And, of course, there’s all the line-up changes. As of today, only Aaron and Andrew remain from their original line-up, early MDB having a stabler ensemble.

So far, in these past 20 years, their efforts have been pretty hit-or-miss. The Dreadful Hours, while lauded as their masterpiece, has some really boring parts (Le figlie della tempzzzz) and so does A Map of All Our Failures, though its funeral doom approach does mean a step in the right direction, I believe. In that sense, I guess 2004’s Songs of Darkness, Words of Light ends up being the last MDB album I find myself able to listen to in its entirety.

There’s a certain thematic cohesion in Songs that is quite interesting. I mean, A Line of Deathless Kings had three out of nine songs with “love” in their titles, but that’s just repetition, not cohesion. If you pay attention to Songs, you’ll find most of its stories revolve around someone who is ruined or killed because of love and lust. This is clearest in “The Scarlet Garden,” about a psycho who murders his lovers and buries them in his garden, and “The Blue Lotus,” sung from the perspective of a questing knight who’s after some sort of vampiress and is brutally slain by her as he invades her castle. “Catherine Blake” involves lust as part of a bigger story about demons plotting an invasion on Earth (there is somewhat of a fantasy theme here, you may notice), and even “My Wine in Silence” has an ironic edge to it that seems to escape most listeners, as the song’s bipolar structure swings between its lovey-dovey “where are you now, my love?” and some disturbing patches with harsh vocals in which he threatens to make her his slave forever. It’s very unhealthy (please seek a therapist if you identify with these songs) but, of course, that’s what makes it metal.

Musically, there’s an interesting change in production, as the whole album sounds its dirtiest since their early days. From the moment you hit “play,” you’re instantly bombarded by the guitar’s ominous tones, made fuzzier and awash with feedback, which goes well with Aaron’s beastly snarl and the backing tribal drums of “The Wreckage of my Flesh”. In my mind, it all conjures up the image of an abandoned man lying in a ditch, the skies gray and black and thundering over him, ravens gathering on dead trees awaiting. It’s a song from the perspective of an utterly ruined man, and Aaron’s deeply emotional vocal performance conveys that feeling perfectly. A very bold move, MDB starts out the album at its slowest and with its longest song, but, as it evolves, crawling out of its starting riff into a comfortable mid-paced rhythm and featuring an interesting interplay between funereal organs and an evil-sounding lead guitar, before coming back to its opening riff, it all works as if to announce the character’s death—a death which, after a lot of lamenting, he finally receives with some tragic dignity, Aaron’s commanding voice loaded with scorn. It creates the perfect atmosphere that sets the tone for the rest of the album.

As shown by the distinct moods of “The Scarlet Garden” and “Catherine Blake”, climaxing in faster and angrier moments with harsh vocals, there’s also some variation here. Giving us a brief break from the distortion, “My Wine in Silence” is mostly a ballad, with the aforementioned somber moments, while “The Blue Lotus” is driven by the interplay of chugging guitars and that dark, evil lead and maniacal drumming, while Aaron switches back and forth between narration and emotional singing. Similar to the album opener in mood, “A Doomed Lover” hits hard with the feedback and Shape of Despair-ish cymbal-heavy drumming, its painful climax (“Loneliness aplenty spreads before me”) wrapping up the album beautifully.

Alas, not everything is perfect. “The Prize of Beauty” starts out very powerful, but its mood swing 3 minutes in feels forced and the song loses steam after that, meandering its way to the remainder of its eight minutes, and “And My Fury Stands Ready” has that awkward quiet interlude 2 minutes in, which is supposed to be atmospheric but is just boring instead and causes all the previous anger and aggression to dissipate. MDB had done this before, way back in The Angel... with “Black Voyage,” and it’s as annoying here as it was there. And finally, of course, though Aaron’s performance here is at his best, his clean vocals are a love or hate issue. If you are among those who find him whiny, this likely won’t change your opinion.

Though Songs of Darkness, Words of Light is not exactly a riff factory, there’s lots of memorable moments, it’s cohesive without being redundant, each song has a distinctive feel to it and it does storytelling without it getting in the way of the music. Overall, it was a very welcome addition to MDB’s 21st century catalog.