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The Angel and the Dark & Gloomy Album - 83%

almightyjoey, January 10th, 2010

My Dying Bride are one of those bands who have a specific sound. Even on their more experimental and "out-there" releases, you still know it's them. However, aside from their experimental albums, The Angel and the Dark River is probably MDB's definitive album. While I don't think it's their best (The Dreadful Hours for that, I'm afraid), it is definitely the one I'd show someone, were they to ask me to introduce them to the band (and I really, really wish someone would).

The violins, which are very prominent in early MDB albums, sound the best they ever have (and will). On other albums, they're very high up in the mix, and almost sound like some form of synthesiser, which, in my opinion, marrs the natural feel of the album. And they don't sound like the kind of synthesisers that age well, either. Think Stevie Wonder's Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants. Here, they sound great. The tuning's very nice, and they're farther back in the mix, and manage that position without making it seem like they were put there on an afterthought. Similarly, the guitars hold a very nice tone. Deep, but not too deep. You can definitely see how this album inspired the work of funeral doom acts like Mournful Congregation and Esoteric.

Now, while I'm picking out the individual instruments, I can't leave out Aaron Stainthorpe's vocals. I'm not usually one to pick out vocals as a highlight in a band, but Aaron's vocals remain to be like nothing I've heard before. His near-Thespian sensibilities make him seem like an actor in a Shakespearean play. Like any good actor, he demands attention, and asserts himself in centre-stage. On 'Two Winters Only', he sings "What have you become?/ Dear, dear Lord...". With the searing background music, it's not hard to imagine this becoming an emotional movie scene, with the dramatic soundtrack playing behind. Now, it's easy to imagine readers thinking "Oh, no. Another 'look-at-me!' vocalist", but don't despair. Despite their gothic-poetic lyrics, and Aaron's prominent vocals, this album never feels trite, or cliched. While I'm speaking of the vocals, I feel I should point out that this is probably among MDB's more accessible albums, thanks to Aaron singing in clean vocals exclusively (unless you have the most recent Peaceville reissue version, which includes a bonus track with harsh vocals).

A personal highlight would have to be the opening track, The Cry of Mankind. While the track is on for 12 minutes, the song itself is only on for 7 minutes, leaving the last 5 minutes of the track being filled with the same organ chords repeating, and a slow build-up of ambience, including chirping crickets, subtle chours and some unusual sounds/rustling. By the time you're completely mesmerized by the collage of sounds, and the hypnotic organ, the first bass notes of the next track comes in. It's an abrupt wake-up call, yet manages to be quite pleasant, not like an abrasive alarm clock, or bucket of water on the face at 5.45 am.

Again, while it's not my personal favourite of theirs, it is definitely up there with MDB's best. It's worth getting the Peaceville reissue I mentioned above, though, since the bonus track, The Sexuality of Bereavement, despite the near self-parody of the song title is very good. It saves you having to get a rare EP to hear it, too.