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A Sorrowful Masterpiece - 88%

Deathdoom1992, May 8th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2003, CD, Peaceville Records (Remastered, Limited edition)

Coming a little under a year and a half after the release of their first full-length As the Flower Withers, My Dying Bride did something not many bands would dare to do. Instead of using their sophomore effort to refine the good elements on Flower, they did an about-face and almost completely abandoned the sound demonstrated on their debut. Gone were the guttural growls, replaced by a plain, mournful wail and spoken segments, the guitar parts slowed even further, the balls-out death metal tracks gone, and the violins now fully a part of the MDB sound. But the question is, did it work? The answer is a resounding yes.

Beginning inconspicuously enough with the opener "Sear Me MCMXCIII", as the title suggests a reworked version of "Sear Me" from My Dying Bride's debut, which, along with album closer "Black God" demonstrates the extremity of the sonic makeover underwent, as the songs feature no guitars, bass or drums at all. The unquestionable highlight for me is "The Crown of Sympathy" a twelve-minute brooding epic about love in a way that only Aaron Stainthorpe could write, however the release is held down by the title track, not too dissimilar to "The Crown of Sympathy", but always seems to rub me the wrong way whilst listening. Also of note are "Your River" and bonus track "Transcending (Into the Exquisite)", the latter of which features an arrangement which is pure headbanger's joy.

For all the album's resounding successes, (and believe me there are many- there are just two songs I dislike) it is not without fault. A prime example of this being Rick Miah's drumming. Given his incredible performance on their first full-length, I would expect wonders from him, but sadly the drumming is fairly poor. It seems as though he was told to go into the studio and play randomly at random times. And as much as I love the violin playing on this album, at certain points it forces itself too much to the forefront. My main issue though, is the repetitiveness of the lyricism. Don't get me wrong here, Stainthorpe's lyrics are beautiful, literary, intelligent and well-written but they all revolve around much the same topics: love, loss of love, death of a loved one etc. The only exceptions to this are "The Songless Bird" and "The Snow in My Hand". The stucture could use a little work too , as the depressive tracks are placed at the front and the more death-doom oriented ones places at the back. Also, 3 consecutive songs beginning with 'The'. Not significant, but just sayin'.

Summarily, although normally I would say it would be unfair to say it is better than Flower given how different the two records are, in this instance it is clear in my mind that this one is better. While the poor production suited Flower, this one has a much better production, meaning the bass is much more audible, (and Adrian Jackson's performance on this album is epic) and the guitars have an altogether better tone, rather than the pseudo-Scandinavian slight buzzsaw sound on their early work. Another significant change is the balance of emotions on display, although the emotions themselves are the same- hate and sorrow. Whereas on their first full length the sorrow was in the background, playing second fiddle to the hatefulness of it all, the depression is turned up to the max and shoved in your face here, so it is virtually impossible to listen whilst upbeat. Horribly magnificent, this opus remains to me their best and defining record.