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Turn Loose the Swans - 87%

Noctir, October 12th, 2012

Turn Loose the Swans is the second full-length album from My Dying Bride. Released in October 1993, this album marked only a passing moment in the ever-evolving identity of this band, yet is most often thought of as their 'classic sound'. For a lot of people, this record captured the perfect balance between the raw feeling of the earlier material and the sorrowful approach that would continue to develop. Of course, a critical listen reveals that Turn Loose the Swans was already showing a certain amount of decline in their creative integrity and a good number of flaws the renders this album somewhat ineffectual, compared to that which came before.

The album begins with “Sear Me MCMXIII”, which is a reworked version of a song from the first record. It is somewhat unnecessary and only taints what was accomplished in the past. If the band wanted to start the album out with something similar, they could easily have come up with a different piano intro. Something a bit shorter would have been better, as a lot of listeners may get impatient waiting nearly eight minutes for the first strains of Metal. In fact, the wait would go on even longer.

“Your River” continues the soft flow of weak sounds that had begun with the first song. Finally, after a minute and a half, the long-awaited guitars and mournful violin erupt forth and weave a musical tale of misery and hopelessness. This track does not fully get underway until the halfway point, with a couple pointless riffs that do nothing to add to the sombre atmosphere. Once it gets going, this one provides the listener with a very dreary and lifeless soundscape and will help fuel countless nights of despair. Aaron's clean vocals are not yet fully developed, but they work well enough to convey the appropriate feeling. He returns to the harsh vocals, later in the song, sounding as vicious as ever. It is too bad that more of this style was not implemented on this album, especially on the following track. “The Songless Bird” is rather average, but may have had a better chance without the ill-placed clean vocals during the early verses. The sound is all wrong and does not suit the music, at all.

“The Snow in my Hand” is another one of the better songs on Turn Loose the Swans. The riffs are powerful and imbue you with a feeling of total despair and helplessness. Even discounting the miserable vocals, the music alone is enough to conjure up the image of a man that is near death. The sound heard here is like that of the final moments as all of the blood has rushed from deep wounds and life is soon to cease. There is a mixture of the harsh and clean vocals, as well as some more Death Metal-oriented guitar riffs, giving this one more of a sense of balance. Obviously, the doom riffs and violin passages are what the band had become known for and for good reason, and there is no shortage of either. There is an epic feeling that comes across through all of the bleak melodies and the atmosphere of impending death. While one may feel weak and tired, there is a great sense of relief as the end draws ever-nearer.

The next song is “The Crown of Sympathy”, which clocks in at over twelve minutes. This one possesses more of a gothic feeling, at certain points. It may be slightly longer than it needs to be, but it does well to create a gloomy atmosphere. This track is another that utilizes only clean vocals, yet it works a little better within this context. The closing guitar melody is quite epic and is very memorable.

"For deadened, icy pain covers all the earth"

Following this is the title track, which is the best song on the entire album. It is only a couple minutes shorter than its predecessor, yet feels much more coherent. There is an emphasis on heavy riffs that deliver a crushing doom upon all who listen, while the powerful harsh vocals tear right through your chest. This is reminiscent of the previous album, a style at which My Dying Bride truly excels. The violin slithers in and out, like a poisonous serpent, leaving you ever-weaker and all the more prepared for oblivion. All of the sorrow and regret of an entire lifetime comes crashing down on you, as the song progresses, and it becomes nearly impossible to crawl out from underneath such weight. There is a brief section with clean vocals, which works very well in draining the life from you even more, before the grim end descends upon you with its full fury.

The album ends with “Black God”, which is more of an outro. It features a piano and violin, as well as Aaron's clean vocals and those of a random woman. It is more concise than the first track and serves a similar purpose. In this case, it would seem that they pulled it off a little better with this attempt. This helps to accentuate the utterly hopeless feeling that was pounded into the listener with the previous song.

In the end, Turn Loose the Swans is a very solid album of death / doom, though not without flaws. This would mark the end of an era, for a time, as the next album would go in an even softer direction that would last several years. What listeners can expect from this is a continuation of what began on As the Flower Withers and The Thrash of Naked Limbs. However, despite the number of people that wished for the band's development to end here, this too was but a passing phase in the musical history of My Dying Bride.

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