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Symphonaire Infernus et spera Empyrium (1991)
 

In 1991, My Dying Bride followed up the Towards the Sinister demo with Symphonaire Infernus et Spera Empyrium. This E.P. was vastly superior to the demo, in terms of sound quality (though the fact that my copy was a third-generation cassette may have played some role in this). While the basic ingredients that were found on the demo were still there, the overall result was refined and the doom element had come to dominate the sound.

This E.P. became known to me, some years later, in late 96 / early 97. It was a short time after being turned onto 'The Haunted Mansion' and my best friend and I were being exposed to a wide variety of Black and Doom Metal, as well as some Death Metal that we were not yet familiar with. My Dying Bride marked the beginning of my foray into the sub-genre of Doom Metal. In particular, the title track of this very release. Despite being well-versed in 80s metal, I had managed to miss out on even Candlemass. It was this five-piece from the UK that introduced me to such melancholy sounds. From that point on, all of their albums served as a sort of soundtrack to my most dismal moments. Oddly, it was mostly at the darkest points in my existence that I turned to these records. There's no telling whether it was simply because the miserable sounds matched my own mood, or if I was feeding the wretched feeling and making it worse. Whatever the case, the early works of this band captured those haunting moments and retained some flavour of the pain as good things faded and passed into the realm of decay; as those close to me died and went below the surface of the earth. In some sense, it's almost difficult to listen to these albums, due to the dark periods that they hearken back to. However, these days, this existence is such a bleak and dreadful endeavour that past suffering is looked upon with nostalgia, by comparison.

The E.P. begins with the title track, "Symphonaire Infernus et Spera Empyrium". It begins with the woeful sounds of Martin Powell's violin. Even from these initial seconds of the piece, a dreary sense of sorrow and loss descends upon you, like the darkness from an ominous cloud, blocking out the light. Even more strange is that the atmosphere almost wakens images of medieval times, creating a vast distance between the listener and the modern world. One can envision ruined battlements underneath a gloomy sky, as unspeakable torments are being suffered in the cavernous chambers below. The music is very slow-paced, and is the epitome of Death/Doom. The production exceeds that which they had previously achieved, though this did not require much effort. The guitars and bass are soul-crushingly heavy, as the violin wails in despair, slicing through your flesh, like a fresh razor. You begin to wrap yourself in this shroud of misery, letting the darkness swallow you, whole. Blood flows freely, then turns into crimson serpents of malice and hatred, turning back toward you as you descend into the black abyss... Falling, ever faster. The blood coils around your neck, like hands of ice, as you gasp for air. A few minutes in, and the pace briefly picks up, though not much. Like all things in this cursed world, it is ephemeral. The rawness and power of the vocals is complimented by the funeral bells that begin to chime. Doom is upon you. Your existence is dominated by grief and anguish. Nothingness is all that awaits you. But the path toward the endless sleep is fraught with afflictions that you cannot possibly bear. Some minor relief seems to be on the horizon, as a mid-paced thrash riff leads into more typical-sounding Death Metal. In a strange sense, this allows you to breathe. Though, in truth, it is more like some chaotic free-fall that you cannot control. You only wish to land somewhere safe, but you know better. Deep within your twisted mind, you realize what fate has in store for you. And then... it happens. The slow, suffocating pace returns. In the depths of the abyss, you are utterly devoured by spirits of torment. They feed upon your black suffering, having long ago set you upon this course. As the pig that is fattened up prior to being slaughtered and eaten, so you have also been fattened up on pain and agony the likes of which you have never even dreamed of. But that was the point all along. This was always your fate. The frail hopes that you have been clinging to since birth were but an illusion.

Why is it that humanity is so drawn to darkness and negativity? Why are sorrowful events so much more poignant that any other experiences in life? It is because those are the instances when we are closest to true reality. The fantasy of an existence of peace and happiness is so easily shattered, like the glass windows of the feeble Christian churches; like bones crashing down on jagged rocks. People do what they can to numb themselves to this; they lead lives of excess, decadence and debauchery. Those that possess wealth seek to fill the void with material things or by traveling or surrounding themselves with others that go along with their delusions. The rest simply seek out whatever substance they can, be it drugs or alcohol, as they desperately struggle to escape this harsh reality. Yet, in the end, we all find ourselves in the same place; rotting in the stinking earth. And whether or not we are surrounded by loved ones or we face this inevitability in solitude, we all must face it alone. Successes, achievements, past glories... they're all meaningless. It's all a big nothing. There is absolutely no way to defy this one truth.

As the E.P. continues, the Death Metal influences take center stage. "God Is Alone" still manages to possess some tinge of despondency. Certain mournful melodies weave throughout the song, passing like a shadow. This would function as one of the earliest examples of My Dying Bride's use of religious themes.

"De Sade Soliloquay" concludes this recording. Possessing a slower pace than the previous song, it seems to bear some strange serpentine quality as it slithers through your mind, injecting its venom into your very being. Before this can fully take effect, the pace quickens, mixing some thrashier riffs into the song. Still, there remains some essence of depravity. Aaron's vocals take on almost a sickening tone, momentarily. A couple decent guitar harmonies creep through the soundscape, though one may miss them if not paying full attention.

Symphonaire Infernus et Spera Empyrium marks the beginning of the mournful rise of this UK Death/Doom Metal band. Of the three songs present, only the title track warrants repeated listens. The other two are not without merit, but they each pale in comparison to the epic sense of misery conveyed by the opener. This E.P. is extremely difficult to obtain, these days, though the material was re-released on the Trinity compilation, so it is easily accessible.
 
(2 July 2009)

 
As the Flower Withers (1992)
 

As the Flower Withers is the first full-length album from My Dying Bride. Following the monumental title track from the Symphonaire Infernus et Spera Empyrium E.P., the band knew that expectations were high as they entered the studio in late 1991. A short time later, in May 1992, their debut L.P. was released through Peaceville. They maintain the sound heard on their previous release, playing a style similar to early Paradise Lost.

It begins with the keyboard intro, "Silent Dance". Some regard this as filler, but it serves it purpose well, setting the tone for the music to come. It conveys a feeling of sorrow and loss that is drenched in ruin and despair. You are taken from the modern world in which plays host to your feeble existence, back to a darker time.

"Sear Me" begins with sparse drumming, which creates a sense of total desolation and lifelessness. Slowly, the bass joins in, adding to the sense of dread. It is followed by a mournful guitar riff that circles around you like a vulture, waiting to feast upon your remains. Aaron's vocals are very harsh and raw, going well with the unpolished production. The pace is rather slow, for the first few minutes. It then speeds up, which is something that some dislike. In some ways, this is a necessary dynamic as the presence of these sections gives more of a dramatic effect to the slower parts. They serve to get your heart racing, creating an aura of urgency. Then, suddenly, it drops to nothingness. It's almost like running into a brick wall. As the pace slows back to that of a funeral march, your heart becomes heavy. It feels as if it is sinking. Again, the soundscape becomes increasingly desolate, as the guitars fade and leave only the drums and vocals. In the background are eerie whispers that accentuate the dark mood. The lyrics are in Latin, so it is only the manner in which the vocals are delivered that conveys any sort of feeling. The song is good, but never seems to fulfill its potential.

The next song is "The Forever People". This one is a favorite among fans, for some reason. It is more fast-paced, standard Death Metal. There are slower sections where a feeling of doom comes across, yet it is all to brief. The song isn't bad, yet it fails to maintain the atmosphere created by the previous song.

"The Bitterness and the Bereavement" begins with a mournful doom riff, accompanied by the sorrowful sounds of a violin. The pace is deathly slow, as it should be. Here, one is faced with the utter uselessness of existence. Pain is the only constant. No one will hear your cries. There is no salvation. Your feeble prayers will not be answered, for the one that you call upon does not exist. The miserable riffs wash over you like waves of sadness, cleansing you of such feeble hopes and leaving behind an empty shell. The pace picks up, somewhat, building the tension before slowing down again. The vocals are filled with anguish and despair, conveyed in a primal way. As if the agonizing guitar riffs weren't enough to crush your soul, the violin returns to slice you in a most graceful manner, as the blood slowly seepes into the frozen earth.

"Release us from atrocities"

The next song originally appeared on the Towards the Sinister demo, in much rougher form. "Vast Choirs" begins with a keyboard intro before erupting at full speed. This track features the most intense riffs of the whole album, complete with an evil-sounding laugh. After a minute or so, the pace slows down as if the floor of the crypt has just fallen out from beneath your feet, sending you tumbling down into the abyss. You are lost in a maze of confusion and anguish, soon to endure unspeakable torments. As the pace picks up, it works to add a sense of chaos to the already hellish feeling. It slows down, once more, near the middle. It is at this point that you behold the darkened gates before you. There is no turning back. You have but a few moments to reflect on the miserable life that you've led. In a moment of clarity, you realize that everything you've done has sent your farther down this path. You have no one to blame but yourself. There is no grand conspiracy. You are a victim of your own failures.

"Burdens of grief that weigh against me"

The highlight of the album is "The Return of the Beautiful". This epic is divided into five parts, at least lyrically. It begins with slow, plodding riffs that convey a tragic feeling, along with the woeful sounds of the violin. Clocking in just under thirteen minutes, this is the magnum opus of the L.P. The dark melodies return to your pitiful mind countless sorrows. You are nearly entombed by your own grief, helpless to change your circumstances. It is far too late for that. There is no turning back. The gates have opened wide and swallowed you whole, cursing you to the eternal depths of the black abyss.

"Souls will mourn
In this unending season of darkness"

The seemingly ceaseless suffering that you have heretofore endured will soon be looked back on with fondness and longing, in the face of the torture that your doomed spirit has been cursed to bear. You close your eyes and try to tell yourself that this isn't real; that this is but a dream. Yet the nightmare has become your reality. Infinite grief takes you in its eternal embrace, cold and deathlike. The bleak melodies wrap you in a shroud of despondency, as this horror becomes ever clearer. All that you loved and cherished is forever gone and none will give any notice to your passing. In a blackened land forlorn, you will suffer for ever. The cries of the damned soon drown out your own screams, as you move deeper and deeper, among the flames and rivers of blood. Malevolent spirits attack you with razor-sharp claws, swooping down like undead ravens to tear pieces of your very being and consume them right in front of you. The blame for this dreadful fate is yours alone.

"Erotic Literature" begins with more typical fast-past Death Metal riffs, seeming quite out of place when compared to what went before it. After a minute or so, the pace slows down and the feeling of doom returns. This continues throughout the middle section of the song, though the tempo increases, once again, as the song concludes. Oddly, this one features one of the best riffs on the album, but being sandwiched between the more generic-sounding riffs takes away from the song, as a whole.

As the Flower Withers is a classic of Death / Doom, though some of the more standard Death Metal riffs could have been shortened or dropped so that the emphasis remained on the Doom riffs. This can be compared to the early work of Paradise Lost, with some differences of course. My Dying Bride wasn't nearly as successful in blending the various tempos into a cohesive whole. On the other hand, at their darkest points, they certainly possessed a sound more dismal than that found on the early Paradise Lost albums.
 
(19 Aug. 2009)

 
 

The Thrash of Naked Limbs marked somewhat of a turning point for My Dying Bride. It was recorded in September 1992 and released in early 1993, between their first and second full-length albums. The band's sound had been, gradually, improving with each release. However, this E.P. represented the birth of their classic guitar tone. This sound would remain with them for the next four or five years. It wasn't only the guitar tone, but the overall sound seemed to be slightly cleaner and a bit more full. Whereas the previous material still had more of a raw and harsh production, that which is found on here (and subsequent releases) is more refined. That's not to say that it lacks harshness. Aaron's vocals are still powerful and razor sharp, at times.

The E.P. begins with "The Thrash of Naked Limbs", and there is a dismal feeling present from the very first riffs. The violin accentuates this with its own sorrowful wailing. There is a sense of dread that exists in the riffs; Some songs may create an atmosphere of mourning but here you also get to experience the loss as well. The song is mid-paced and crushingly heavy, destroying your feeble spirit with ease. The brief bits of violin are much like icy daggers tearing into your flesh. There are several changes in pace, as the old tendencies to toss in faster Death Metal parts still remains. It's not as out of place as on earlier songs, and works well to create contrast between that and the absolutely lifeless riff that follows.

"Le Cerf Malade" is an ambient/instrumental track that utilizes some eerie effects to help set a dark mood. It's nothing exceptionally noteworthy, and I would not say that it stands on its own in any way, but it's not a bad addition to this E.P. As a part of the greater whole, it works fine.

The third and final song is "Gather Me Up Forever". It starts with a rather generic Death Metal riff before things slow down to a bleak and hopeless Doom riff. They seem to be onto something for a few moments, before the speed picks up again. I can appreciate the desire to add some sense of dynamics to this, but the faster riffs could have been shortened and still had the desired effect. The slow, miserable riffs are the ones that they should have expanded upon.
 
"The pain never stops"

In the end, The Thrash of Naked Limbs is a solid release, but I would say that only the title track would be deemed worthy of repeated listens. The original slimcase version of this is long out of print, so try to collect these tracks on the Trinity compilation.
 
(1 April 2010)

 
 

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.
 
(30 July 2012)

 
 

Released in May 1995, The Angel and the Dark River is the third proper full-length from My Dying Bride. Unfortunately, the band continued to shed any traces of their Death/Doom roots and what is left is just a miserable, swirling mass of writhing agony and suffering. While this represents a further decay of what the band used to be, it still possesses a few useful qualities.

Musically, this record is loaded with a fair amount of slow, sombre riffs that just drain the life right out of you. This is accentuated by the clean vocals, which sound bereft of any glimmer of hope. While Aaron's voice does suit the music, one cannot help but miss the powerful growls from previous recordings. Eliminating this aspect from the band's sound, as well as the addition of the piano bits, really softens the music and makes it more one-dimensional. It would have been more effective to retain the harsh vocals for certain parts and to use the clean voice for the more melancholic passages. Perhaps, the monotony is intentional, but as a fan of the older material I find this to be rather disappointing.

That said, the droning melodies and half-dead voice of "The Cry of Mankind" do create a truly bleak atmosphere. The outro bit does seem to drag on for several minutes too long, however. "From Darkest Skies" is one of the better tracks on here, its main riffs dripping with grief, helped along by the sorrowful violin. There is also some use of a funeral organ, later in the track, which is a nice touch. Harsh vocals would have really benefited the heavier parts of the song. "Black Voyage" and "A Sea to Suffer In" each contain some decent riffs that could have been utilized in a better manner on previous records, but here seem to function as mere filler. The latter, in particular, just comes off as far too soft and lacks the gloom of the former. "Two Winters Only" is a dreary track, one which I thought was quite miserable years ago, but now find it to be too soft and 'pretty'. As for "Your Shameful Heaven", it is the most lively song on the album, but the clean vocals don't work with these more aggressive riffs. Quite frankly, it's a mess.

My copy of this CD also includes the bonus track "The Sexuality of Bereavement", recorded during the Turn Loose the Swans session. As such, it possesses a completely different sound and really demonstrates how far the band had fallen in just a year or two. The riffs are heavy and dark, still giving off a strong doom vibe, while the violin creates a sense of melancholy. Meanwhile, Aaron utilizes his very distinctive growls to add a sinister edge to the overall atmosphere. Putting this song on here was a massive blunder, in my view, as it absolutely crushes everything else on the CD and reminds the listener of how much better the band used to be.

My Dying Bride manages to deliver some depressive and sorrowful material here, but one cannot deny that The Angel and the Dark River could have been much better. When a bonus track, recorded just two years earlier, outshines the rest of the compositions, it is clear that the band has become a disappointment. The choice to eliminate the harsh vocals, and to opt for the softer songwriting in general, certainly alienated a lot of fans and made for quite a lackluster release. By this point, these guys should have just packed it in and called it a day.
 
(28 Dec. 2015)

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