Within months of their most emotionally moving elegy yet, the British masters of gloom return with their first EP in nearly seven years.
Words by Tyson Tillotson (@tytilly):
It’s often a tough conversation to have with people when talking about bands that have been around for almost 30 years, especially a band with an almost indescribable impact on the underground and extreme music scenes and yet are still active and releasing consistently great records today. Who can you immediately think of off the top of your head? Some would say Metallica but let’s be honest here, the last time they really put out a semi-good record was in 1996, which would be, at the time of this writing, nearly 24 years ago. Some would chime in and say Tool. Yeah, Tool have been around almost that long but keep in mind about 13 years of that we’ve had to spend waiting for an album that amounted to little more than a light brushing of the arms rather than a full blown goose flesh sensation. In my book, only a couple of bands have really been able to go the distance without making hardly any major missteps artistically. One of those bands is MY DYING BRIDE.
If you’re into the metal scene at all, you pretty much know how important their legacy is to the worlds of death doom and gothic metal. Their near perfect quadruple run of records that started their career (As the Flower Withers, Turn Loose the Swans, The Angel & The Dark River, and Like Gods of the Sun) is one that forms a cornerstone for any band looking to create the most beautiful yet haunting gloom ridden music out there. Hell, their name alone inspires mental images of irrevocable romance and the mystery of death itself. They’ve forged a legacy and an aesthetic along with country mates Paradise Lost that simply cannot be ignored by any serious extreme music acolyte. They are, simply put, one of the most consistently enchanting groups out there. Their melding of pre-Messiah Candlemass, Dream Death, Into the Pandemonium-era Celtic Frost, Possessed, Dead Can Dance, and so many others is almost instantly recognizable. But when most people talk of this band, they seem only to mention their full length records. What many don’t know is that MY DYING BRIDE are just as gifted then and now of writing some truly world shaking extended plays.
Released only months before As the Flower Withers, Symphonaire Infernus Et Spera Empyrium, as well as the God is Alone/De Sade Soliloquay single, released in 1991. MY DYING BRIDE created a unique blend of doom metal, gothic melodrama and grinding death metal. While yes, this had been done before by bands like Paradise Lost, there was a more tangible sense of sophistication and grandiose spectacle that was absent from their compatriots tunes. It may have helped that MY DYING BRIDE were actually, although not officially at this stage, a sextet which included their secret weapon: violinist/keyboardist Martin Powell. This was easily the strength that set this band apart from so many others then and even now despite Powell’s departure in the mid 90’s.
After their debut, the group would strike gold yet again with their next masterful EP, and my personal favorite, The Thrash of Naked Limbs, which saw the light of day before the release of Turn Loose the Swans. At this point, Powell was a full-fledged member and the group hammered out some of their most interesting cuts to date, including the title track, the dark ambient showcase Le Cerf Malade and the crushing Gather Me Up Forever. Soon after, the group would release their third and final EP for 13 years, entitled I Am the Bloody Earth in 1996. This also had the distinction of being one of the final recorded outputs of Aaron Stainthorpe eschewing guttural vocals for the next couple of full lengths until 1999’s The Light at the End of the World.
In the intervening years, the band would release a few more records as well as a small handful of EP’s, namely 2009’s Bring Me Victory, 2011’s single song epic The Barghest O’Whitby, and 2013’s The Manuscript. With this, we arrive in 2020 with the newest EP entitled, Macabre Cabaret. So why do I bring up all of this information about their extended plays you may wonder? Well the honest truth is, I have always felt that MY DYING BRIDE on their full length records are a very different band than on their EP’s. Don’t get me wrong, they are damn near untouchable with everything they do, but there is some kind of inescapable magic that is littered across their extended plays. With this new offering coming only a few months after the titanic The Ghost of Orion, MY DYING BRIDE’s Macabre Cabaret continues the group’s legacy of masterful EP’s with some of the strongest songs in their long and storied career. Keep your tissue and loved one handy, you will need them for your eyes and for your soul to be comforted.
One of my personal favorite aspects of MY DYING BRIDE in sound and in lyric, along with modern day death metal powerhouse Vastum, is the inherent focus, whether intentional or not depending on the song, on the boundaries and passions of human sexuality. They’ve done it on songs in their past (The Return of the Beautiful, The Thrash of Naked Limbs, The Crown of Sympathy, My Wine in Silence, etc.), but the opening title track here contains some of the most erotic guitar playing Andrew Craighan and newest axeman Neil Blanchett have conjured for the group. However, the track does begin with a truly haunting organ and bass combo courtesy of longtime members Shaun McGowen and Lena Abé respectively. Aaron muses as Craighan and Blanchett anchor the affair with the aforementioned guitars while former Paradise Lost Jeff Singer keeps the dirge at an intended speed. Aaron is also able to harken back to his monstrous early 90’s death growl to really hammer in the emotive nature if the track. A tangible sense of sadness is felt that harkens back to tracks like I Am The Bloody Earth or more recent EP cuts like Deeper Down and A Pale Shroud of Longing. An atmospheric section does wonders to work in the semi ambient territory that MY DYING BRIDE have always flirted with to wondrous effect before keyboards usher in a hushed choir, clean guitar and piano melody that soothes the soul before Singer double basses his way back in with the rest of the band not far behind. The final two minutes ride out on the doomed wave of pure melancholy that has been kept in tact the during the duration of the song. But of course, we can’t leave it without Aaron harmonizing with himself between his growls and cleans before McGowen takes the affair straight to the mausoleum on one of the most oppressive ending to any MY DYING BRIDE track.
Middle bruiser A Secret Kiss instantly reminds me of the guitar tone used during the period of The Angel & The Dark River and it descends into a pure doom metal bludgeoning complete with Craighan’s signature high fret string bending, a bending that will never fail to send chills up and down my spinal column. Combine this with Aaron returning to his gutturals and it’s almost like this could’ve been a track cut from the track listing of Turn Loose the Swans or even The Dreadful Hours (2001) at the latest. Abé and Singer work in tandem like Ade Jackson and Rick Miah were able to do many decades prior while Blanchett is able to duke it out with Craighan like former stringsters Calvin Robertshaw and Hamish Glencross. Stainthorpe’s vocals sound as tortured and melancholic as ever and while some would argue that age takes a toll on harsh vocalists, I would tell you that it definitely hasn't touched Aaron Stainthorpe’s cords. The track rides those elegiac string bends further as his growl brings the track to it’s histrionic end.
With all of the metal going on, it was very interesting to hear a track like closer A Purse of Gold and Stars, a track that follows more in the vein of the neofolk/ambient work of Agalloch with Aaron’s vocals taking on more of a Brendan Perry of Dead Can Dance type of elegance amidst a backdrop of orchestral swelling and ominous keyboard. The track follows and continues in the way that a track like Le Cerf Malade was able to do, along with the more experimental moments from the much denounced and in my opinion, misunderstood 34.788% Complete (1998) record. I almost wish MY DYING BRIDE would make a fully dark ambient/goth album in the vein of DCD or This Mortal Coil because to me, this track proves they could do wonders. With solemn and forceful piano, the track comes to a close, ending the EP and a whirlwind year for MY DYING BRIDE.
With Macabre Cabaret, MY DYING BRIDE have once again left an indelible mark up on the worlds of doom and Gothic metal. While the previously released The Ghost of Orion is no doubt absolutely transcendent, there’s no denying that this EP came at a rather interesting time. As we come into the close of one of the worst years in recorded history, this almost feels like a collective breathing out moment for all of us in musical form. We are able to let out some frustrations during certain moments of this EP but we are also able to reflect on what we’ve accomplished and how music is a powerful sonic medicine that has been able to get us through it, much like how MY DYING BRIDE has been doing for over three decades. Though their mark has been set and their status is cemented, you simply cannot hold them back from continually releasing work of art after work of art. And just like with the aforementioned EP’s released in the past that I feel have become bona fide classics in their own right, much like their full length records, Macabre Cabaret will stand as an interesting musical guidepost that we can all cherish and return to time and time again. As we’ve learned from this band, we are forever, people.
Macabre Cabaret is available on November 20th via Nuclear Blast. Get your copy HERE.