My Dying Bride

The Angel & the Dark River

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Rarely does one individual sound so perfectly exemplify the mood of a record like the groaning, distant foghorn on My Dying Bride's third full-length, Angel and the Dark River. This English five-piece pens such bleak, soul-crushing tunes that its use of a lone foghorn to conclude agonizing opening cut "The Cry of Mankind" is strikingly appropriate (and most likely self-indulgent in the hands of a less convincing outfit). At no other time in its long and creatively prosperous career has My Dying Bride been so suicidally self-absorbed, evident by vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe's use of a clean, despairing, and melodic moan throughout, having ditched the death growl of earlier releases; in fact, the rest of the band followed suit, setting aside any death metal influences, carefully using violins and keyboards to enhance the group's brooding excursions, and managing to not sound gimmicky in the process. Generally, the arrangements stretch out over long, progressive, and swampy plains of powerfully droning, yet still memorable, guitar riffs, patiently rumbling drums, and Stainthorpe's vague and ghastly lyrical drippings, presumably painfully squeezed out of his own slit wrists. Not unexpectedly, songs take their sweet time getting their point across, clocking in between seven and 12 minutes, standouts being "From Darkest Skies," "Black Voyage," and "Your Shameful Heaven," the latter of which actually picks up the tempo beyond a snail's slime-trail-oozing pace, but with the same destination in mind: Pure, utter, unrelenting depression. Most likely, few will appreciate the tortured, pitch-black majesty of My Dying Bride, the band being the withered and shriveled trail's-end of fauna-wilting gothic doom metal, but MDB devotees should agree that Angel and the Dark River is its most effectively poisonous slab of internalized, navel-gazing horror. Other albums in the MDB catalog are more concise (Like Gods of the Sun), experimental (34.788%...Complete), and brutal (Turn Loose the Swans), but Angel and the Dark River stands alone in the center of a misty sea of tears, dolefully bleating its foghorn into the unforgiving wind. (A limited run of the CD includes a bonus EP consisting of a live set recorded in Eindhoven, Holland, at the Dynamo Festival in 1995, boasting four tunes and a questionable mix. Collectors will appreciate the bonus disc, even if it's essentially pointless -- although it's worth a listen to hear Stainthorpe's voice crack despairingly when he initially introduces the band.)

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