|More than anything else – and not just because of the violin – this new My Dying Bride's album calls to mind 'The Angel And The Dark River'.|
|There surely can't be anyone even remotely familiar with Doom out there who doesn't know My Dying Bride, so any sort of history or background would be completely redundant, right? Well, perhaps not entirely, given the band's recent discography. Let's assume a passing familiarity with their Death/Doom beginnings, the early shift to Gothic Doom, both with and then without the prominent use of violin, and latterly a softer and more melodic approach, with violin back in the mix. Not necessarily a linear evolution, more of a series of twists and turns that nonetheless brought an increased refinement and maturity with each new album.
The question as far as 'A Map Of All Our Failures' is concerned would be: a refinement of what, exactly? The last formal MDB album was the heralded 'return-to-earlier-form' 'For Lies I Sire', in 2009, but it has been followed by both the lavish and leftfield Evinta semi-classical project and the raw darkness of lengthy EP 'The Barghest O'Whitby'. The answer, it seems, is all of them. The main body of the album is trademark MDB: finely-crafted Gothic Doom, absolutely dripping with despair, pain and anguish – in that, it is simply the next logical step on from 'For Lies I Sire'. However, there's an underlying trace of the rougher, dynamic recording of 'Barghest...' and – almost in contradiction – a sense of the theatrical and use of narrative that marked the orchestral Evinta.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Aaron during the album pre-launch publicity (read the full text here) and he summed it up it as: "It is our best work to date and I can happily say that". Technically, I couldn't disagree. This is the first full-length release with the current lineup, and they work very well together: the veteran cadre of Aaron Stainthorpe (vocals), and guitarists Andrew Craighan and Hamish Glencross anchor the history and experience of the band, while newer members Lena Abe (bass) and Shaun Macgowan (keyboard, violin) bring some freshness and new inspiration to proceedings. Long-time associate and ex-full timer Shaun Taylor-Steels contributes drums in the studio, with his customary rhythmic flair and complexity. The musical result is an almost effortlessly classic MDB masterwork of intelligent guitar-led composition, organic and flowing as the ocean and equally liberally bestrewn with squalls and calms.
The music is, and always has been, only part of the story, though. The other half of the equation is Aaron's vocals, and the way they deliver his intricate, elegant, poetic wordsmithing to the listener. Both words and voice are distinct, idiosyncratic entities, unique and instantly recognisable – and, admittedly, not to everyone's taste. Those who dislike clean vocals will find little in the way of growls here: there are some, used for effect in the more aggressive passages, but probably outweighed by the equally effective spoken-word passages. For everyone else, the emotional, often fragile, intensity with which he has always invested his vocals seems to have acquired a subtly mellower dimension that parallels the band's musical refinement.
More than anything else – and not just because of the violin – this album calls to mind 'The Angel And The Dark River'. Partly, that's down to the slightly-throwback recording and production values, but mostly it's because 'A Map Of All Our Failures' feels definitive. In the same way that 'The Angel...' set out an emphatic direction, so 'A Map...' revisits and redefines that direction, with the benefit of nearly two decades of maturity to inform it. Sure, it does what MDB have always done – weaves a complex series of haunting, atmospheric tales – but it does so with a consistency of vision that some of the intervening albums have only partially attained.
It would be pointless to deconstruct the tracks, or the track listing – the tales they have chosen to tell are many and varied, unconnected thematically. Suffice it to say that they are all the work of a master storyteller, set beautifully within their musical frames, designed to captivate and enthrall the listener.
To quote Aaron again: "I want My Dying Bride's music to be a form of escapism and I'd like our fans to stick on some headphones, have a glass of wine, enjoy the music on your own...turned up loud, so you can hear every little whisper in the background and it's just a chance to leave reality for an hour or so". Well, that is exactly what 'A Map Of All Our Failures' has achieved for me. It hasn't yet acquired the history, the personal significance, or the resonance with real life that my favourite MDB albums have...but that's just a matter of time...
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1. Kneel Till Doomsday
2. The Poorest Waltz
3. A Tapestry Scorned
4. Like A Perpetual Funeral
5. A Map Of All Our Failures
6. Hail Odysseus
7. Within The Presence Of Absence
8. Abandoned As Christ
Duration : Approx. 63 minutes
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