Thursday, November 10, 2011

My Dying Bride - The Barghest O' Whitby (2011)

The undisputed kings of doom and gloom, My Dying Bride, never keep you waiting long. A mere six months after their stunning orchestral offering, "Evinta," the morose sextet are poised to release an EP that takes "epic" to an entirely new level. Much like the classic Swallow The Sun offering, "Plague Of Butterflies," this is a single track, twisting and turning through tempo changes, mood swings and emotional passages. And much like the album cover, created by vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe, suggests, this one will be a bleak affair. The underlying theme is one of folklore and superstition, following the tales of the Barghest, a spectre that is often said to be in the form of a large black dog. The creature has become a mainstay in English folklore, with stories of it's presence coming from all over the country. But the town of Whitby, located in North Yorkshire, has become synonymous with the legend.

Broken into three distinct movements, the track wastes no time, beginning with the loud clap of thunder and a frigid wind. My Dying Bride has always been a band rooted in imagery, and they certainly do it with gusto. Distorted guitars play off of one another with a traditional funeral atmosphere. A somber violin melody kicks in, and the down tempo patter of drums joins the party. But coming off a strictly melodic performance on "Evinta," the first wicked screams that break through are a shock. What may stand out is the production, much more raw in nature than the last few efforts. Each note resonates in the heavy air, haunting you like a dense fog. Only a few bursts of double kicks and faster paced guitars can get the track up to speed. Vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe unleashes his signature tone, oozing with sadness and hopelessness. The lyrics will never blow you away with their deep rhyme scheme or subtleties, but the emotional story they convey is enough to give them weight. A melodic riff is repeated, with Stainthorpe crooning with despair.

As we move to the second section, things change in both tone and feel. Guitars whine with feedback, and the light tapping of snares begins the transition from one piece to the next. A light riff is all that remains, fading into the dark silence. The thunder roars again, and a more commanding guitar lead enters. A second guitar enters, forming a broken harmony of depressive riffs. This is where My Dying Bride shines brightest, crafting a sound that is somehow melodic but not. The give and take between guitars and vocals is a strength that few demonstrate in doom today. As the music takes a darkened turn, as do the vocal passages, combining a raw yelling with the off-key singing. You may feel as though you have been transported to a cold, dark place of ghostly possession. Chills are normal, and you may feel a tingle move up from the base of your spine.

As the guitars shriek and squeal, feeding back and bending strings, things change again, but this time into a heavier territory. Fans of the more sublime compositions need not proceed. If you think "Evinta" was everything this band should be, just press stop and move on. The double kicks come in hard and heavy, and the guitars blare. There is no finesse this time around, no amelodic crooning. The finale act comes in the form of a brutal, heavy handed assault. The music is unrelenting, pounding and throbbing ahead with no consideration for your neck or any case of whiplash that may ensue. The murky production is actually welcomed, burying you in a thick sludge of distortion and chugging chords. We have moved passed the haunting, moved passed the shivers. This is the massacre at the hands of a demon dog of the night.

After twenty years, eleven full length albums, and scores of EPs, My Dying Bride has earned that highly sought after right of artistic expression. They can do whatever they choose, move in any direction they want, and should be free of criticism. However, the decision to release one long track rather than breaking the work up into three stand alone pieces is a bold decision, one that may not have paid off this time around. And while "Evinta" was a complete departure, seemingly a one off creative endeavor, "The Barghest O' Whitby" is a brilliant return to doom form; one so vivid you may see visions of a ghostly black dog in your dreams for days.


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