My Dying Bride formed in Bradford, England in 1990. Alongside fellow UK acts Anathema and Paradise Lost, the band was part of the influential death/doom triumvirate known as the “Peaceville Three”—all bands having signed to Peaceville Records early in their careers. While each group initially drew from a Candlemass, Celtic Frost and Sabbathian vein, Anathema has since forgone metal, evolving into a highly rated progressive rock act, and Paradise Lost flirted with alt-rock for a decade or so before returning to the metal fold. However, for stalwarts My Dying Bride there have been no radical deviations. Aside from an odd swerve on 1998’s 34.788%...Complete and 2011’s Evinta (a triple-disc neo-classical interpretation of tracks from the band’s oeuvre) the band has remained consistently lugubrious and cataclysmically grim.
My Dying Bride filters its dirgeful doom through a Northern English gloom, casting its eye on England’s morose lyrical heritage and adding haunting violin and keyboards to emphasize the melancholic romanticism. The band has gone through numerous line-up changes over the years—guitarist Andrew Craighan and vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe being the only original members left—but hulking riffs, woebegone pacing, and fetching melodic leads have always formed the crux of the band’s sound. Over the course of 10 previous full-lengths, My Dying Bride’s requiems have brought the group much success in Europe, and the band’s latest down-tuned release, A Map of All Our Failures, is set, once again, to find favor with fans of the funereally poetic.
A Map of All Our Failures is not a gigantic stylistic leap from the lamentations of the band’s last elegy, 2009’s For Lies I Sire, the band staying true to its down-tempo, dispiriting hallmarks—think shattered hearts wandering the moors under threatening skies. Elegiac passages and a portentous aura bring a dolorous atmosphere to proceedings, with A Map of All Our Failures often sequestering its instruments in isolation, making its bleak tidings more naked and revealing.
Fittingly, it all begins with funeral bells on “Kneel till Doomsday”, where a ruinous vintage riff and Stainthorpe’s spine-chilling croon transform mid-song to spiral off into a death/doom churn—before returning to doleful rhythms by song’s end. In many ways, the tune is entirely as you’d expect, but although the sonic and narrative components are familiar, My Dying Bride shows no signs of stagnating. Instead, A Map of All Our Failures shows the band maturing gracefully; its theatrical accent is still very pronounced, but it calls forth the evocativeness in incremental measures, rather than with any gauche steps. Guitarist Craighan describes the album as “a controlled demolition of all your hopes”, and that’s an entirely accurate description for “Kneel till Doomsday” and all that follows.
Achingly picturesque in parts, A Map of All Our Failures‘s solemn orchestrations are expertly charted. Poignant violin, a characteristic of My Dying Bride’s atmospherics over the years, adds beautifully mournful texture to “The Poorest Waltz” and brings eloquent Albion folk to “Within the Presence of Absence”. With a title that aptly matches the band’s disposition, “Like a Perpetual Funeral” lets its ossuary grimness develop in sparse solitary moments. On “Hail Odysseus”, the rough chug of guitar mixes with stirring vocals, conjuring up images of broken-hearted beachside wanderings as icy tides break against the shore. And the godforsaken guitar lead-in of “Abandoned as Christ” invokes the hopelessness of love and faith lost—Stainthorpe secures that dejection by howling “Where was God, when I most needed him?”
Keyboards and violin, rumbling bass, and predominantly sub-zero guitars generate plenty of premonitory shadow. But it is Stainthorpe’s voice that embodies the most forlornness. His susurrus, growled, spoken and cleanly sung vocals are ceaselessly dour—on “A Tapestry Scorned”, churning guitar and macabre church organ back his multilayered styling to great effect. Stainthorpe’s musings draw as much spirit from libertine reveries as they do from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker, and throughout, his gothic recitations are dramatic yet fragile. His world-weary timbre stresses tragic liaisons, spurned amour, and the bonds between nature, terror and raw emotion.
This year has proven to be one of metal’s most delightfully miserable yet, and A Map of All Our Failures is another commanding statement on desolation in 2012. The album fills the spaces between its lurches with dark echoing hollows, granting room for My Dying Bride’s misery to flourish untouched by sunlight. It is a grand tour of suffering, and its tenor is explicitly spelt out right there in its title. A Map for All Our Failures is a heavy tracing of grief and a cartogram of tribulations, but more than that, it is a soul-crushing survey of mountains of sorrowfulness and canyons of regret.