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Rank + File: My Dying Bride, Part II – A List by Senior Editor Clayton Michaels

And for our second ‘Rank + File’ column, we have…me. And since it would seem a bit silly for me to write an intro for myself, let’s just dive into my rankings instead…

12. Like Gods of the Sun

Okay…I swear that I didn’t read Ross’s list before setting my own rankings, so this is in no way, shape, or form a reaction to or against what he wrote. I know Like Gods of the Sun tops his list, but I absolutely cannot fucking stand this album.

I am willing to admit, however, that my dislike for it may be at least slightly irrational. For starters, this is the last album that violinist Martin Powell appeared on before leaving the band, first for Anathema and then for Cradle of Filth. I am convinced that if Like Gods hadn’t been so creatively bereft, Powell wouldn’t have left and we wouldn’t have had to endure more than a decade of My Dying Bride without violin. I also maintain that the dramatic attempt at course correction that was 34.778%…Complete would never have happened had they not first bottomed out with Like Gods of the Sun.

Ultimately, this album simply lacks very many memorable moments. “A Kiss to Remember” essentially stands out as the high point of the album, with its melodeath-style riffs, intro section where the violin doubles the melodic guitar line, and the lovely piano/lead guitar break near the end of the song. Additionally, lush closer “For My Fallen Angel” is easily one of the more gorgeous tracks in the MDB discography, consisting only of keyboards, violin, and Aaron Stainthorpe reciting an excerpt from Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis in his most gothically overwrought voice. Even so, and while I completely admit that this may also be irrational on my part, I have a hard time not blaming this song for the existence of Evanescence and the vast majority of the Napalm Records roster.

As far as I’m concerned, Like Gods of the Sun is the sound of a band spinning its wheels, inadvertently birthing an entire series of goth-metal clichés that we’re still suffering through today. Ironically, Stainthorpe has said that this is his favorite MDB album, proving that people are not always the best judges of their own work.

11. 34.778%…Complete

Most MDB fans will say that 34.778%…Complete is the nadir of the band’s discography, and they have a point…this album really isn’t very good. But unlike Like Gods of the Sun, at least it sounds like the band is trying here.

While I don’t plan on directly addressing Ross’s R&F here, I do feel obligated to take issue with his categorization of this album as nü metal. Yes, it came out the same year as Korn’s Follow the Leader, Kid Rock’s Rebel Without a Cause, Soulfly’s self-titled debut, and Orgy’s Candyass. That being said, I don’t hear much nü metal influence on the album. If anything, 34.778%…Complete seems like a misguided attempt to occupy a similar space as a band like Portishead, whose debut album came out the year before 34.778%…Complete.

And yes…”Heroin Chic” was essentially dead on arrival, if not before. But both the Blade Runner inspired “The Whore, The Cook and the Mother” and closing track (on the original release, at least) “Under Your Wings and Into Your Arms” still have plenty to offer to fans of the band’s earlier material.

As far as I’m concerned, though, experimentation > stagnation. And that reason alone keeps 34.778%…Complete out of the bottom spot on this list.

10. A Line of Deathless Kings

Okay…so apparently I have an issue with the albums MDB release right before making a stylistic shift. Much like the album at the bottom of this list Like Gods of the Sun, 2006’s A Line of Deathless Kings sounded like a band on the verge of stagnating. Opening track “To Remain Tombless” is easily one of my least favorite songs in the MDB oeuvre, with both an incredibly lazy-sounding main riff and vocal melody.

On the whole, though, A Line of Deathless Kings has more memorable moments than either of the albums that rank below it on this list combined. Frankly, the stunning “Thy Raven Wings” alone elevates it above either, and “I Cannot Be Loved” is an example of Stainthorpe and company at their melodramatic best. That being said, the album still mostly sounds like MDB on autopilot, making very clear the need for the “return to roots” effort that was For Lies I Sire.

9. As the Flower Withers

Here’s the point on this list where my prejudices regarding My Dying Bride’s discography really start to become clear. I like my MDB gothy, doomed-out, and with violin. And while Martin Powell is credited with “session violin” on the album, as far as I’m concerned he wasn’t fully integrated into the band until Turn Loose the Swans, which I’ve always considered the first “real” MDB album.

That being said, As the Flower Withers isn’t a terrible album by any means, though the production does leave a little something to be desired – especially the kick drum, which kind of sounds like cardboard. There are plenty of moments, however, that point towards what the band would do on future releases. The first installment of the “Sear Me” series, for example, features the kind of interplay between guitarists Andrew Craighan and Calvin Robertshaw and Powell’s violin that made their next two albums undisputed classics of gothic doom. The more aggressive “The Forever People” is also an enduring fan favorite, and served as the band’s traditional set closer through 2013.

On the whole, though, As the Flower Withers sounds like a band still searching for their identity, which honestly isn’t that unusual for a band’s debut album. It remains an outlier in their discography—it’s the only MDB album where Aaron Stainthorpe exclusively uses a death growl—but it’s a far more successful one than the other major (non-Evinta, which we’re ignoring for the purposes of these rankings) outlier, 34.778%…Complete.

Fun fact: the cover for As the Flower Withers was done by Dave McKean, who also did all of the covers for Neil Gaiman’s seminal comic book series The Sandman.

8. The Light at the End of the World

The Light at the End of the World was the first “return to form” album in the My Dying Bride discography. After the failed experiment of 34.778%…Complete and subsequent departure of guitarist Calvin Robertshaw, something drastic was called for, so Aaron Stainthorpe’s death growls returned for the first time since Turn Loose the Swans. In fact, aside from the lack of violin, this album feels more like a direct follow-up to Swans than anything else.

Unfortunately, Stainthorpe and remaining guitarist Andrew Craighan weren’t quite able to recapture the magic of Swans, though they certainly put forth a valiant effort. “She is the Dark” is likely in just about every MDB fan’s personal top ten favorite songs, but in hindsight it may have been a bit of a mistake to have used that as the album opener, as nothing else on The Light at the End of the World is quite as successful. “Edenbeast” employs a really cool, Middle Eastern-sounding scale at various points, but at 11+ minutes it does outstay its welcome a bit. As Ross mentioned in his list, “The Light at the End of the World” is one of the great narrative epics in the band’s discography. “The Fever Sea” sounds like a nice throwback to “The Forever People.”

The album’s main issue is that it’s seriously frontloaded. After “The Fever Sea,” the songs get considerably less memorable. They’re certainly better than anything off of either Like Gods of the Sun and 34.778%…Complete, but still have the feel of MDB-by-numbers. “Sear Me III” seems especially unnecessary, but after the catastrofuck that was “Heroin Chic,” I’ll still take it.

7. Songs of Darkness, Words of Light

The Light at the End of the World may have been the “return to form” album, but Songs of Darkness, Words of Light is where My Dying Bride truly found their footing again (foreshadowing: this is a trend that repeats itself), thanks in no small part to the addition of guitarist Hamish Glencross and keyboardist Sarah Stanton to the band’s ranks.

Stanton’s presence is felt immediately, as her organ dominates the album’s opening track (and easily one of the strongest mid-period MDB songs) “The Wreckage of My Flesh.” Unlike The Light at the End of the World, however, Songs of Darkness, Words of Light doesn’t decline quite so sharply after that opening track. In fact, it’s probably the first album since The Angel & the Dark River that has more good songs on it than not. “The Blue Lotus” is a bit of a clunker with its half-spoken/half-rapped vocals, and the bass-and-ambience middle section of “And My Fury Stands Ready” drags a bit, but those are really my only complaints with the album. Craighan and Glencross mesh like they’d been playing together for years, resulting in what was probably the heaviest album in terms of the guitars in the MDB to that point. Stainthorpe was also in excellent voice on the album, his cleans sounding much stronger than they had in quite some time.

6. For Lies I Sire

Assuming you’ve already read Ross’s contribution to this dueling column, you will have noticed that we don’t agree on much. There are actually only two albums we have occupying the same slot on our respective lists, and For Lies I Sire is the first. And much like Ross ended moving A Line of Deathless Kings up on his list after revisiting it for his column, I find that I have a much higher opinion of this album than I did when it first came out.

On paper, this seems like the sort of My Dying Bride album I would have totally lost my shit over – for the first time in 13 years, violin was once again a part of the MDB sound. As I’ve already stated, I much prefer MDB with a violin, but there was something about this album that initially left me cold. More specifically, I felt like Katie Stone’s violin parts too closely mimicked what Martin Powell would have done had he still been in the band. In retrospect, though, I think that Stone was given an impossible task on this record and I may have been judging her too harshly. Not only was she essentially replacing Martin Powell on violin, she was also replacing keyboardist Sarah Stanton, who breathed new life into the band on Songs of Darkness, Words of Light. Perhaps she felt the pressure as well, since she left the band shortly after the release of For Lies I Sire in order to return to her studies, to be replaced by current violinist/keyboardist Shaun Macgowan.

On a song-by-song basis, For Lies I Sire is an incredibly strong record. “My Body, A Funeral” continues the band’s recent trend (excepting “To Remain Tombless” from A Line of Deathless Kings, which is boring as fuck) of starting strong – top-notch interplay between Craighan and Glencross, the introduction of Stone’s violin, and a confident-sounding vocal from Stainthorpe. It’s followed by surprisingly heavy (given its lyrics) “Fall With Me,” which even includes a section of staccato riffing and a borderline-proggy section.

Other highlights include the lovely “The Lies I Sire,” which is carried in large part by the bass during the mellower sections, the twin-guitar and piano driven “Echoes From a Hollow Soul,” the dramatic “Santuario Di Sangue,” and epic closer “Death Triumphant,” which may be the most successful 10+ minute track in the band’s post­-The Angel discography.

If I have one complaint with the album, however, it’s with the way Stainthorpe’s vocals are mixed. For starters, they’re a bit too prominent, which makes very clear how limited a range he actually has with his cleans. As if to compensate for that, there are numerous vocal effects employed, including entirely too much doubling and/or layering of his lines. That being said, though, knocking a MDB album for the vocals seems to be a bit silly – we all know Stainthorpe’s voice isn’t the strongest, but we love him anyway.

5. Feel the Misery 

Unlike Ross, who said he hasn’t spent much time with MDB’s most recent albums, I really like this most recent iteration of the band and think they’re releasing some of the strongest music of their careers. Their twelfth full-length Feel the Misery saw Calvin Robertshaw return to the fold for the first time since 34.778%…Complete, as Hamish Glencross amicably left the band to focus on the (now-defunct) Vallenfyre. His departure once again left Andrew Craighan as the band’s primary songwriter, and he acquits himself much more successfully this time around than he did on The Light at the End of the World.

In many ways, opener “And My Father Left Forever” represents the band in their quintessential form – driving riffs, melodic guitar interplay, and Stanthorpe’s plaintive vocals. Single “Feel the Misery” also sees the band in vintage form, albeit with a stronger presence from Shaun Macgowan on both piano and organ than usual. In fact, his piano ends up being a major part of Feel the Misery, as it also carries “A Thorn of Wisdom” and “I Almost Loved You,” the latter of which reminds me a bit too much of “For My Fallen Angel” from Like Gods of the Sun.

As for the rest of the album, “To Shiver in Empty Halls” stands as a highlight with it moody, mid-tempo death metal featuring some nice growled vocals over the course of its first few minutes before taking a more gothically melodramatic turn in its second half with a dramatic spoken word section and some caustic, crawling doom. “A Cold New Curse” seems to push into some slightly different musical territory with a couple of spaced-out sounding passages of guitar. “I Celebrate Your Skin” is honestly just kind of there, but closer “Within a Sleeping Forest” makes up for the pair of mediocre tracks that came before it with some stellar interplay between Macgowan’s violin and Craighan’s melodic guitar lines.

4. The Dreadful Hours 

It’s quite possible that The Dreadful Hours contains some of the heaviest My Dying Bride songs since As the Flower Withers, and I’m just as surprised as anyone that it’s sitting this far up on my list. The trio of songs that open the album – “The Dreadful Hours,” “The Raven and the Rose,” and “Le Figlie della Tempesta” – more than match up against other three-song run in the band’s discography. “The Dreadful Hours” balances some lovely clean guitar interplay and a particularly plaintive vocal with straight-up death metal and some of the most impressive growls Stainthorpe has ever committed to tape. “The Raven and the Rose” continues the heaviness with some crushing death/doom riffing and more top-notch growling before transitioning into a lovely piano section and twin guitar outro. And an almost post-punkish bassline and a wonderfully moody clean vocal line carry the heavily gothic “Le Figlie della Tempesta.”

The rest of the album doesn’t quite measure up to the same standard as the opening triptych of songs, but there are moments in almost every song where it sounds like Glencross and Craighan are stretching out and trying new things, whether it be the clean guitar sections in “Black Heart Romance,” some of the unconventional (by MDB standards) guitar harmonies they employ in “A Cruel Taste of Winter,” or the bits of blackish tremolo picking in “My Hope, The Destroyer.” As far as mid-period MDB albums go, The Dreadful Hours is the best of the bunch.

3. Turn Loose the Swans 

At this point on the list, I could put a two-word entry for each of these albums: essentially perfect. However, that wouldn’t be much fun, especially when there is so much brilliance to unpack on each album.

For all intents and purposes, Turn Loose the Swans is where My Dying Bride became My Dying Bride. Right from the opening piano notes of “Sear Me MCMXCIII,” one gets the sense that this is going to be a very different sort of MDB album – and when the violin and Stainthorp’s clean vocals come in, that sense is confirmed. In fact, it isn’t until 90 seconds into the album’s second track “Your River,” a full nine minutes after the album starts, that the first distorted guitar comes in.

Even with the introduction of more gothic elements and the increased presence of Martin Powell’s violin, though, Turn Loose the Swans still has one foot firmly planted in death/doom. Stainthorpe still uses his death growls on the album, and tracks like “The Songless Bird,” “Turn Loose the Swans,” and “The Snow in My Hand” still have plenty of aggressive moments. There area also plenty of slower, more melodic moments, however, that point towards the triumphs to come.

2. The Angel & The Dark River

I mentioned earlier that Ross and I only have two albums in the same slot on our lists – The Angel & The Dark River is the second. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. It’s one of the very few My Dying Bride albums that pretty much every fan will agree is a classic, and not just in terms of MBD’s discography – it’s also one of the high points in the gothic doom genre as a whole.

That being said, this one and my choice for number one are pretty much interchangeable, and there’s a good possibility that I’ve only slotted this in at number two because it’s the album I would expect to be in first place on one of these lists. Yeah, call me contrarian. Whatever…

Most significantly, The Angel & The Dark River saw Stainthorpe abandoned death growls for the first time in favor of his more plaintive baritone. The violin and keyboard work of Martin Powell also took on additional prominence in the musical arrangements. The album opens with “The Cry of Mankind,” arguably the most essential track in the band’s discography: Robertshaw’s relatively simple, repetitive guitar figure, the lonely foghorn that dominates the nearly five-minute coda, Stainthorpe doing his best William Blake impression with imagery-rich lyrics about a “tongue of thorns” and “mouth, dripping with flies.” If you had only one song to try to convince someone to give MDB a try, this would be the song to play.

However, “The Cry of Mankind” is not my favorite song on The Angel & The Dark River. That honor would go to the exquisite “A Sea to Suffer In,” which is also my favorite MDB song, period. Heavy riffs, drastic tempo changes, and a strong vocal from Stainthorpe provide the foundation, but it’s Powell’s Romantic, weepy violin part that truly makes the track such a standout. The live version from Kraków on the For Darkest Eyes DVD is arguably the definitive version of the song (at least for me), but the one here is stunning as well.

The rest of the album essentially goes from strength to strength. The mostly acoustic ballad “Two Winters Only” nods toward the British folk tradition, with the occasional passages of distorted guitar and violin adding to the track’s drama. “From Darkest Skies” includes a wonderfully gothic-sounding bass and violin intro that wouldn’t have felt out of place on The Cure’s Faith. Closer “Your Shameful Heaven” contains some of the only aggressive moments on the album, including one section that sounds downright thrashy.

There’s really not a bad song on The Angel & The Dark River, and it’s the perfect entry point for anyone curious about the band.

1. A Map of All Our Failures

Arguably for the first time since Turn Loose the Swans, every facet of My Dying Bride’s sound came together perfectly on their eleventh full-length A Map of All Our Failures. The death metal riffs, the gothic doom elements, both growled and clean vocals from Stainthorpe, and the introduction of Shaun Macgowan’s violin make this one of the high water marks in the band’s long and varied discography.

As I mentioned when discussing Songs of Darkness, Words of Light, it’s usually the album after the so-called ‘return to form’ where My Dying Bride really seem to regain their feet, and they truly sound reinvigorated on A Map of All Our Failures – though the differences may seem a bit subtle at first. For example, opener “Kneel till Doomsday” has of the band’s trademark plodding riffs, but the second guitar here acts more like a counterpoint instead of simply doubling the main riff, and the sparse violin adds more dissonance to the track than anything. Shaun Taylor Steeles’s drumming also has a pleasant looseness to it, which gives the song something of a live feel.

Heavy, layered guitars and a massive main riff that makes surprisingly effective use of a pinch harmonic carry what is easily my favorite track from the band’s modern period, “The Poorest Waltz.” Stainthorpe’s vocals are especially strong here, particularly on the “dance with the blind girls” line, and Macgowan’s violin makes a surprisingly effective appearance where one would ordinarily expect a guitar solo.

The dissonant violin returns on the chorus of “A Map of All Our Failures,” where it provides a tense counterpoint to Stainthorpe’s mournful cleans. A gorgeous twin guitar break near the end of the track makes for one of the records most beautiful moments. The nakedly emotional “Like a Perpetual Funeral” sounds like almost nothing else they’ve done before – largely drum-free, Craighan and Glencross’s mournfully intertwined guitar lines carry the track, while Stainthorpe once again sounds stunning on the vocals.

I don’t know what ultimately elevates A Map of All Our Failures over The Angel & The Dark River for me, aside from a contrarian impulse. It could be the more modern production, as Powell’s electric piano sounded flat all throughout The Angel & The Dark River. It could be the way that this album draws from every facet of the band’s sound aside from the ill-advised electronica elements on 34.778%…Complete, which makes it a more well-rounded affair. Whatever the reason, if you’d rather start with something from the band’s current incarnation and work backwards, this is the perfect place to start. Likewise, if you’re a fan but haven’t given modern MDB a chance, you owe it to yourself to give A Map of All Our Failures a listen.

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