If I were the type of person who worried about “guilty pleasures” (I am not) or whether some thing I enjoy will set me up for ridicule (I am not), I might have to admit that My Dying Bride (AKA The Great White Mope) is a top offender in the “what you love is wrong and embarrassing” stakes.
On their twelfth album (if one discounts Evinta, as every reasonable person should), however, My Dying Bride have finally and fully insulated themselves from all that. The album, if you have not noticed, is called Feel the Misery. Take a minute and let that sink in: Feel. The. Misery. If you were trying to write a parody album of maudlin doom/death, you could plumb the most sopping wet depths of Robert Smith’s and Morrissey’s psyches and never come up with a title better than Feel the Misery. Call it masterful trolling or call it canny self-critique, but what matters is that Feel the Misery is a tremendous righting of the ship after the career low point that was A Map of All Our Failures.
Even if Feel the Misery won’t crack the band’s top 3 albums anytime soon (that’s The Angel and the Dark River, Turn Loose the Swans, and Songs of Darkness, Words of Light, by the way – not opinion, just Science), it’s an unexpectedly strong statement from a band that had lately seemed to coast. While far less aggressive than For Lies I Sire and A Line of Deathless Kings, Feel the Misery is both more inventive and more classic, more pastoral and sharper in contrast. Better yet, it only gets richer the more deeply one dives into its velvety susurrations.
The four songs that make up the album’s first half are the strongest to have emerged from the MDB camp in ages, and taken together form a satisfying arc. Album opener “And My Father Left Forever” is start-to-finish brilliant, with a tripartite structure that sounds like the perfect blend of The Dreadful Hours and The Angel and the Dark River. In fact, most of the album’s more plaintive moments feel very much of a piece with The Angel and the Dark River. But comparisons aside, just to listen to the guitars in their polyphony throughout “To Shiver in Empty Halls” is a joy and a blessing.
The violin, ever a bell-weather of the band’s fortunes, plays an important yet mostly unobtrusive role. It is most prominent on the future Nightmare-Before-Christmas-Appreciation-Society-anthem-in-the-making title track, which as a whole is a powerhouse way to close out the first half of the album. Aaron Stainthorpe is in fine voice across his many styles, moving with as much glee as music this despondent allows between bellows, croons, whispers, and growls.
This batch of eight songs is so strong, and even better, extremely memorable in a way that much of the band’s last decade or so has not been. Thus, even though the second half wanders much further afield, in its own meandering trajectory it pulls apart the various threads of My Dying Bride’s many strengths only to weave them back together by the stirring conclusion of “Within a Sleeping Forest.” “A Thorn of Wisdom” is a mood-setting oddity, sounding a bit like My Dying Bride trying to do with Radiohead what Anathema did with Radiohead circa A Fine Day to Exit. Meanwhile, “I Almost Loved You” is a classic sad-bastard-synth goth ballad in the mold of “For My Fallen Angel.”
At each and every turn of this long but never overlong album, the listener is guided expertly through the Three Steps of Accepting My Dying Bride:
Step 1) “Sweet onionskin-huffing Moses, how could anyone take this lugubrious mess seriously?”
Step 2) “Oh dang, these folks actually kinda know what they’re doing.”
Step 3) “I don’t ever want to listen to anything else.”
The thing is, My Dying Bride is like an awkward roommate who doesn’t understand how to get her date in the mood. You’re suggesting she put on some Prince or D’Angelo and instead she comes up with a song called “I Celebrate Your Skin.” But isn’t that roommate some kind of beautiful, in the bliss of her self-appointed wrongness? Doesn’t the blighted world spin for her gloom and wracked ruination just as much as it does for your smug superiority, your careful poise, your quaveringly self-conscious bravado? When you measure your worth against the crowd-clamored standard of someone else’s yardstick, don’t you cheapen the entire bolt from which we are all cut, armful after close-gathered armful, by the cosmic seamstress of all joining and sundering?
Enough: Idle questions take us down dark pathways. Feel the Misery is a staggeringly good album from a band that makes music to raise up every sadness you’ve ever felt, every sadness ever chronicled in story or song. Get low and ride the end-times with these weeping jesters of your Shakespearean sorrow.
You deserve this.