My Dying Bride is one of those bands that I call a “soundtrack band,” meaning that its music has played a key part in my teenage years as well as my early 20’s. I must have played The Angel and the Dark River so much as a young adult that I’m sure I burned through a couple layers of that CD. “The Cry of Mankind,” to this day, still astounds me whenever I hear it. In other words, My Dying Bride has a special place in my heart. That said, they’ve been wildly inconsistent since that album came out. They never really released what I would call a bad record, but few of their albums are what I’d call a classic from beginning to end. When news came last year that guitarist Hamish Glencross (Vallenfyre) was replaced by original guitarist Calvin Robertshaw, my waning interest in My Dying Bride turned into curiosity. Now that I’ve listened to Feel the Misery for the entirety of my weekend, I’ll approach this album a bit differently than before.
Whenever my friends ask me for advice, I always ask them, “Do you want the nice version, or do you want me to be honest?” In other words, I’ll hit them with kindness before laying the blunt truth upon them, hopefully with the understanding that it’s coming from a sincere place. Well, the “Nice Version” is that Feel the Misery is the most consistently solid album My Dying Bride has put out in decades. Opener “And My Father Left Forever” acts as a snapshot of their entire career rolled into one nine-minute-plus song. Robertshaw and Andrew Craighan lay monolithic riff after monolithic riff down atop Dan Mullins’s thunderous drumming. Aaron Stainthorpe’s voice is in strong form and Shaun Macgowan’s violin playing is exquisitely performed. The entire song is an incredible journey from start to finish, and is such a strong way to open an album.
Now, the “Honest Version.” There are absolutely no clunkers on this record. In fact, I’ll go on record and say that the majority of Feel the Misery proudly stands shoulder-to-shoulder with The Angel and the Dark River and Turn Loose the Swans. “A Cold New Curse” recalls Like Gods of the Sun until the last couple of minutes when Mullins just goes to war on drums, elevating a great song to epic status. “A Thorn of Wisdom” allows Lena Abé’s bass playing to shine amid Stainthorpe’s troubled vocals. But it’s the one-two gut punch of “I Celebrate Your Skin” and “I Almost Loved You” that seal this album. The former could have easily been an extra track off of Turn Loose the Swans, with the final two minutes being some of the most heart wrenching music My Dying Bride has put out, with Stainthorpe bellowing painfully (“I am a world apart, I am the coldest heart/I am a serpent of the sea/You are a golden sun, you are the silver moon/You are the fever killing me.”). And while his vocals aren’t always the best, they connect emotionally, especially since it’s been revealed that his father died just a week or two before the album’s production. “I Almost Loved You” brings back the old My Dying Bride tradition of Stainthorpe’s delicate voice draped over piano and violin, recalling earlier classics like “Sear Me MCMXCIII” and “For My Fallen Angel.” It’s breathtakingly sad and beautiful, like wanting to cradle a painful memory.
For as amazing as this record is, there are problems. Once again recorded at Academy Studios by longtime producer Mags, the album has a really full, dynamic feel to it, except Mullins’ bass drum sounds a bit like it’s hitting wet cardboard. Some editing here and there would help the flow a little (like the ending to “To Shiver in Empty Halls”), and I would have placed closing track “Within a Sleeping Forest” closer to the middle, ending the album on a dark note with “I Celebrate Your Skin” and “I Almost Loved You,” but I’m masochistic that way. That said, these are truly nitpicks on an album that is a welcome return to form.
I honestly went into Feel the Misery with equal parts curiosity and trepidation. I came out of it, roughly 10+ plays later, feeling like I reconnected with a dear, long-lost friend. As jaded as I was with their output, I’m quite (miserably) happy to say that My Dying Bride are in top form once again. Welcome back. You’ve been missed.