Ah, the mysteries of the promo bin. Usually when selecting promo I like to have a bit of context to consolidate my choices. Whether it be firm knowledge of a particular band or genre, general curiosity based on word-of-mouth or information gathered, or a fanboy-like connection. But every now and then the urge strikes to pick something at random, with the hope of landing a surprise gem. That was how I happened upon There Was Death by long running UK act, My Silent Wake. I already fucked up with my screening process, as the name didn’t ring a bell and in all honestly I had mistakenly pinned them as vibrant young upstarts. Instead, My Silent Wake has enjoyed a prolific career since forming in 2005, arriving at their 10th LP with this latest platter of goth-tinged death-doom, continuing the misery-laden trend of doom and gloom to kick off 2018.
Unfortunately I have no prior knowledge of the band’s extensive work, but taken at face value, There Was Death presents as a polished, burly and solidly constructed album, clearly influenced by legendary countrymen My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost, and featuring melancholic flashes of Insomnium-like grace. My Silent Wake manage to cultivate a reasonably individual style branching from their notable influences. The gloomy melodies, measured pace, and thick, drawn-out riffs are representative of their doom leanings, however, the sprightlier tempos, forceful double kick onslaughts, and appropriately meaty and partially decipherable growls are never far away, forming a solid marriage between deathly crush and bleak, pulsating doom atmospheres. Opener “A Dying Man’s Wish” begins the album in a particularly mournful fashion, with Ian Arkley’s impassioned growls weaving tales of woe atop bleak, bending guitar work and stomping rhythms. The song picks up intensity and is pretty compelling stuff, if a little overdone in length.
Maintaining solid early momentum, “Damnatio Memoriae” and “Killing Flaw” showcase the skills of an experienced, veteran band shifting dynamically in their death-doom skin. The former demonstrates a groovy streak, probing basslines and atmospheric keys fleshing out memorable leads and melodies. Meanwhile, the latter ups the tempo, flirting with moody melodeath amidst thick and cohesive layers of texture. Throughout it’s all fairly palatable stuff, well played and solidly entertaining, though the material occasionally gets bogged down in gothic melodrama and bloat. The album’s strong first half also renders the solid and adventurous second half as slightly underwhelming in comparison. But really, there’s nothing particularly off about what My Silent Wake have created here, it’s mostly an enjoyable listen that just could have used tighter reins.
The dreaded lack of self-editing issue rears its ugly head and definitely squanders an opportunity for My Silent Wake to truly destroy. But with numerous songs cracking the seven minute-plus barrier and the whole morose affair clocking-in at a sizable 63 minutes, there are times where the material loosens its grip, such as parts of the intermittently engaging goth-doom epics, “Ghosts of Parlous Lives” and closer “An End to Suffering.” Which is a shame as both songs have plenty of merit and emotionally charged moments, powered by effective use of female cleans, and strong vocal harmonizing on the heart-wrenching closer in particular (which would have been an exceptional song if three to four minuets had been shaved). Fortunately, when My Silent Wake get their formula right, there’s much to admire and enjoy. Special mention is reserved for a top notch production job, featuring a refreshingly dynamic master and a clean but hefty sonic palette.
It’s unfortunate that My Silent Wake stumble in patches during There Was Death, as there’s a hell of a lot to like about the album. The genuine emotion and meticulous detail put into each composition is evident, and the varied, rich instrumentation lends the album a solid backbone and great atmosphere. However, the flaws prove troubling when considering the album as a whole, especially when stacked against similarly styled albums that have left powerful impressions during the early stages of 2018. Yet the good comfortably outweighs the not-so-good moments, resulting in a solid slab of addictive death-doom that’s well worth sifting through for avid fans of tasteful but not overbearing misery.