Once upon a time in 1995, yours truly, then a long-haired kid with patchy facial hair, baggy cargo pants, and numerous black t-shirts featuring whoever was on Century Media Records at the time, was first getting into doom metal via word-of-mouth and the late, great Metal Maniacs magazine (RIP Katherine Ludwig). One of those bands I was told to check out was England’s gloomy sextet, My Dying Bride. So, having already checked out bits and pieces of their debut, 1992’s As The Flower Withers, I went to Newbury Comics to hunt down its follow-up, the 1993 masterpiece Turn Loose the Swans. As luck would have it, the store was fresh out of copies, and although I was bummed out about missing the last copy, they had just put out a bunch of their then-newest album, the seemingly benignly-titled The Angel and the Dark River. I bought a copy, popped it into my Philips CD Player, and was blown away by not only the huge jump between the debut and this album, but also by the amount of overwhelming sadness and beauty contained within.
The six songs contained on TAatDR (seven, if you count eternal bonus track “The Sexuality of Bereavement”) were some of My Dying Bride‘s mopiest melodies and performances at that time. Gone were the death growls (again, save for “The Sexuality of Bereavement”), and in its place, Aaron Stainthorpe’s singing voice was growing in confidence, bellowing words of romance and the failure of religion. The guitar interplay between Andrew Craighan and Calvin Robertshaw, while not as creative as on Turn Loose, was still pretty interesting at several points of the the album, such as the acoustic melodies on “Two Winters Only,” or the crushing heaviness of “From Darkest Skies.” And of course Martin Powell, once a hired hand for the As The Flower Withers sessions, became fully integrated here, as his sad melodies that punctuate “A Sea to Suffer In” and the depressingly beautiful “Black Voyage” were nothing short of breathtaking.
There is a nagging problem, though. For as good as the majority of The Angel and the Dark River was (and a lot of it still holds up very well), there’s a huge, huge shadow lurking over the majority of the album… and it’s the first track. “The Cry of Mankind” would basically become My Dying Bride‘s (and ultimately doom metal’s) “Living After Midnight,” “Back in Black” and “Run To The Hills,” all rolled up into one twelve-minute song. The fact that the band built such a beautiful song around Robertshaw’s repetitious six-note finger-tapping is nothing short of incredible. Adrian Jackson’s driving bass, Rick Miah’s thundering drums, Powell’s sparse-but-tasteful piano playing, and Craighan’s melodies and riffery carrying those six notes as far out as humanly possible while Stainthorpe bemoans about God in what was to become their anthem, their masterpiece, and their biggest song. Just try not to giggle while watching the official video below. In fact, the rest of the album could have been complete, unwashed ass (which thankfully it wasn’t), but as long as it had “The Cry of Mankind” on it, it would have been salvageable. It’s so big a song that, sadly, they don’t play anything else from TAatDR anymore, which is a bummer, as I’d kill to hear “Black Voyage” one more time, besides on their For Darkest Eyes live DVD.
As with all classic albums, TAatDR holds up remarkably well, with only “Your Shameful Heaven” not doing so hot these days. Since then, only half of the line-up remains. Stainthorpe and Craighan have seen My Dying Bride through all the turmoil and line-up changes, with Robertshaw returning to guitar duties in 2014 after his replacement, Hamish Glencross (Vallenfyre), was relieved of his duties. In fact, they’re in the studio working on their newest as we speak. Here’s hoping that it at least comes close to the doom, gloom, and beauty that was The Angel and the Dark River, one of 1995’s finest albums, and one of My Dying Bride‘s best.