Label: Peaceville Records
For any band to still be active after 25 years is a rare achievement. For a band to remain active after so long and to be releasing some of the best material of their career is even rarer still. Yet that is exactly where My Dying Bride find themselves with Feel The Misery, an album that can be considered as one of their best. Cathartic, passionate, and darkly beautiful, this is a masterclass in the gothic death/doom that the band helped spawn all those years ago. There is a sincerity to Feel The Misery that adds to the already considerable force of the music, and combined with some creative touches, it all adds up to make the album one of the highlights of the year.
Opening track “And My Father Left Forever” is one of the band’s best. The shortest of introductions passes before the band take flight with crushingly heavy riffs and drumming, but it’s Aaron Stainthorpe’s vocals that really stand out, soaring above the music with their mix of poetry and direct pleading (“When I wake up / I want to see you”). The personal subject matter lends extra emotion to his performance, complimented well by subtle keyboards and more overt, yet still tasteful violin. It’s one of the most honest, cathartic songs in My Dying Bride’s considerable catalogue, the lyrics hitting like a blow to the chest, making this a hugely impressive opener, and a perfect summary of the long-lasting appeal of the Yorkshire band.
The rest of Feel The Misery manages to maintain the incredibly high standards set by the opener. “To Shiver In Empty Halls” showcases the heavier side of the band, with Aaron making good use of his death metal growls, whilst guitarists Andrew Craighan and Calvin Robertshaw – who returns after a 15 year absence from the band – trading off melodies and riffs. The later half of the song is an exercise in restraint reminiscent of Turn Loose The Swans, fully embracing the theater and drama inherent in this style of music, as does the album as a whole. This is perhaps most clear on the title track, which is one of the more direct on the album at a relatively concise six and a half minutes. Full of captivating riffs, and with another stellar performance from Aaron Stainthorpe, it turns the album title in to a refrain or mantra, not so much feeling the misery as reveling in it, accepting and ultimately exorcising the darkness. It’s as cathartic as anything you might care to name, and the sections where the guitars step back to let the violins, piano, and drums come to the fore at different times are incredibly, amazingly beautiful and heavy.
Of course, My Dying Bride have never been a band to shy away from experimenting and testing the boundaries of their chosen style – think of, say, the relative cleanness of Like Gods Of The Sun, or the beauty of Evinta, or the utterly avant-garde nature of 34.788%… Complete. Those experimental, creative tendencies are strongly present on the second half of Feel The Misery. “A Thorn Of Wisdom” is led by the bass of Lena Abé and keys of Shaun Macgowan (who also handles violins on the album), full of space and wonder, which makes the final third, where the guitars make their first appearance on the song, all the more stunning. “I Celebrate Your Skin” follows this with the bleakest of funeral doom, but it’s “I Almost Loved You” that is, arguably, the highlight of the second half. Its five and a half minutes contain a lifetime of sorrow, expressed in the most beautiful and harrowing of ways, its piano and violins demonstrating that you do not need to be heavy to tap in to the spirit of doom. That said, closer “Within A Sleeping Forest” is prime evidence that there is still plenty of scope for more typical doom songs to possess plenty of power and darkness, and ends the album on a distinctively heavy note.
When it’s all taken as a whole, it’s hard to put across just how strong and captivating a listen Feel The Misery is. It could even be argued that, 25 years on from the Towards The Sinister demo, My Dying Bride have made the most accessible album of their career, and one that perhaps best exemplifies all the different aspects they have to offer. Indeed, to my ears, Feel The Misery contains some of the best tracks the band have penned. And 25 years in to their career, that is no mean feat at all. A complete triumph.
Feel The Misery is available on CD and vinyl from Peaceville Records, including a special CD and 10″ vinyl edition with 40 page book.