My Dying Bride – The Angel and the Dark River

You can’t expect to read this and survive

From the outside looking in, My Dying Bride were underground hopefuls with the ability and momentum to cross over to the mainstream. Previous album Turn Loose the Swans had captured not just our black hearts and cemetery eyes, but the wider, deeper gaze of the upper echelons of a different era. In Europe, the press was absolutely fervent about MDB, pen and limbs thrashing adoringly to “The Songless Bird” and “The Crown of Sympathy,” while here in America, Rolling Stone unexpectedly (yet famously) called it, “Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the ears,” a quote that still positively haunts the Brits. At the time, My Dying Bride’s gothic metal proclivities appeared to cast larger and longer shadows. Even fledgling At the Gates, when the Swedes synched up with the Yorkshiremen to tour Europe, had expected more. Indeed, by the time The Angel and the Dark River had dropped in the spring of 1995 on Peaceville, fortune had finally paid a visit.

But in West Yorkshire, the glint of success wasn’t quite as bright. My Dying Bride had spent the better portion of 1994 writing the follow-up to Turn Loose the Swans. The six-piece toiled away in a dark, oven-like rehearsal space, answering to no one but the limits of their own creativity. They had but one goal, really: Above all else, top Swans. Rehearsal after sweaty, smoky rehearsal, they crafted. Songs like “From Darkest Skies,” “Two Winters Only” and “Black Voyage” appeared, wrought with deathly iron of yesteryear and crowned with the seductive lace of betterment. To wit, vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe eschewed his trademark death growl for an unmistakable, yet mournful squall. Likewise, guitarists Andrew Craighan and Calvin Robertshaw had twisted their exposure to alternative music—like Hybryds and Dead Can Dance—into a monolithic, yet diaphanous force. Indeed, the rhythm section of Rick Miah and Adrian “Ade” Jackson afforded the rest of the band the anorthosite foundation on which to build, but it was the violin and keyboard work of Martin Powell that expertly stitched sadness, longing and nostalgia throughout. Collectively, however, My Dying Bride were doing what they always had done on The Angel and the Dark River, so the oncoming deluge of praise (mostly off-island), fanfare and opportunity—a legendary gig at the Dynamo Festival and surprising invite to tour with Iron Fucking Maiden—had yet to materialize.

The Angel and the Dark River was probably never as loved in England as it was everywhere else. Perhaps that’s cultural. Or maybe the Brits, with their inveterate mentality, simply thought that My Dying Bride were too “European,” an ornate folderol too obtuse to praise outright, but vexedly on the upswing nonetheless. Yet, here at Decibel, some 26 years later, The Angel and the Dark River resonates as strongly as ever—the understated white cover art a beacon of MDB’s unwitting unorthodoxy. The triumph of six twentysomethings with three quid between them unfurls across “A Sea to Suffer In,” “Your Shameful Heaven” and opening keystone “The Cry of Mankind” like a black velvet counterpane. For this reason (and many others), we hereby welcome The Angel and the Dark River and the creative endeavor behind it into the Hall of Fame. Fish and chips are across the street, boys.

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