My Dying Bride - Turn Loose the Swans (1993)Release ID: 961
I simply don't have enough superlatives to describe how wonderful this album is. Sublime romantic melancholy!
Turn Loose the Swans is the second full length album by British legends My Dying Bride. Their debut was a generally positive experience, being an effective mixture of gritty death metal, heavy doom riffs and gothic embellishments. It lacked a little in the production department, especially the drum sound, but I consider it to be a groundbreaking and entertaining album. After that release and the two EPs the band had created thus far, I was well and truly a fan of the band by the time I got my hands on Turn Loose the Swans. But I was certainly unaware that what I was about to experience would become something of an obsession for me. Martin Powell (violins and keyboards) had finally joined the band as a full time member rather than just a session musician, so he now took part in the creation of the tracks as opposed to adding violin touches to otherwise complete works. It only takes a few seconds of opening track Sear Me MCMXCIII for it to become apparent that this change has had a huge impact on the overall sound, and that Turn Loose the Swans is not your average metal album. Gorgeous violin and piano combines to create such extraordinarily moving music. Then Aaron's tender vocals kick in and I'm already in melancholic heaven before a guitar has been switched on or a drumstick picked up.
Turn Loose the Swans is a much more delicate affair than the debut. It still contains massive death metal influenced riffs and intense death growls, but the majority of the album is spent exploring the depths of melancholy, building up the atmosphere to levels previously unreached. Huge sections of tracks leave any sort of heaviness aside to delve into exquisite melodies and atmospheric landscapes. The band had toyed with dark ambience on the track Le Cerf Malade on The Thrash of Naked Limbs EP and that experience clearly gave them the confidence to integrate ambient sections into epics such as The Crown of Sympathy with great success. Everything is so precise and as it should be throughout the album, and every ingredient comes together to form the most perfect whole. Aaron's vocals are stunning! His clean passages are filled with emotion and tenderness, his death growls overflowing with anger and lust, yet every word is completely intelligible. The lyrics are serenely poetic and romantic (in fact, the last eight lines of Black God are taken directly from a poem called Ah! The Shepherd’s Mournful Fate by the 18th century Scottish poet William Hamilton), perfectly matching the tone. I can’t praise Aaron’s work on this album enough, although I must question his design for the album cover. Is that what the swans did once they were loose?
The riffs and melodies that Andy and Calvin create are epic and moving, covering the full spectrum of emotion seemingly at will. There are no throwaway riffs at all with tracks like Your River showcasing gem after gem in an endless flow of awesomeness. Rick's drumming is also a highlight, combining the perfect amount of restraint while getting the production he deserves this time around. Martin's violin and keyboard always made early My Dying Bride something truly special, not to mention unique, and his performance here is that of a master craftsman. He takes what would already be fantastic death doom metal and gives it a majestic, ageless boost. It must be apparent by now that Turn the Loose the Swans is an important album to me. It was my favourite album the first time I heard it back in 1993 (possibly still is!) and it moves me immeasurably every single time I hear it. Opener Sear Me MCMXCIII and closer Black God are exquisitely romantic bookends to five massive death doom masterpieces, and while Your River and The Crown of Sympathy are my personal favourites, every track is perfect in my opinion. Out of the thousands of albums I have experienced, if I could only give a select few of them full marks, this would be one of them. I’m not sure I can give a bigger compliment than that.
As I further my listening in The Fallen clan I inevitably find myself with my first MDB album. I cannot articulate why I have never ventured into MDB over the last three decades. It is not that I recall any poor experience of one song that turned me off them although I predict that if I had heard Turn Loose the Swans back in 1993 I would not have gotten past album opener Sear Me MCMXCIII as my Pantera-adled brain would not have tolerated such a dreary number. In so many ways TLtS is a gift that I can only appreciate with age, as it is an album that transcends a mere death/doom tag over its seven tracks and is in fact a lot to take in.
This is an album that manages to felt as well as heard. It has tangible form and edges as well as an interesting interior to explore also. Whether it is the destitute crooning of Aaron Stainthorpe that you feel in the very pit of your stomach or the melancholic stabbing riffs of Andrew Craighan and Calvin Robertshaw that fill your head with heaviest of dark thoughts, there is always an experience to be had with any part of TLtS. Rick Miah more than deserves a mention also with his drumming providing a consistent and solid backdrop to whole despondent atmosphere of the album. The drum patterns manage to sit in the space between simple percussion and expansive detail. Never lost and never overpowering, this is one of the most balanced drum performances I have heard for some time.
Props also for the subtle use of the violin and keyboards. Martin Powell manages to make his presence felt without turning the album into a wishy-washy, gothic affair. The guitars, drums and vocals are genuinely allowed to shine with the keys and classical strings seeping in to support them or compliment perfectly the more down tempo moments. The Snow in My Hand is a great example of how they violin is effectively used to introduce the song, set the tone and then hand it over to the doomier aspects of the sound. In terms of the true death/doom content, I would argue that this is quite sparse overall and only comes into play from around the halfway point of the album. Indeed, I would go as far as to suggest that TLtS is a real grower of an album overall in terms of staying true to its overall genre classification. The elements of gothic and doom metal certainly dominate the first part of the album, yet when the death/doom content is displayed it does not push any of these other elements aside. The band merely combine them as new component parts to the sound and as a result the album has a real sense of development to it. At the same time all tracks seem somehow interconnected. Listening to the aforementioned The Snow in My Hand you cannot help but think of album opener Sear Me MCMXCIII. I am not aware that the album is a concept album and so I can only put this down to sheer consistency.
Building as it goes along, the release hits its peak shortly before the end of the record as the two lengthier tracks, Crown of Sympathy and the title track, truly showcase the song writing prowess of the band. Dramatic, grandiose (trumpet fanfare) and utterly desperate, both tracks encompass the overall experience of TLtS perfectly. I cannot pretend to have hit it off with this record from the outset and I have in fact been listening to it on and off for weeks now just to get to the point of being able to gather my thoughts for a review. At first (as with Anathema) I did find it a little bleating at times but this issue soon dispersed over repeated listens. Despite the experimentation, the record maintains a real death/doom ethos at its core and is one of the best records I have heard to date in my exploration of The Fallen clan.
Death Doom Metal
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