Review by Daniel for My Dying Bride - The Dreadful Hours (2001)
The classic doom/death sound has always been something that I’ve been heavily attracted to as it combines two of my favourite sounds for a result that generally equals or transcends the sum of its parts. In fact, it could be argued that I wasn’t all that big on your more traditional doom metal sound until the more significant doom/death exponents appeared in the early 1990s with England’s My Dying Bride sitting amongst the most important & influential in my musical journey. It took exactly one song to leave me hooked with the title track from 1992’s “Symphonaire Infernus Et Spera Empyrium” E.P. leaving me completely soul-destroyed & begging for more, a task which they willingly proceeded to fulfill with aplomb over the next four years. My Dying Bride’s best work was not only gripping enough to play a significant role in the greatest period of musical discovery & exploration in my life to date but, so profound was their impact on me, that they also assisted in my emotional development as a young man. By the late 90’s however, the doom/death explosion had reached its peak & begun its descent & my interest in metal as a whole was starting to wane which would see me spending most of the 2000’s immersing myself in the world of electronic music. When I finally returned to metal in 2009 I had some catching up to do so I quickly turned to my beloved My Dying Bride for guidance. I would soon find that 2001’s “The Dreadful Hours” album was held up in the highest esteem by fans & critics alike so my hopes were lifted at the prospect of another life-changing musical highlight from the leaders of the game.
“The Dreadful Hours” can be regarded as an album that’s very much representative of what your average My Dying Bride fan was wanting to hear from them at the time & it depends on where you stand in regards to that statement as to whether you’ll be overjoyed or underwhelmed by it. When I first reviewed it back in November 2010 I found that I fell comfortably into the latter camp. I certainly saw some appeal in what I was hearing but felt that the band was simply revising past glories in a less-inspired manner, an opinion that was provided additional weight by the fact that more than 20% of the album was taken up by a re-recorded version of a past classic. It all sounded like a band going through the motions & trying to force out the album their fans were all wanting & the seemingly unanimous praise the album seemed to draw from the global metal community has left me confused ever since. My confusion reached a new peak recently when I discovered that “The Dreadful Hours” was My Dying Bride’s top ranking release on another prominent music ratings website, sitting clear of bona fide classics like “Turn Loose The Swans” & “The Angel & The Dark River”. I immediately raised my wretched face to the heavens & muttered “What is this madness?!” It was a clear indication that the time was right to reassess my position.
I once again found myself struggling a bit during my first listen to be honest. The production is excellent as you would expect but I wasn’t really able to connect all that well with the song-writing & delivery. It certainly sounded like My Dying Bride but…. there was something missing. That was until the stunning re-enactment of the epic fourteen minute “The Return Of The Beautiful” from their 1992 debut full-length “As The Flower Withers” (this time renamed “The Return TO The Beautiful”) which not only represents the clear highlight of the album but also sits up there with the greatest pieces of work for the subgenre as a whole. Yyyeessss….. there it is. That’s what I’ve been missing. I quickly returned to the start of the album to see if I’d just overlooked the quality in the other material & my second listen saw me starting to identify & come to terms with my qualms.
One of the most magnificent features of the classic MDB material was the inclusion of the violin which added a truly majestic aura & an overall beauty to the music. "The Dreadful Hours" is really missing that aspect. The band have attempted to replace it through the use of keyboards which generally work quite well but are rarely as emotionally engaging. There’s also not as much consistency in the quality of the riffs as there was during their classic period with some of them sounding a touch generic & this element sees most tracks falling a little short of their potential. I think "Black Heart Romance" definitely achieves the classic MDB sound best of the new material & after several listens I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a classic in its own right however the fact that "The Return To The Beautiful" clearly takes another step up from there shows that My Dying Bride aren’t quite what they were, despite leaving clear proof that they’re still a tier one player.
Probably my major gripe with latter day My Dying Bride is with Aaron’s clean vocal delivery though. On “The Dreadful Hours” we see him alternating between his powerful death growls & his more melodic & gothic-tinged clean singing & my feelings on the two are like chalk & cheese. Where his growls bring the more sombre material a genuine sense of desolation, his clean stuff comes across as very limited & repetitive. His phrasing is always the same & I feel like he’s about to cry a lot of the time. Now that may appeal to a lot of people but I’ve always found that sort of thing to be overly melodramatic & emasculating. Label me as the classic cold-hearted male that’s detached from his emotional side if you like but I don’t like to hear grown men whimpering & whinging all that much, particularly in my extreme metal. Aaron does a lot of rehashing of old material here too. The phrasing in "My Hope, The Destroyer" is simply too close to earlier material for example & the lyrics also make me want to kick him in the nuts & tell him to harden the fuck up. "The Deepest Of All Hearts" is a fine example of this too & the up-front position the vocals take in the mix doesn’t help much to be fair. Why do so many of the lines have to end with “me” & “you”?? It’s all a bit annoying as the death growls inevitably see my ears pricking up & my general attitude soaring but I have to admit that repeat listens have seen me able to look past Aaron’s performance a lot more than I used to.
Having had my whinge, this is musically a pretty heavy record. The instrumental performances are all very tight & chunky & there’s only the one track that I don’t enjoy in the dreary nine-minute "Le Figile della Tempesta" which sees Aaron at his worst over a repeated lead guitar motif that’s been pulled straight from their classic “The Cry Of Mankind”. I can easily see how “The Dreadful Hours” offers a fairly universal appeal & I do enjoy it more than I did previously, mainly because I’ve had time to get over my qualms a little bit & just take in the positives a bit more. I mean there is still a lot of the classic My Dying Bride sound here. It’s just that I’m left with a numbing feeling that cries out "you’ve heard it all before". I guess I just think that it’s a bit overrated rather than harboring any doubts about it being a strong record in its own right. It’s a high quality doom release & is deserving of a higher rating than I gave it previously but it doesn’t entice me to listen to it over their past classics & its closing masterpiece serves as a reminder of the real depth & magnificence that My Dying Bride are capable of at their very best.