Style: Doom/Death Metal
Release Date: 6 Mar 2020
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I can't just walk straight into a My Dying Bride album. I usually find that the most effective way to approach such a creature is to pour the thing over me slowly so that I can acclimatise to their exquisite sound. As usual, the first half hour or so washed off and away from me, but the sheer majesty of The Long Black Land stuck and captured me utterly and I lost the next couple of hours to the band.
This is their lucky thirteenth album, thirty years into their career, and it lush. Only Andrew Craighan and Aaron Stainthorpe are still on board from the beginning and the former provides all the guitarwork here, because new fish Neil Blanchett didn't join until the album was done. It's also the first to feature Jeff Singer, formerly of Paradise Lost, behind the drumkit. Bassist Lena Abé has been with the band for over a decade now, as has Shaun MacGowan on keyboards and violin.
The band's sound has always remained identifiably theirs even with a musical shift or three over the years. This is emphatically doom metal but with some death on the side, Stainthorpe shifting to death growls at points on quite a few songs. The gothic metal aspect The gothic metal aspect mostly manifests through the violin and guest cello from Jo Quail, which provide an elegance that fits the relentless slow pace. Every note is chosen as carefully as the lacquer on a magahony Victorian box or the polish on a brass fitting.
The album breaks into sections for me. The first includes three songs, which include the two singles thus far, but oddly it's the least worthy section to me. Sure, it simply reeks of anguish and can't be ignored but, compared with what comes later, it sounds like an excellent band warming up. The interlude between this and the second half is The Solace, an even more emotional piece that's entirely bereft of bass or drums. It's entirely solo guitar, if never guitar solos, and it's directed by the guest folk vocals of Lindy-Fay Hella.
And then we get serious. After half an hour or so, my breathing had slowed to match the music as if I was entering a meditative state and it's here in The Long Black Land that I fell fully into sync. It starts well with Quail's cello and a slower pace even than before, teases at speed with a neat churn or two and adds emphasis with a death growl from Stainthorpe. But then the midsection truly captured me.
I'm writing this in self-isolation due to COVID-19 but this transported me somewhere where I felt truly alone (but on board with that). The keyboards set the scene and the guitar and cello decorate it. The drums, at the point when they show up, tease exquisitely. Two minutes later, the full band crash the scene with utter majesty and take me slowly home. This is precisely what "power and glory" is meant to describe. The second half of this song made me feel like I was immortal and, only when it suddenly ends, was I shaken back to mortality.
The Long Black Land is a second shy of ten minutes and The Old Earth nudges just over that mark, kicking in with more folk before turning it way up with some exquisite crescendoing. It's preceded by an interesting title track, an elegant set of whispers with acoustic guitar accompaniment that allows us a moment to recover from the previous song and prepare ourselves for the next. It's followed by a choral outro.
And we briefly quantify our state of being before launching right back into the album again to find that Your Broken Shore is a grower. As tends to be the case with My Dying Bride, I look forward to many hours getting to truly know this album. It's a safe 8/10 for now. Let's see if raise that later.