Among metal's darker avenues, doom metal arguably has the most potential for summoning an all-enveloping mood of darkness and sublime horror... but while many bands in the field tend to get carried away with smothering, cavernous chords, UK legends My Dying Bride distinguish themselves by incorporating symphonic elements, rich harmonies, gothic vocals and occasional dips into the black pool of death metal to create musical landscapes that are both melancholy and nightmarish. (“There is beauty here,” the band states, “but it's carrying a dark blade.") Last fall, the band unveiled their magnum opus A Map of All Our Failures, a landmark in their nearly quarter-century career, and while that project led to eight colossal studio tracks (not including bonus cut “My Faults Are Your Reward”), there was much more material recorded for that album, most of which went unreleased... that is, until this week.
Three additional songs from that session comprise the band's new EP The Manuscript, continuing their trademark themes of “tragedy, loss and bitter vengeance” – although the one newly-recorded track is a slight divergence from the usual somber, moody delivery – and while it's technically an “expansion pack” to the larger work, it still feels self-contained as a dark fantasy tale, along the lines of their wicked 2011 concept EP The Barghest O'Whitby, which was written at the same time as A Map of All Our Failures (and based on a mythical British hell-hound we investigated in our “Cryptid Catalog” feature). Clocking in at nearly half an hour, The Manuscript feels almost as massive.
Setting up that timeless, mythical feel, the opening/title track keeps many of Map's gothic/neoclassical elements in play, aided by grandiose production by Rob Magoolagan (whose work on Map was equally stellar), and wrapping on a moody coda. Haunted atmosphere envelops "A Pale Shroud of Longing," which lumbers like a slow but destructive riffing behemoth, counterbalanced by an intimate trace of violin in its softer moments, which come as close to uplifting as this band will probably ever get. "Var Gud Over Er," the only track not carried over from Map, is also a slight departure from the band's signature: “It's full-on sort of epic death metal,” said frontman Aaron Stainthorpe in an interview with the magazine Metal Forces, describing it as “a proper warrior battle kind of track that's almost medieval in flavor.” To support that theme, he adopts more death growls than usual, backed by suitably cinematic production and sound design... but the doomy elements are still very much in play; the tempo ultimately drops and the energy levels off, as if the shadow of death has passed over the ancient battlefield to claim its due. The subdued whisper of a finale "Only Tears to Replace Her With" finds us back in a more ceremonial mode, closing the coffin lid once and for all with its memorial incantations.
Whether taken as a semi-sequel to A Map of All Our Failures or a standalone work, The Manuscript is cut from the same quality cloth as its larger predecessor, and holds up just as well in terms of musicianship, production and songwriting. This is hardly a collection of outtakes, but a natural progression of the same ideas laid down in the full album. Together, the two releases represent the finest output from a band whose very name summons the word “doom” in reverent tones.
According to Stainthorpe, a music video for “The Manuscript” is in the works, so be sure to stay tuned. For a taste of what's in store, here's a sample medley of all four tracks...