News flash: Ya boy Old Thunder looooves metal of the sad, mopey sort. You shouldn’t be surprised at all that you’re seeing this. If you know me anyway, you were probably expecting it. My Dying Bride, one of the cornerstone bands for gothic/doom metal, have been a longtime favorite of mine since I first heard The Dreadful Hours many years ago. Given their extensive, decades-long catalog, it’s only fitting that they eventually the beloved Brits would end up in this column. It is my pleasure — nay, privilege — to present the Nine Circles Ov… My Dying Bride.
“Your River” (from Turn Loose the Swans, 1993)
While the band’s debut As the Flower Withers was a pioneering piece of death/doom, Turn Loose the Swans was, for all intents and purposes, their breakout album. This heroic cut, a classic among fans, unites the dreary, melodic riffs with Aaron’s clean vocals that, although not as refined as later in the band’s career, are still full of longing and desperation. The violin’s wrenching figures atop the rhythm section became a career-long motif for the band, and all these years later, it holds up wonderfully.
“The Cry of Mankind” (from The Angel and the Dark River, 1995)
It would be a mortal sin to not include this. The opening track of this legendary album has earned a rightful place as one of doom metal’s most important and influential song. A simple but mournful guitar line weaves it ways over and under every riff and is a brilliant motif that provides a continuity and momentum, as well as a foil to Aaron’s solemn vocals. I can’t blabber on enough about how great this song is.
“The Whore, The Cook, and the Mother” (from 34.788%… Complete, 1998)
The most divisive albums start out deceptively. In the case of the very experimental, nearly avant-garde approach of 34.788%, its opening track would lead one to believe that nothing had really changed from Like Gods of the Sun. The only aspect that sticks out as being different, at first, is the warbly, strained overdrive on Aaron’s voice; halfway through, though, the album’s most divisive elements make their appearance: Ambient sound effects, looped and processed drum beats, and a hard veering into electronica territory. This is a far cry from the weird trip-hop vibes on “Heroin Chic,” but even so, it sticks out as one of MDB’s most ambitious moments.
“She is the Dark” (from The Light of the End of the World, 1999)
After two albums that left the band’s fan base staunchly divided, this song reminded us all that MDB were still capable of the dark romance that made their first three albums so unforgettable. Additionally, they struck into faster tempos here without losing the focus on excellent guitar melodies and the narrative arc of their songwriting. Aaron’s vocals, for the first time in many years, finally found a balance between the pained growls and the clean vocals, both of which are in top form.
“My Hope, the Destroyer” (from The Dreadful Hours, 2001)
The Dreadful Hours may well be one of the band’s best albums in terms of variety and the strength of its songwriting, and this track embodies its best aspects. Juxtaposing a rollicking triplet-based rhythm against a bereaved vocal melody and Maiden-esque guitar harmonies. In its second half, though, it is pure doom supremacy, probably one of the most soul-draining things the band had written up to that point. All of the songs on this album are excellent, but this one is a highlight (alongside the brilliant re-recording of “The Return to the Beautiful.”
“The Blood, The Wine, The Roses” (from A Line of Deathless Kings, 2006)
For an album surprisingly unreliant on keys to build its atmospheric structures, this song is probably one of the most majestic album closers MDB have penned. While the band have always been known for the literary bend of their lyrics, this is one of the greatest tales of love and loss written in their discography, and the track’s jarring death metal section at the end ended up becoming a motif for later works while proving that the band still had ferocity in their veins after taking a far more gothic approach for the past few albums.
“The Barghest O’Whitby” (from The Barghest O’Whitby, 2011)
After a very mixed reception to For Lies I Sire, which saw the band strip a lot of the grit out of their sound and go for a cleaner, more atmospheric sort of impression (again), this nearly 30-minute track again throttled listeners and remains of my personal favorites. Its saturated guitars –– a throwback straight to the days when the Boss HM2 reigned supreme among metal bands –– belch forth some of the ugliest riffs since the band’s earliest days, but the weeping violins plays an excellent foil against Aaron’s infernal growls and weave some incredibly wrenching melodies. Add that to the excellent narrative arc of the lyrics, and you have a modern classic.
“The Manuscript” (from The Manuscript, 2013)
Always exercising their abilities to be adaptive to opposite ends of the doom spectrum, MDB’s career in the past few years has been marked by an excellent string of EPs, and the title track of The Manuscript sees them reach back into the romantic grandeur of their third album. The violin’s melody is one of its chief features and brings its melodic motif to forefront, rather than being relegated to the background as in times past.
“A Cold New Curse” (from Feel the Misery, 2015)
It was difficult to pick only one cut from the band’s latest album since, frankly, it’s an excellent album from top to bottom. This particular track, though, is a masterful conglomeration of every sound that the band has integrated over their long career, almost a retrospective in itself of how MDB have progressed over the course of twelve albums. Its clean, quiet midsection is as eerie as it is mournful, and it crests with an absolutely triumphant melodic riff that switches gears into regal but brutal rhythms backed by a horn section.
I realize, as a diehard, that a lot of great songs (and some albums, unfortunately — Like Gods of the Sun, Songs of Darkness, Words of Light, For Lies I Sire, and A Map of All Our Failures didn’t make the cut) got glossed over, but the nine cuts detailed here are only one man’s opinion of the best that the band have to offer. Should you dig deeper? Absolutely. It would be a disservice not to.