Reviews for October 16th, 2012

My Dying Bride – A Map of All Our Failures

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the release of the first My Dying Bride album, “As the Flower Withers.” I cannot believe it has been 20 years already, wow. I got onboard the MDB wagon in 1995 with the release of their third album, “The Angel and the Dark River.” Today we see the release of their eleventh album, “A Map of All Our Failures.”

My Dying Bride has evolved some over the years, but they have also retained, or at least returned to, some of the elements that they featured in the beginning. It has been awhile since I have listened to the earlier albums, but if I recall, “As the Flower Withers” was mostly, if not all, sung with harsh vocals. “Turn Loose the Swans” introduced a mixture of harsh vocals and what would become Aaron Stainthorpe’s signature clean, mournful wail. By “The Angel and the Dark River” the focus was on clean vocals. “Like Gods of the Sun” has been my favorite MDB album since its release in 1996. There was a misguided album after that which I choose to ignore, but “The Light at the End of the World” corrected their course. As far as I am concerned everything since then has been great.

I am a big fan of doom metal, and if there is one other band aside from Candlemass that has heavily influenced this infatuation, it is My Dying Bride. While Candlemass took the heavy-like-Sabbath and powerful, gothic route of doom, My Dying Bride specializes in doom which is the aural interpretation of sorrow. If there is a deeper, more introspective and mournful sounding metal in the world I have not yet heard it. My Dying Bride is sorrow incarnate.

So after all these years, what does My Dying Bride have for us? Have they finally decided to write a happy song? Nay, dear reader, despair is still the order of the day. The music remains mostly slow and ominous, though there are moments of aggressive speed. Aaron’s vocals are clean and hopeless sounding as ever, but there are harsh vocals to be found interspersed as well. Ironically, “A Map of All Our Failures” may actually be a melting pot of everything that has ever been good about the band.

This is the perfect time of year to release an MDB album. The leaves are beginning to show color and fall. The weather is turning crisp and cold. The world (or at least the northern hemisphere) is preparing to die and await rebirth. This is my favorite time of year. What is better than to curl up with a good book, some melancholy music and a heated, spiced alcohol beverage while outside nature gives up the ghost in a beautiful, final burst of passion? These are the moments I wait for all year. “A Map of All Our Failures” has arrived just in time to be this year’s soundtrack.

I highly recommend picking up your own copy of “A Map of All Our Failures.” Here is the lead off track “Kneel Till Doomsday” to get you started.

Pentagram – Last Rites

Given the release of the new My Dying Bride album I decided to make this a doom-themed day. “Last Rites”, the latest album from American proto-doom band Pentagram, actually came out last year, but a few weeks ago I encountered the perfect storm of seeing Pentagram open for Down, followed by watching “Last Days Here” the documentary about Bobby Liebling. The combination of these two things caused an overwhelming swell of emotions that left me unable to write about the experience for several weeks. This made me unable to write up the concert in a timely fashion, and so I decided today would be an appropriate day to have a go.

Up until recently I was never much of a Pentagram fan. I had heard what turned out to be very old vintage material (First Daze Here) and did not find it to be particularly metal, so I moved on without having my interest sparked. Then a few years ago I started hearing about Bobby’s decades of addiction and how he was trying to get straight and get the band back together. Whether I like the music or not I can always rally behind someone trying to get their life together.

My friend, Matt Buchan a.k.a. Buke, talked me into going to see Down at the Fillmore Silver Spring. I noticed that Pentagram was opening the show and thought it would be interesting to see how they sounded. When we got to the show I headed into the bathroom, and when I came out Buke was hanging out by the merch booth talking to some guy. I did not know it at the time, but this guy turned out to be Sean Pelletier, who is a very important person in the Pentagram story.

Sean was a Pentagram super-fan who (I will surely mangle this in my attempt to sum up, so take this with a grain of salt) helped Bobby clean up his act, get a band together again, and release “Last Rites.” Sean featured prominently in the documentary “Last Days Here” (which I would not know until the next day when I watched it.) My understanding is that Sean is the band’s manager and all around everyman (hence his working the merch booth.) It sounds to me like Bobby is lucky to have someone around like Sean. (An unrelated side note: I did a little research, and it seems I am sitting here typing this within probably a mile of where Bobby was living at the beginning of the film. He was staying with his parents in Germantown , Maryland, and based on a little Googling, it appears they live right down the road and around a few corners. Pretty wild.)

When Pentagram came on stage and Bobby lurched out to the microphone, I cringed at what I felt was going to be a train wreck. Bobby looks every one of his years and then some, and he just looked like moving was rather painful. And then something amazing happened…he started to sing. I shit you not, I nearly started crying. While I would not know the full, harrowing depths of Bobby’s addiction until watching the film the next day, I knew enough to be cognizant of the fact that what I was seeing, and more importantly hearing, should not be possible. Yet it was happening. Bobby Liebling was singing his ass off.

Pentagram rocked the Fillmore that night, and the fans loved it. I give handfuls of kudos to Phil Anselmo (who, by the way, spent the better part of the show leading up to Down sitting behind a speaker cabinet on stage and banging his head along to the openers) for coming out on stage and tearing the ass out of the sound crew when Bobby’s mic repeatedly cut out on him. The crowd cheered Phil, but he told them to be quiet, he wasn’t here for that, he just wanted to make sure Pentagram got what they deserved. You tell ‘em Phil.

As soon as the show was over, I ran back out to the merch booth and bought a copy of “Last Rites” on vinyl. I went home and the next day I popped it on the turntable (yes, I have one) and then watched “Last Days Here.” The album turned out to be an incredible slab of old school doom metal. Bobby’s voice sounded just as amazing as it had the night before. I am crazy happy that things seem to be going better for him. The documentary was almost too difficult to watch. The early part of it broke my heart and amazed me that Bobby could come back from being so far gone for so long. I heartily recommend all fans of metal check out both “Last Rites” and “Last Days Here.”

Bedemon – Symphony of Shadows

As if the Bobby Liebling story were not depressing enough, I now segue into doom metal band Bedemon. Bedemon was a band that formed as an offshoot of Pentagram in the early 70s. The number of people who have spent time in Pentagram is legion, but if I understand this correctly both Geof O’Keefe and Randy Palmer spent time in Pentagram before forming Bedemon. The band split up for many years, and then much like the Pentagram story, an outsider worked to get the band back together to release a new album.

In 2002, Randy, Geof, and Mike Matthews got back together to record the album that would become “Symphony of Shadows.” Unfortunately, before the album was completed Randy was killed in an automobile accident. Craig Junghandel had been tapped to do the vocals before Randy died, and so in 2010 they decided to complete and master the material. Now here we are ten years later and the album is finally seeing the light of day.

“Symphony of Shadows” definitely has an old school doom flavor, much like Pentagram does, though these songs seem a little heavier. Any fan of the classic doom sound should have little trouble enjoying these songs. The tragedy associated with this band serves to make the album that much more poignant. I never heard of Bedemon until recently, but I very much like these tracks.

Check out the track “Son of Darkness.”