My Dying Bride – As The Flower Withers

While numerous people own ‘As The Flower Withers’, I haven’t heard of more than a handful who actually like to listen to it regularly.  Or listen to it at all, for that matter.  Before My Dying Bride became an overwrought gothic metal band (admittedly one that’s occasionally very good, though they have enormous difficulty stretching those very good moments into actual songs) they were a rather clumsy and droning variety of doom/death metal which hasn’t quite been replicated anywhere else.  Then again, there’s a reason WHY it hasn’t been replicated: it’s very awkward, strangely atmosphered, and lacking accessibility or memorability in just about every way.  I can’t deny that this is an album of immense historical and musical importance, but I can see little reason to listen to it when there are numerous other doom/death albums that are far superior.  I guess that a variant of that point might be salient, though: there aren’t really any other doom/death albums that sound like this in particular, so if you have a peculiar desire for something so plodding and dismal, this is really your only bet.

There’s an orchestral intro (of course), and then ‘Sear Me’ enters, marking the best and most important part of the album.  The reason that it takes both those titles is the same: this track sounds the most like what My Dying Bride would later become, and in actuality, the main verses are probably some of the best material that My Dying Bride ever turned out.  The distinctive melodic riffing, the gently subtle violin, the unique drumming, and Stainthorpe’s growls (they were the best they ever were on this song; it’s all downhill from here) mesh flawlessly to create something verging on the sublime.  In fact, ‘Sear Me’ is also notable for having dismal midpaced sections which are, if not especially interesting, listenable enough to not impact the song negatively, allowing it to rest at its comfortable level of greatness throughout its nine minute duration.  Then the rest of the album just sort of stumbles/falls and I stop paying attention.

While I realize that the conventions of doom/death metal were in no way set in stone around 1992, I still find this to be a very clumsy album.  This is not a synthesis of doom and death metal into a single entity as much as it is an abrupt collision of the two genres into each other.  Reasonable given the time, yeah, but expecting to get punched in the face doesn’t make that punch any more satisfying or acceptable than had the punch been a delightful surprise.  ‘Sear Me’ is easily the most well-crafted and, for lack of a better word, logical song on the album.  The rest is a fumbling combination of midpaced death/doom sections, weirdly distant and plodding moments infused with awkwardly employed violin, and fastish death metal which sounds kind of like… I don’t know what.  Some Bolt Thrower, maybe?  Whatever, either way, nothing quite sounds like this album.

‘As The Flower Withers’ does have a good deal of atmosphere.  The closest replication of it, and even it is a rough one, is the sort of thing that Xasthur does; that dismal, desolate feeling of emptiness that’s specifically designed to be more void than substance.  It’s more active music, and so the atmosphere is more active, I suppose; there’s a modicum of aggression and bitterness at points which distinguishes it somewhat, though nothing like what you would hear from Winter or similar artists.  The main issue that really hurts this album is just how jumbled it is.  There’s riff after riff that really goes nowhere of significance, with some agonizingly long stretches of repetition of the simplest ideas drawing a great deal of attention to the fact that, quite honestly, the band didn’t really know what they were doing or how to go about it.  That’s a fair thing when you’re blazing a new trail, but it’s nothing that I can really celebrate.  Additionally, the old Xasthur issue comes back again: while there’s a great deal of atmosphere, it’s not an interesting atmosphere that particularly demands to be explored.

I think the production actually hurts this album quite a bit.  ‘The Return Of The Beautiful’ was re-recorded for ‘The Dreadful Hours’, where it has a more powerful, clearer production, which makes the track much more engaging, if still not very exciting.  The production on ‘As The Flower Withers’ is low-level studio, with a strained, cheap-sounding guitar tone, plastic drums, and vocals which are just sort of slapped over the top of the instruments.  Everything feels very messy, and it seems like the band falters during the faster, more demanding portions, where it feels like the instrumental chops of those involved just aren’t that good.  These qualities give the whole album a dull, listless feel, which is atmospheric, but also isn’t very interesting.  Too much of this album feels arbitrary; a lot of the riffs just feel like random collections of notes, and the vocal patterns seem improvised on the spot with no connection to the music as a whole.  It just feels like work to listen to.

I file ‘As The Flower Withers’ as another one of those albums that I appreciate but don’t really like.  It’s an album designed for a very specific niche of metalheads who would like this sort of thing that I don’t happen to be part of.  It is very important, and I do recommend that everyone give it at least a couple listens, but it’s not something that I find particularly entertaining in any way.  I generally just listen to ‘Sear Me’ and put something else on, as I imagine that many others do as well.

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~ by noktorn on February 17, 2008.

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