Catharsis in Doom
My Dying Bride and Mysterium
at the Hard Club, Gaia, Portugal, on April 20th 2002

by: Pedro Azevedo
Having received My Dying Bride's brand new live disc _The Voice of the Wretched_ the previous day [see review in this issue], I simply couldn't wait to witness my favourite band live for the first time. Said live album was already superb on its own, but MDB's latest opus _The Dreadful Hours_ [CoC #55] (best album of 2001 in my books) was yet to be added to its setlist. My Dying Bride would not disappoint tonight. Quite simply, they delivered the best gig of my life -- past, present and most likely future, I dare say. Within a packed Hard Club, I believe many of those in attendance found catharsis in doom tonight.

First, however, the local band routine had to be fulfilled. Mysterium were the chosen ones, and they performed a decent yet hardly groundbreaking kind of melodic death metal. Their single guitar compositions were enhanced by keyboards and female vocals, and after a less than promising start they could have ended on a high with the song they dedicated to My Dying Bride; instead they played one more song, completing a passable performance.

After a funereal church organ intro, My Dying Bride appeared on stage. New guitarist Hamish Glencross immediately stood out, with his massive frame and what can only be described as a Grim Reaper outfit. The new (temporary?) female keyboardist who was replacing Yasmin Ahmid probably caught plenty of eyes as well, but not many ears during the show: her performance was sparse and mostly subdued, except for a couple of songs. Still, center stage and spotlight were all on the band's charismatic singer: Aaron Stainthorpe, misery personified on stage. But whilst he looked more wretched than The Crow clawing out of his grave, his performance was nothing short of amazing in its dynamics. The way his attitude and musical persona changed with his voice from mournful to darkly romantic and into demonic wrath was simply amazing throughout the show.

As soon as the intro stopped, the band opened with "My Hope, the Destroyer" off their new album. Aaron's clean vocals proved to be in top form, but it was midway through the track that his -huge- growls filled the room for the first time, leaving the audience in awe. The excellent "The Raven and the Rose" followed, again from their new album _The Dreadful Hours_. The powerful opening riff and the mid-section crescendo and blastbeat more than confirmed that My Dying Bride were determined to force all those who accused them of cowardly going back to their musical roots to swallow their words with each pounding of the drums, strumming of the chords and outpouring of superb vocals.

"Under Your Wings and Into Your Arms" from _34.788%_ followed, a faster track that suffered somewhat from a less than perfect drum sound, which fortunately did not affect any other songs. This track served as just a brief respite before what was to come next, as the intensity then soared. The mighty "Turn Loose the Swans" ensued, and what a rendition it was. Aaron seemed to literally grow on stage during the harsher sections, somehow producing those massive growls from within the same frame that moments later would reduce itself to a wretch and utter sombre laments, as the song's crushing first section gave way to the heartbreaking finale.

"A Cruel Taste of Winter" off the new album came next, with its superb mid-section where Aaron again excelled. The sublime "The Snow in my Hand" took us back to _Turn Loose the Swans_ again, followed by the magical "The Cry of Mankind" (_The Angel and the Dark River_) and "A Kiss to Remember" (_Like Gods of the Sun_). These were the only two tracks where the keyboards were really felt, but I have to say the thought of a violin hardly ever crossed my mind during the show, such was the level of the guitar playing. The audience had been absolutely enraptured for a long time now, and the instrumental mid-section of "The Cry of Mankind" was spontaneously sung along by the crowd. The band's interaction with the crowd was minimal: just the announcement of song titles. Aaron's dramatic performance seemed all turned into himself, for his own sake and from his own feelings, rather than performed as a show for the audience.

The searing, demonic snarls on "She Is the Dark" again peaked the intensity, as each and every song seemed to grow and develop into something mightier and deeper than its respective recorded version. Even though the band recently re-recorded "The Return of the Beautiful" from their debut _As the Flower Withers_ for _The Dreadful Hours_, that was not the track they chose to play next. Instead, they went for something even older -- the first song they ever wrote, as a matter of fact: "Symphonaire Infernus et Spera Empyrium". If you heard the re-recording of "The Return of the Beautiful", you can probably imagine what MDB have done to "Symphonaire Infernus": augment and expand its sound, increase its contrasts and high points. A truly devastating rendition of this lengthy doom metal classic.

After a brief pause, the band returned with the sound of rainfall and beautiful soft guitar: the intro to the title track of _The Dreadful Hours_. One of MDB's most poignant songs, its harsher sections were at their blackest and the mournful ending at its most heartbreaking, Aaron's mournful vocals again the highlight. Nonetheless, my frequent mentioning of MDB's vocalist should not be mistaken for an indication that the rest of the band was any less brilliant: with the exception of the unremarkable keyboardist, all four other band members' performances were superb.

My Dying Bride finished their set with the successor to "The Forever People", "The Fever Sea": a fast-paced, driving conclusion to a truly exhilarating performance. And then, after My Dying Bride's departure, someone played Katatonia's _Dance of December Souls_ -- an album with huge personal meaning for me -- from beginning to end on the Hard Club's sound system.

The catharsis was complete.

(article submitted 3/7/2002)


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