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The Manuscript EP

Peaceville (2013)
Rating: 9/10

After 2012’s oaken A Map Of All Our Failures Yorkshire’s finest doom mongers return to the fray with another staggeringly sombre EP that, like 2011’s The Barghest O’ Whitby EP, drags the listener into its squalid pit of sorrow.

The Manuscript features four elegantly morose numbers, starting with the sullen whine of the title cut – a reflective, mournful dirge caressed by Aaron Stainthorpe’s distinctive goth-tinged vocal and those shaded guitars which evoke images of bleak moorlands and fog-enshrouded marshes. Even Shaun MacGowan’s choking violin is rain-spattered as the five-piece lumbers, and yet with grace, through this cracked masterpiece of a track.

Of all the doom metal bands, My Dying Bride are without doubt the genre’s least suffocating, despite their dreary gothic tales of love and loss – there being something so wistfully classical about their aged laments.

Aaron Stainthorpe’s vocals take on a gruff form for the more uptempo wails of ‘Var Gud Over Er’, the band’s austere horizon of sound rolling out like some weather-beaten tapestry. Lena Abé’s bass has all the miserable quality of distant thunder, accompanying those sodden drums of gloom. However, the seemingly bright glint on the grey hillside is soon obliterated as My Dying Bride ooze back to their usual slow-motion lope, exuding further tales of tragedy as those somehow tranquil harmonies sweep across the face like wisps of autumnal mist.

Track three is the quicksand moan of ‘A Pale Shroud Of Longing’, another melancholic assault that heaves itself into view with a cumbersome riff that has all the subtlety of a rampant golem. And yet where there is stark horror there is also fleeting hope, again provided by Shaun MacGowan’s windswept violin which has all the antiquarian splendour of an M.R. James ghost story.

The production of Rob “Mags” Magoolagan is, as you’d expect, fantastic, as every instrument breathes like an epic sigh of relief through those suffocating clouds of doom.

I have to admit that I always preferred the far denser yawns of early My Dying Bride, but their last batch of releases have entrapped me in their oily coils and dragged me in. Although rain-soaked, I have emerged, and I feel all the better for it. The Manuscript, alongside The Barghest O’ Whitby are the best doom-laden recordings I’ve heard for some time.

My Dying Bride has no competition, having nailed just about every doom-scape possible since they arrived on the scene in the early 90s. Aaron Stainthorpe has always had the ability to shift between styles, whether in the form of desolate narration or throaty grunt, his crystal clear chants reminding me of those drizzly goth days of the 80s.

The final track of the EP is the haunting buzz of ‘Only Tears To Replace Her With’, a truly mournful dirge that drifts in on a funereal guitar drone as Aaron Stainthorpe relates another tale of downbeat lore. The drum is merely a church bell toll in the distance as the singer moans, “I hate everything around me, but I want to carry you back to heaven”, bringing this foreboding scripture to its final breath.

Clocking in at just under 30 minutes The Manuscript is one book you won’t find on Richard & Judy’s list of must reads, but if you’re a metal fan, as well as a doom fan, then this EP is just the ticket – so grab your cloak and join this procession of the damned.

Neil Arnold