Album: "Turn Loose The Swans"
Style: Gothic Doom Metal
Release date: 1993-10
Origin: Great Britain
1. Sear Me MCMXCIII
2. Your River
3. The Songless Bird
4. The Snow in my Hand
5. The Crown of Sympathy
6. Turn Loose the Swans
7. Black God
Some album covers are iconic and classic. Some are beautiful to look at. Some are plain weird-looking, but have some sort of aesthetic beauty to them anyway. Some are plain ugly. And then there's the cover to "Turn Loose The Swans"...
For My Dying Bride's debut album "As the Flower Withers", they chose an artist who did a collage of different stuff and the result was very good. For their follow-up, vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe chose to do the cover himself and the result was surely breathtaking, but in just the wrong way. Everything is wrong here. From the idiotic idea to place the logo vertically, to the annoyingly huge spaces between the words of the title and finally to the main picture which looks like a statue of a woman with her palms placed in a prayer, completely covered in seagull-shit. I am as astounded as I am disgusted.
1. Sear Me MCMXCIII (07.24)
A lonely piano. A hauntingly sad violin. Aaron's deep, dark voice. Beautifully emotional lyrics. That's the entire recipe for this masterpiece. No guitars, no bass and no drums. This is so unadorned and stripped off anything unnecessary. I remember when I was something like 16-17 years old and heard this for the first time - I knew that I had found a lifelong love in My Dying Bride.
2. Your River (09.24)
Yes, I could agree that the acoustic guitar at the beginning is a little too long for it's own good. But the song gets going with those insanely crushing guitar riffs in combination with the wonderful violin-melody - it's pure gold. The band changes from mid-tempo to fast and then to the utter despair-doom they're known for. The lyrics are pure fucking ace as well - poetic without coming off as corny or embarrassing:
"Your bloodied body is what I cling to. In
powerful rain, they laid their heads to
die. Let your dark, thirsty eyes drink deep the
sights of me. It's sad that, in our blindness, we
gather thorns for flowers."
Back in 1993, Aaron's growls were as fierce and as deep as hell and I'm so sad that he cannot seem to pull them off today. It's spine-chilling towards the end when the band almost goes into full death metal.
3. The Songless Bird (07.00)
I have always felt that this song is sort of a cousin to "Your River", what with it's changes in tempo and melody: The slow and doomy parts in the beginning, the acoustic part with the weeping violin and then the furious death metal part. This song has it all and it's no wonder it is a true My Dying Bride-classic. There's absolutely no flaws anywhere to be found and I can only give this a full score.
4. The Snow in my Hand (07.09)
This is the song that is the last part of the "River-Bird-Snow"-trio and also follows a similar formula with doomy parts in the beginning, then some death metal and finally goes back into the doom-extravaganza.
I realize here I could go rant all day about the lyrics of each and every song on "Turn Loose The Swans", but I promise that this will be the last time. But oh, how I love those lyrics at the end:
"I had watched the snow all day. Falling.
It never lets up. All day falling.
I lifted my voice and wept out loud,
"So this is life?"."
5. The Crown of Sympathy (12.15)
The longest song on the album is quite different from the three we've just heard. The main guitar-melody that begins right away and continues for the most part of the song is, in combination with the catchy vocals, a true wonder to listen to. But 12+ minutes is often a bit too long for my taste if nothing spectacular happens. Sadly, this is not the case with "The Crown of Sympathy".
After 5 minutes, the song goes into some sort of ambient section where Aaron delivers a monologue. And while there's nothing terribly wrong with the part, it just drags on for too fucking long. When there's three minutes left, the song changes back to the great song it was for the first 5 minutes. So as you can understand, I am a bit ambivalent to this one. The good parts are fantastic and the not-so good part goes on forever. Still, I cannot deny the sheer brilliance of the songwriting here.
6. Turn Loose the Swans (10.08)
The title track is also a bit different compared to the rest of the material on the album, most notably due to the fact that there's very little clean vocals present here. It's a pure doom metal-track that is considered the "classic" My Dying Bride. And while I absolutely love that part of the band, the style with just a little bit more dynamics pleases me more - even though there ARE dynamics here. I realize that I am contradicting myself here, but there's less change in tempo on this one and it drags it down just a little.
7. Black God (04.52)
Now, here's a real challenge for me. I cannot remember the last time I even bothered to listen to the shortest track on the album. It's more of an outro than a real song and contains only ambient sounds, piano, violins and Aaron's voice. Oh yeah, there's also some female vocals here that adds a nice touch. And while that description sounds similar to the incredibly beautiful "Sear Me MCMXCIII" - it doesn't hold the same class. Had any other band done this song, I would class it at one of the band's best, but this is My Dying Bride we're talking about. Their compositions holds so god damn high standard and I have to compare it to the other songs here. Still, while I rediscover "Black God" now - I realize it's much better than I thought. Kind of ironic...
To sum things up, "Turn Loose the Swans" is nothing short of an amazing album and especially when one considers that they released the vastly inferior debut album "As the Flower Withers" only one year earlier. All of the compositions holds very high class, even though it gets slightly, slightly worse towards the end of the album. When looked at soberly from a perspective - this is a landmark of gothic doom metal and nothing that Paradise Lost, Anathema, Katatonia or similar bands have done, comes close to this one.
From beginning to end, My Dying Bride takes us on a journey filled with misery, despair and the feeling of hopelessness. But in a good way. Also, I will always be surprised that the band managed to do this as early as 1993, so young they were.
"We are without excuse.
We burn in our lust.
We die in our eyes and drown in our arms."