My Dying Bride The Dreadful Hours

UK doom troupe My Dying Bride have enjoyed several career highs: first, 1993's genre-defining Turn Loose The Swans; second, 1996's ominous Like Gods Of The Sun; then, this year's lethal deuce of quintessential rarities compilations, Meisterwerk 1 & 2; and now the devastating The Dreadful Hours. Front-man Aaron Stainthorpe reinvents himself vocally and the band musically, not by rehashing old riffs and sounds but by expanding upon former concepts (longer songs, deathier vocals, etc.) then transcending them. The nine-minute title track affirms MDB's integral status as a part of British doom's holy trinity - together with (old) Paradise Lost and (old) Anathema - with Stainthorpe's clean, woeful vocals riding alongside tender guitars. But around 3:55, the shock troops go marching in with the most guttural growls and agonising higher screams (matched only by "A Cruel Taste Of Winter"), the double-kick and "slash and burn" assault and relentlessly snarling riffage until the tune reprises its opening acoustics and fades to a quiet end. "The Raven And The Rose" heaps more molasses-thick chords and death vocals with new keyboardist Yasmin Ahmed reining in the dark atmospherics. Ahmed works his stormy magic on "Le Figlie Della Tempesta," not only a smart goth anthem but also the album's tamest highlight. "Black Heart Romance" flaunts some head-butting Sabbath dankness, while "My Hope The Destroyer" and "The Deepest Of All Hearts" usher in their classic slow-mo death/thrash with the added intensity of Ahmed's keys, which almost make one forget Martin Powell's gloomy violin of yore. "Return To The Beautiful" is an epic reworking of the same from 1992's As The Flower Withers, which simply confirms that The Dreadful Hours will go down in metal history as one of the most essential doom albums of the 21st century. (Peaceville)