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My Dying Bride
Live at the Islington Assembly Hall, 31.03.16

They are one of my favourite bands and tour so seldomly that any appearance by My Dying Bride is not to be missed. And tonight they bring their own brand of dark, gothic, windswept Yorkshire gloom to Islington. The Assembly Hall is actually a really nice little venue located next to Islington Town Hall and the staff are very friendly which makes a change. I wander in to the main hall downstairs and take a position pretty much front and centre. The atmosphere is pregnant with expectation.

The lights dim and the medieval style introduction to Your River rings out across the hall. The musicians take to the stage just in time to launch into the crushing main riff as the haunting violin cuts through the noise. As the changing rhythms of the song start to slow vocalist Aaron takes to the stage right on cue to start singing, his mournful vocals completing the eerie paean to pain and loss. The band are note perfect as the song declines, with a squealing, insistent riff and Aaron's deep, growling vocals and it is noticeable right from the off that the sound engineer has done a superb job with the live mix. Every instrument is clear and beautifully balanced as are the vocals, so hats off to him as its a rarity for a band to sound this good from the start.

The end of the song is greeted with huge applause from the enthusiastic audience as Lena Abé and Shaun MacGowan tease out the gentle intro to From Darkest Skies. This is followed by the first new song of the evening, the opening track of the excellent Feel The Misery; And My Father Left Forever exemplifies all that is good about the band. Starting at a gallop, the tune takes many varied twists, turns and changes of pace, the musicians in perfect syncronicity as the tempo rises and falls like the swell of some vast ocean. Some of the timing changes are very abrupt but no one misses a beat. Aaron puts his full range of singing to good use, from a deep, gorgeous baritone to an angry death metal roar, via a throaty, sonerous croak that sounds like the whisper of some long dead imperator - all used to bring his beautifully poetic lyrics to life.

This faster song really gets the crowd going and is greeted like an old classic, as does the fragile My Body, A Funeral. This song doesn't have the complexities of some other songs but builds and builds to a climax, the guitars and violin sharing glorious riffs. Aaron kneels at the lip of the stage through the long spoken word section intoning his lyrics. Its great to hear newer songs rubbing shoulders with old classics and fitting in seamlessly into the set list. Feel The Misery itself is up next, its slow dirge of triptych lines crawling off the stage and into the appreciative crowd. By this point it is so hot that the security guy at the front starts handing out glasses of water - what a lovely chap!

Watching the band play its hard not to focus on Aaron. He doesn't just sing, he performs… emotionally acting out the lyrics, feeling every sylibil, every word, every phrase. Whether he is staring maniacally out into the crowd or getting hopelessly lost within his accounts of death, gloom and disaster Aaron lives and breathes every dark moment. This makes him a mesmerising frontman. If you can tear your eyes away you can see the rest of the band, as previously mentioned, locked tight. Lena on a five stringed bass is so effortlessly cool. Andrew Craighan and Calvin Robertshaw on guitars riff furiously, both adding touches of colour or glorious harmonies when required. It has to be said it is so nice to see Calvin back in the band and playing every song with such enthusiasm, those written after he had departed just as much as those he was involved in writing and recording. Dan Mullins on drums is just a huge bundle of rhythmic energy - surely the fittest man in the room, he drives the songs forward relentlessly.

Special mention must be made of Shaun, switching between his very metal electric violin and his bank of keyboards. The violin has always added an extra dimension to their music - its inclusion makes My Dying Bride such a unique band. It would be so easy to have those sounds as samples on the keyboards but that wouldn't be the same as having a proper violinist on stage sawing away at his strings with just as much enthusiasm as the other musicians in the band and as he plays the spine-tingling piano introduction to the soaring Thy Raven Wings I get shivers down my spine. This gives way to sumptuous riffing underpinned by swathes of keyboards, a short but sweet solo and Aaron's melodramatic crooning.

At this point we are warned the night is going to get heavier and the band launch into The Prize Of Beauty, Aaron putting his death roar to good use throughout. An old song follows with Aaron telling us that its so old it was carved in stone before email and the Internet existed. It must be a long time since Erotic Literature has been played live but the band rattle through it with passion and fury. Even heavier than the previous song Aaron employs Grindcore style singing as he deliriously spits out the lyrics. Continuing the theme the concrete heavy new song To Shiver In Empty Halls again sliding effortlessly into the set list as Aaron weaves the tale of mankind's downfall. The heaviness gives way to a lush piano section before the song climaxes with Aaron's whispered, chilling coda: "For those of you, who exist, I lay for you, three numbers six. Over the hill and under the ground, sing as you like, there is no sound..."

We are informed that "The next song needs no introduction" as Calvin peels off the chiming, repeating riff of The Cry Of Mankind. An absolute classic I can't imagine a My Dying Bride concert without its inclusion in the set list. Musically a perfect combination of melody, riffs, piano and lugubrious lyrics this song is nearly seven minutes of utter, hopeless perfection. Almost impossible to follow the band give it a good go with the crepuscular, impenetrable She Is The Dark from the relentlessly bleak The Light At The End Of The World album. A crushing climax to the gig, the band thank us and depart. It shows the breadth of the band's catalogue that they have included songs from so many albums but unfortunately there are some that have been ignored; Like Gods Of The Sun; 34.788% Complete; The Dreadful Hours - otherwise they would have to play all night.

And that should be that. My Dying Bride don't do encores. But the cheering is so deafening they quickly reappear and Aaron explains succinctly by saying "Fuck it, its London!" He seems almost surprised that we haven't all gone home but with the prospect of more music to come no one in the now exhausted crowd is going anywhere. We are treated to the slow burn of Like A Perpetual Funeral which gently laps at the shores of despair. There's some more superb soloing as the song progresses languidly to an almost uplifting end. We are warned that there is only one more song to play but its a bloody long one. Aaron's not wrong as the madness of Symphonaire Infernus et Spera Empyrium begins. Another medieval style opening belies what is to come as this 15 minute long behemoth unfurls before our eyes. Shaun plays his violin like a man possessed and later attacks his keyboards in a manner that the late Keith Emerson would be proud of as the rest of the band progress through several different sections ranging from fleet and frenetic to crawling and corpulent, indolent in it's insanity and oblivious to the ordinary rules of music. A majestic and triumphant way to finish, the band bid us farewell and depart the scene of their victory.

Throughout, lighting has been minimal but effective bathing the stage in reds, blues and whites with occasional bursts from a dry ice machine. But there's not a single person here who has come tonight for such frippery. We are here to experience the extraordinary, to taste the darkness, to drink of it's blood and touch the tears. And for an hour and a half My Dying Bride delivered all that and so much more. I leave the venue emotionally and physically exhausted. An outstanding gig.
Set List: Your River / From Darkest Skies / And My Father Left Forever / My Body, a Funeral / Feel the Misery / Thy Raven Wings / The Prize of Beauty / Erotic Literature / To Shiver in Empty Halls / The Cry of Mankind / She Is the Dark Encore: Like a Perpetual Funeral / Symphonaire Infernus et Spera Empyrium
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