MY DYING BRIDE/OCEANS OF SLUMBER/40 WATT SON
Islington Assembly Hall. 31 March 2016
Largely considered one of the progenitors instrumental to the evolution of the modern doom metal genre, My Dying Bride’s twelfth studio release ‘Feel The Misery’ served well to mark the band’s 25th anniversary of active duty in the music industry.
Words: Luke ‘Loki’ Milne
Photos: Eric Duvet
Released in September 2015, the album received largely positive reviews from critics, including 4/5 beers from MetalTalk’s own Ian Sutherland. In support of their latest studio release under Peaceville Records, the British six-piece took to the stage of London’s Islington Assembly Hall to kick off their 2016 European tour.
Sadly, I arrived “fashionably” late to the event as alternative act 40 Watt Sun wound down their opening performance of the evening. As I caught but a fleeting glance of the final song of their performance I’ve taken it upon myself to do a little homework, sitting down to work through the length of their 2011 début release ‘The Inside Room’.
In doing so, I find myself rather comfortably presented with an atmospheric, bitter-sweet combination of brightly animated and encompassing instrumental foundations topped with deliberately paced, sombre-yet-soaring vocal work. 40 Watt’s pensive and artful style has certainly caught my attention, triggering a multitude of emotional responses throughout the album’s course thanks to a slightly dark yet strangely uplifting stylistic palette.
In retrospect, I’m a little sad to have missed out on 40 Watt Sun’s performance, but look forward to another opportunity to truly bite into a slice of their live performance.
A brief interim precedes the second of the night’s performing acts – Oceans Of Slumber. Hailing from Houston, Texas, the roots of this progressive metal six-piece stretch back to 2011, with the band’s most recent release, ‘Winter’, hitting stores in March of this year. Combining a dense and dark ambiance of audibly emotive contours, Oceans Of Slumber work through their set to a rising crescendo of approval from the crowd, clearly winning a few hearts during the course of their performance – mine included.
Fronted with the hugely talented vocal presence of Cammie Gilbert, Oceans Of Slumber present a progressive style that ebbs and flows across delicate, beautifully melodic passages before plunging head-first into a weighty, thick and vicious crescendo. Performing a wide variety of tracks from their latest release, Oceans Of Slumber demonstrate a versatility in their stylistic choices, the likes of which few bands can truly lay claim to. The resulting phenomenon is a thick, engaging performance rife with character and intrigue, hand-delivered with a healthy dose of talent and finesse.
One element that stood out in particular for me during their performance was the onstage chemistry shared between Gilbert and guitarist Sean Gary. Gilbert’s light and fluid movements serve to mesmerize, highlighting the soulfully sweet grit behind her vocal work and drawing the crowd’s attention. Not far from her, Gary’s imposing stature and viciously energised stage presence then offsets the performance of the delicately dangerous femme fatale with punchy, aggravated guitar work and a forceful nature to his coarse, aggressive vocal blasts.
It’s not the first time we’ve seen this sort of “dual fronted” element in a band, to be sure. While I’m not convinced that this is a wholly intentional move from Oceans Of Slumber, the resulting blend of Gilbert and Gary’s individual stage performances creates a captivating visual contrast that draws the eye to the centre of the stage. Whether or not they will choose to explore this further in the future is yet to be seen, but as Oceans Of Slumber depart from a stage that’s now shivering with an electric energy, I find myself keen to keep an eye on their movements in the future. I’d hazard a guess and say that after their performance here at the Assembly Hall, I’m not the only one.
The final performance of the night is welcomed to the stage with thick applause and cheers. The crowd seem suitably fuelled for the headline act, topped up with booze and the tingle of the steadily rising pulse of tension and suspense throughout the night. My Dying Bride arrive to the stage, wasting no time in diving into their dark, twisted and grinding set.
In truth, doom metal isn’t really a genre of music I often affiliate myself with in spite of my exposure to it in previous years. As a fan of more agitated, fast-paced forms of metal I tend to find the slower pacing of doom a little tricky to engage with, and though my peers who love the genre insist that I’m just listening to the wrong bands, I simply don’t think it’s a style that I connect with. It happens.
There’s a lot of history behind this British act and with over 25 years of activity, and My Dying Bride have undergone a number of facelifts that have warped their style and sound to fit a number of different nooks of the doom genre over the years. Though I’ve been able to jump straight in with 40 Watt Sun and Oceans Of Slumber, it feels like you really have to know My Dying Bride’s history to truly appreciate their present.
As someone who’s jumping in at this late stage in the game, it’s fair to say that I’ve missed out on a lot of context that adds attachment and relevance to My Dying Bride. Did this stop me from enjoying their performance? Only partially.
The sound escaping the venues PA system is stunning, enveloping the crowd in a rich, broad and swelling sound. My Dying Bride’s instrumental arrangements are impressively layered beneath vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe’s dramatic and dark vocal presence, and it’s a highly atmospheric experience. While I may not be the biggest fan of this style of music, the paying crowd cheer, roar and headbang along with the heavy, almost gothic set, and I find myself getting sucked in to the fold despite my reservations.
My Dying Bride’s set is split into two parts, the first displaying a more deliberated and dark tone, with the second half taking on a harsher and more aggressive stance. Overall their style remains fairly linear, with the minor addition of growled vocal work and a few squeezes in tempo to pick things up a bit. Again, without context and knowledge of the history of the band, it’s a little tricky for me to truly appreciate the variety of their set, although there are some fairly obvious shifts here and there that even I could follow.
As their performance developed, I found the second half notably more engaging, and entering into the final cluster of songs of their performance I began to feel that My Dying Bride may be the starting point of a change in my opinion of doom metal.
My Dying Bride are a band with a rich history and broad palette of stylistic twists and turns, displaying a truly thick and dense atmosphere that can truly captivate the right audience. The paying crowd leave the venue in a state of pure satisfaction, and though I may not have wholly shared in their experience, I can’t argue with the majority vote. Their skill and musicianship is clear from the fact that I left the venue with a sense of curiosity, feeling that perhaps there’s a bit more to doom metal than I had originally thought. Any band that can do that to someone is well worth their salt.
I may not be fully converted to doom metal just yet, but I’d say it’s a good starting point.