Thursday, July 2, 2009

My Dying Bride - Symphonaire Infernus et Spera Empyrium (1991)

In 1991, My Dying Bride followed up the Towards the Sinister demo with Symphonaire Infernus et Spera Empyrium. This E.P. was vastly superior to the demo, in terms of sound quality (though the fact that my copy was a third-generation cassette may have played some role in this). While the basic ingredients that were found on the demo were still there, the overall result was refined and the doom element had come to dominate the sound.

This E.P. became known to me, some years later, in late 96 / early 97. It was a short time after being turned onto 'The Haunted Mansion' and my best friend and I were being exposed to a wide variety of Black and Doom Metal, as well as some Death Metal that we were not yet familiar with. My Dying Bride marked the beginning of my foray into the sub-genre of Doom Metal. In particular, the title track of this very release. Despite being well-versed in 80s metal, I had managed to miss out on even Candlemass. It was this five-piece from the UK that introduced me to such melancholy sounds. From that point on, all of their albums served as a sort of soundtrack to my most dismal moments. Oddly, it was mostly at the darkest points in my existence that I turned to these records. There's no telling whether it was simply because the miserable sounds matched my own mood, or if I was feeding the wretched feeling and making it worse. Whatever the case, the early works of this band captured those haunting moments and retained some flavour of the pain as good things faded and passed into the realm of decay; as those close to me died and went below the surface of the earth. In some sense, it's almost difficult to listen to these albums, due to the dark periods that they hearken back to. However, these days, this existence is such a bleak and dreadful endeavour that past suffering is looked upon with nostalgia, by comparison.

The E.P. begins with the title track, "Symphonaire Infernus et Spera Empyrium". It begins with the woeful sounds of Martin Powell's violin. Even from these initial seconds of the piece, a dreary sense of sorrow and loss descends upon you, like the darkness from an ominous cloud, blocking out the light. Even more strange is that the atmosphere almost wakens images of medieval times, creating a vast distance between the listener and the modern world. One can envision ruined battlements underneath a gloomy sky, as unspeakable torments are being suffered in the cavernous chambers below. The music is very slow-paced, and is the epitome of Death/Doom. The production exceeds that which they had previously achieved, though this did not require much effort. The guitars and bass are soul-crushingly heavy, as the violin wails in despair, slicing through your flesh, like a fresh razor. You begin to wrap yourself in this shroud of misery, letting the darkness swallow you, whole. Blood flows freely, then turns into crimson serpents of malice and hatred, turning back toward you as you descend into the black abyss... Falling, ever faster. The blood coils around your neck, like hands of ice, as you gasp for air. A few minutes in, and the pace briefly picks up, though not much. Like all things in this cursed world, it is ephemeral. The rawness and power of the vocals is complimented by the funeral bells that begin to chime. Doom is upon you. Your existence is dominated by grief and anguish. Nothingness is all that awaits you. But the path toward the endless sleep is fraught with afflictions that you cannot possibly bear. Some minor relief seems to be on the horizon, as a mid-paced thrash riff leads into more typical-sounding Death Metal. In a strange sense, this allows you to breathe. Though, in truth, it is more like some chaotic free-fall that you cannot control. You only wish to land somewhere safe, but you know better. Deep within your twisted mind, you realize what fate has in store for you. And then... it happens. The slow, suffocating pace returns. In the depths of the abyss, you are utterly devoured by spirits of torment. They feed upon your black suffering, having long ago set you upon this course. As the pig that is fattened up prior to being slaughtered and eaten, so you have also been fattened up on pain and agony the likes of which you have never even dreamed of. But that was the point all along. This was always your fate. The frail hopes that you have been clinging to since birth were but an illusion.

Why is it that humanity is so drawn to darkness and negativity? Why are sorrowful events so much more poignant that any other experiences in life? It is because those are the instances when we are closest to true reality. The fantasy of an existence of peace and happiness is so easily shattered, like the glass windows of the feeble Christian churches; like bones crashing down on jagged rocks. People do what they can to numb themselves to this; they lead lives of excess, decadence and debauchery. Those that possess wealth seek to fill the void with material things or by traveling or surrounding themselves with others that go along with their delusions. The rest simply seek out whatever substance they can, be it drugs or alcohol, as they desperately struggle to escape this harsh reality. Yet, in the end, we all find ourselves in the same place; rotting in the stinking earth. And whether or not we are surrounded by loved ones or we face this inevitability in solitude, we all must face it alone. Successes, achievements, past glories... they're all meaningless. It's all a big nothing. There is absolutely no way to defy this one truth.

As the E.P. continues, the Death Metal influences take center stage. "God Is Alone" still manages to possess some tinge of despondency. Certain mournful melodies weave throughout the song, passing like a shadow. This would function as one of the earliest examples of My Dying Bride's use of religious themes.

"De Sade Soliloquay" concludes this recording. Possessing a slower pace than the previous song, it seems to bear some strange serpentine quality as it slithers through your mind, injecting its venom into your very being. Before this can fully take effect, the pace quickens, mixing some thrashier riffs into the song. Still, there remains some essence of depravity. Aaron's vocals take on almost a sickening tone, momentarily. A couple decent guitar harmonies creep through the soundscape, though one may miss them if not paying full attention.

Symphonaire Infernus et Spera Empyrium marks the beginning of the mournful rise of this UK Death/Doom Metal band. Of the three songs present, only the title track warrants repeated listens. The other two are not without merit, but they each pale in comparison to the epic sense of misery conveyed by the opener. This E.P. is extremely difficult to obtain, these days, though the material was re-released on the Trinity compilation, so it is easily accessible.