Released in May 1995, The Angel and the Dark River is the third proper full-length from My Dying Bride. Unfortunately, the band continued to shed any traces of their Death/Doom roots and what is left is just a miserable, swirling mass of writhing agony and suffering. While this represents a further decay of what the band used to be, it still possesses a few useful qualities.
Musically, this record is loaded with a fair amount of slow, sombre riffs that just drain the life right out of you. This is accentuated by the clean vocals, which sound bereft of any glimmer of hope. While Aaron's voice does suit the music, one cannot help but miss the powerful growls from previous recordings. Eliminating this aspect from the band's sound, as well as the addition of the piano bits, really softens the music and makes it more one-dimensional. It would have been more effective to retain the harsh vocals for certain parts and to use the clean voice for the more melancholic passages. Perhaps, the monotony is intentional, but as a fan of the older material I find this to be rather disappointing.
That said, the droning melodies and half-dead voice of "The Cry of Mankind" do create a truly bleak atmosphere. The outro bit does seem to drag on for several minutes too long, however. "From Darkest Skies" is one of the better tracks on here, its main riffs dripping with grief, helped along by the sorrowful violin. There is also some use of a funeral organ, later in the track, which is a nice touch. Harsh vocals would have really benefited the heavier parts of the song. "Black Voyage" and "A Sea to Suffer In" each contain some decent riffs that could have been utilized in a better manner on previous records, but here seem to function as mere filler. The latter, in particular, just comes off as far too soft and lacks the gloom of the former. "Two Winters Only" is a dreary track, one which I thought was quite miserable years ago, but now find it to be too soft and 'pretty'. As for "Your Shameful Heaven", it is the most lively song on the album, but the clean vocals don't work with these more aggressive riffs. Quite frankly, it's a mess.
My copy of this CD also includes the bonus track "The Sexuality of Bereavement", recorded during the Turn Loose the Swans session. As such, it possesses a completely different sound and really demonstrates how far the band had fallen in just a year or two. The riffs are heavy and dark, still giving off a strong doom vibe, while the violin creates a sense of melancholy. Meanwhile, Aaron utilizes his very distinctive growls to add a sinister edge to the overall atmosphere. Putting this song on here was a massive blunder, in my view, as it absolutely crushes everything else on the CD and reminds the listener of how much better the band used to be.
My Dying Bride manages to deliver some depressive and sorrowful material here, but one cannot deny that The Angel and the Dark River could have been much better. When a bonus track, recorded just two years earlier, outshines the rest of the compositions, it is clear that the band has become a disappointment. The choice to eliminate the harsh vocals, and to opt for the softer songwriting in general, certainly alienated a lot of fans and made for quite a lackluster release. By this point, these guys should have just packed it in and called it a day.