There's always a drip of anticipation when putting on a record from a legendary band, even when you have no personal history with them. My Dying Bride had never entered my radar, so even though I knew of their legacy in establishing doom as we know it, my take on the album is with fresh ears. Anytime I put on an album by a band with such a pedigree, there's an understanding in the subconscious of my mind that what I'm hearing is not yet another average record. Expectations are heightened well before I hear a single note, and whether fair or not, I judge the music I hear with harsher standards.
Often this leaves me as an outlier, that one odd fan who doesn't understand the magnitude of many of the classic records. I can appreciate their impact without understanding what it is about the music that so captivated the masses, which is a handy tool to have when it comes to reviewing records. There are countless instances of bands and albums who are worshiped as demigods, most of whom I fail to see any redeeming qualities in. It may be that I'm expecting too much, given the hype I have been subject to for years, which is a depressing thought to have. I would be dismayed if my enjoyment of certain music was preemptively destroyed by the never-ending train of applause that follows in its wake.
Depression is the perfect thought to have in mind when approaching “A Map Of All Our Failures”, an album the band describes as “a controlled demolition of all your hopes.” It may be a grand declaration, but it's one that doesn't stray far from the mark. The music on the album aims for nothing but soul-crushing bleakness, the kind of withering atmosphere that can pull the air back from out of your lungs. Many bands are able to produce music that makes you feel miserable (many of them not on purpose, mind you), but few can do it in a way that doesn't drain the songs of the desire to come back and hear them again. It's a delicate balance to achieve, one that separates the tiers.
My Dying Bride is one of those bands that can mine the depths of humanity and still maintain a sense of musicality that doesn't turn the music into a wash of meaningless noise. “Kneel 'till Doomsday” is anything but an upbeat opening to the album, a slow dirge that ebbs and flows the tempo as it moves along, but it never strays so far as to be impenetrable. The slower sections ride a classic doom riff, the vocals mourn, and the melodies are achingly sad. When the tempo picks up, and the vocals switch to a harsh attack, it feels like a punch to the gut after the trap set by the beginning sections. The late addition of a lone violin crying for a few bars both ups the emotional ante, and rewards the listener for taking the journey.
It may be an odd thing to write about such dark music, but there's an inviting quality to the compositions, something about the sound that feels comfortable. There's a sense of humanity that resonates in the string sections, like the ones in “The Poorest Waltz” and the title track, an air of authenticity lacking from much of the material modern bands use to reap blood from the stone. The most disturbing horrors are the ones we create for ourselves, which is the approach “A Map Of All Our Failures” takes. This music isn't a mechanically precise killing machine, it's a softer approach to the same end, giving us time to think and make our own doom.
I don't know that I would say the album achieves it's goal of crushing my hope, but it is certainly dark music for dark times. My Dying Bride crafts music for your lowest moments, and “A Map Of All Our Failures” is a fine entry for those purposes. If extreme music likes to think of itself as the soundtrack to the apocalypse, “A Map Of All Our Failures” is the soundtrack to the aftermath. This is the only music than can exist when the world is in ruin, and while we may not be there yet, we can start to imagine what it would be like.