My Dying Bride – The Ghost of Orion


Five years in between albums is unheard of for UK Metal legends, My Dying Bride. In that time, they’ve lost long-time drummer Shaun Taylor-Steels and switched from Peaceville Records to Nuclear Blast. Singer, Aaron Stainthorpe, has also watched his daughter recover from cancer and experienced the type of anguish unimaginable to most. 

The Ghost of Orion was never going to be a party album, mainly because My Dying Bride are masters of the miserable and upholders of the Death-Doom genre they helped to invent three decades ago with Paradise Lost. On first listen two things are apparent. One, Stainthorpe’s vocals have never sounded better. Two, the band have ditched the last remnants of mid-tempo Morbid Angel riffing that graced their earlier work without sacrificing the Celtic Frost darkness. And, of course, the violin is as prominent as ever in the eight compositions on offer.

The first three tracks are effortless in their execution and homogenous in their vision. Harmonised guitars duel underneath violin bows that complement Stainthorpe’s mix of solemn serenades and death growls. ‘Your Broken Shore’ is a lesson in how to write Melodic Doom; ‘To Outlive the Gods’ is a heartfelt meditation on Stainthorpe’s pain at seeing his daughter suffer; and ‘Tired of Tears’ continues the sorrow with a glimmer of light. The Extreme Metal foundations underpinning the classic My Dying Bride sound are nowhere to be found, but all is not lost.

Ironically, standout track, ‘The Solace’, is the least Metal on the record. The Kate Bush vocal histrionics are as tender as a lake of ice and as brooding as the nostalgists that visit it to lament the loss of their youth. Andy Craighan’s guitar harmonies set a new benchmark in production, with the pick attack of each downstroke scraping the strings one illuminating note at a time. It’s a welcome contrast to the established mood and saves the album from lapsing into a hopeless slog.

The only weaknesses are the lack of crunchy riffs and the band’s trademark modulations that hit you from nowhere. We need something as vintage as ‘Your River’ or ‘Your Shameful Heaven’, yet the closest we get is the nine minutes of ‘The Long Black Land’ and a snapshot of double-bass drums on ‘The Old Earth’. Both are fine efforts, but neither would make the cut for the band’s 1993 masterpiece, Turn Loose the Swans. Once again, it’s only when they strip back and indulge in a gothic soliloquy that we find the light in the darkness. Title track, ‘The Ghost of Orion’ is a majestic journey through the cold soundscapes of Lycia with Stainthorpe’s multi-tracked voice one notch above a whisper and one note short of a devoted ecclesiast praying to God. The experiment is an unlikely triumph.

Overall, long term fans have nothing to fear from their idols. Like gods of the sun, My Dying Bride provide the sustenance their followers crave. This never hits the heights of the 2001 classic, The Dreadful Hours, but it belongs in the top six of their thirteen albums to date.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 06/03/2020

Record Label: Nuclear Blast

Standout tracks: Your Broken Shore, The Solace, The Old Earth

Suggested Further Listening: Triptykon – Melana Chasmata (2014), Lycia – Cold (1996), Chelsea Wolfe – The Abyss (2015)