Artist: My Dying Bride
Album Title: The Ghost Of Orion
Label: Nuclear Blast
Date of Release: 6 March 2020
Let’s be honest, the very fact that My Dying Bride are still in existence in 2020 is something of a minor miracle. Lesser bands may have thrown in the towel when faced with the adversity that confronted the main protagonists, guitarist Andrew Craighan and vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe over the past few years. But these guys are professional, veterans and clearly driven musicians with a fire that could not be put out by the rigours of life.
As a father myself, of girls of a similar age, I cannot imagine the pain and suffering that one goes through when a child is diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening illness. In Stainthorpe’s case, it was a diagnosis of cancer for his five-year-old daughter a few years ago, soon after the release of their last album, ‘Feel The Misery’. Happily, after what must have been a tortuous journey, the “cruellest of God’s bitter and loveless creations” was beaten and Stainthorpe’s daughter is, thankfully, cancer free.
However, this was not the end of the band’s trials, as the intervening years also saw the unexpected, shock departure of guitarist Calvin Robertshaw as well as a parting of ways with drummer Shaun Taylor-Steels right before entering the studio to record this album. But rather than defeat them, these obstacles seemed to galvanise Stainthorpe and Craighan and so here we are in 2020 with the most unlikely of results: album number fourteen, ‘The Ghost Of Orion’, their first on the Nuclear Blast label.
Given Stainthorpe’s personal struggles, Craighan took it upon himself to tackle the writing process on his own, in isolation. As such, ‘The Ghost Of Orion’ is a window into the world of Craighan, and a showcase of his abilities as a songwriter. Inevitably, the record may well have sounded different with the help of others at the writing stage but instead, what we have is a very personal set of songs on ‘The Ghost Of Orion’ and, in my opinion, it may be some of the best material under the My Dying Bride moniker for some time. That’s not to say that previous collaborative efforts have been sub-par, just that there’s an aura about the material here that’s hard to articulate; there’s an even greater vulnerability to the music, yet at the same time, it sounds focussed and assured. It sounds like classic My Dying Bride, with the rather heady combination of clean and growled vocals from Stainthorpe as well as plenty of solo violin melodies to accent the heaviness within the material.
The band may have survived these extreme circumstances but, as you might expect, they have left a mark. As such, there is an even greater feeling of sadness, of human fragility, and dark oppressiveness to be heard on ‘The Ghost Of Orion’ than on some previous releases. For a band known throughout their career for using misery and despair as core emotions within their music, you may think that this statement is misplaced. However, allow me to counter that with the song, ‘Tired Of Tears’.
It is here, within this song, that Stainthorpe lays himself bare like never before, revealing his innermost thoughts, feelings and dreadful fears at what had to be the very worst moments of his life. I think of my two daughters, aged five and seven as I listen to the poignant, raw and honest lyrics with a tear in my eye. I see their faces, their innocence and know that I’d rather die than let either of them go through what is being communicated so vividly and heartbreakingly by Stainthorpe. The line: ‘My child sings soft and sweet to herself, I know no life can live forever’ floors me every time as it is so devastating yet it paints such a familiar picture to me.
And the music behind the lyrics is equally intense, capturing the mood perfectly. It is slow and heavy, but not exclusively so. Shaun MacGowan’s violin really comes to the fore in this song, offering another punishing layer of melodic sorrow to an already solemn song. Even the guitar solo sounds like it is weeping along with Stainthorpe. The familiar beautiful lead guitar lines are present, as are some subtle, well-placed keys, also from the hand of MacGowan.
I will admit that my favourite track on the entire record, however, is the utterly enthralling and sublime ten-minute ‘The Long Black Land’, principally because of its grandiose, epic construction. It begins in typically ponderous, lumbering fashion before it opens up in the mid stages to reveal a fabulous melody. The song initially drops away to the strains of guitar feedback, resonant strings and building synths, only to explode via some great drum rolls from new drummer Jeff Singer, raising the intensity and expectation masterfully in the process. The hairs stand fully on end and I struggle as I’m listening, to think of a My Dying Bride song that I prefer to this if I’m being truthful.
Aside from these two songs, ‘The Ghost Of Orion’ is littered with other examples of brilliance too. The opening track, ‘Your Broken Shore’ has an almost waltz-like flow to it, especially in the chorus which grabbed me from the beginning but which gets better the more I listen. Again, the combination of growls and clean vocals enhance the crushing riffs to great effect. Mind you, follow-up track ‘To Outlive The Gods’ is another cracking song, full of those trademark My Dying Bride elements that we don’t realise that we have missed until we hear them again; bruising riffs, solemn atmospheres, poetic lyrics and melancholy melodies that slowly seep under the skin. Meanwhile, the behemoth that’s ‘The Old Earth’, with its near death metal closure brings the bass of Lena Abé into true focus via the quiet intro and further throughout for that matter. There’s even a guest appearance from Wardruna vocalist Lindy-Fay Hella within the deeply atmospheric and Celtic-sounding funeral dirge-like ‘The Solace’.
I therefore end this review in something of a quandary. Is this the very best that My Dying Bride have ever released over their long and illustrious career? It is definitely too early to say, but I’m veering towards saying no at this juncture. If I put away all of the emotion that I feel when listening, my objectivity would suggest that there is better within the lengthy discography. However, ‘The Ghost Of Orion’ has almost certainly become my personal favourite simply because of the emotional connection I have with it and because of the way in which the band have overcome so much to release this album in the first place. The more I listen, the more I fall in love with the music that these experienced musicians have created. It has become a constant listening companion over the past week or more, a week where I discover new words, new meaning, new subtle musical nuances within the songs and in so doing, I take it to my heart ever more fondly.
The Score of Much Metal: 93%
Check out my reviews from 2020 right here:
Infirmum – Walls Of Sorrow
Inno – The Rain Under
Kvaen – The Funeral Pyre
Mindtech – Omnipresence
Dark Fortress – Spectres From The Old World
The Oneira – Injection
Night Crowned – Impius Viam
Dead Serenity – Beginnings EP
The Night Flight Orchestra – Aeromantic
Deadrisen – Deadrisen
Blaze Of Perdition – The Harrowing Of Hearts
Godsticks – Inescapable
Isle Of The Cross – Excelsis
Demons & Wizards – III
Vredehammer – Viperous
H.E.A.T – H.E.A.T II
Psychotic Waltz – The God-Shaped Void
Into The Open – Destination Eternity
Lunarsea – Earthling/Terrestre
Pure Wrath – The Forlorn Soldier EP
Sylosis – Cycle of Suffering
Sepultura – Quadra
Dyscordia – Delete / Rewrite
Godthrymm – Reflections
On Thorns I Lay – Threnos
God Dethroned – Illuminati
Fragment Soul – A Soul Inhabiting Two Bodies
Mariana Semkina – Sleepwalking
Mini Album Reviews: Moloken, The Driftwood Sign & Midnight
Serenity – The Last Knight
Ihsahn – Telemark EP
Temperance – Viridian
Blasphemer – The Sixth Hour
Deathwhite – Grave Image
Marko Hietala – Pyre Of The Black Heart
SWMM – Trail Of The Fallen
Into Pandemonium – Darkest Rise EP
Bonded – Rest In Violence
Serious Black – Suite 226
Darktribe – Voici L’Homme
Brothers Of Metal – Emblas Saga
A Life Divided – Echoes
Thoughts Factory – Elements
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: