The Ghost Of Orion

Anmeldt av Eddie Rattlehead
(Nuclear Blast, 2020)

Karakter: 5/6

My Dying Bride_The Ghost Of Orion.jpgMy Dying Bride being one of my favorite bands, I always dread a little the first contact with new material. "Feel The Misery" was, after all, such a fantastic release that it was hard to think how they would even match it, let alone top it. While they did neither, on their 14th album they maintain their status as one of the best purveyors of the genre while offering more accesibility and melody to the degree not heard since "Like Gods Of The Sun", a flawed yet still excellent work, especially considering what they went through to create it.

This year The British doom/deathsters, My Dying Bride (named after a line in their song "The Return Of The Beautiful"), celebrate 30th anniversary of existence, just as I celebrate the 30th anniversary of being a metalhead. Formed in 1990 from the former members of a gore/death outfit Abiosis (Andrew Craighan, Rick Miah) joined by one of the most colorful voice in doom/death, Aaron Stainthorpe, debuted with "Towards The Sinister" (1991) demo, followed by "Symphonaire Infernus et Spera Empyrium" in 2 acts (1992) EP (1st on Peaceville) and finally their first full length, the now legendary, "As The Flower Withers" (1992). My Dying Bride (from here on refferred to as MDB) has been the soundtrack of my life since 1993, from the first time I saw the creepy magnifiscent "The Songless Bird" video on MTV's "Headbanger's Ball", which inspired me to succesfully seek out the tape of the sophomore album, "Turn Loose The Swans", because these guys sounded like no one else I had ever heard before. The following, "The Angel And The Dark River", although different (no more growls) was just as magnifiscent, as was "Like Gods Of The Sun", and then MDB released, arguably, the single clunker in their discography, the nonsensically, illogically named, "344.788%...Complete", with Stainthorpe downright rapping (!) on some of the tracks, death metal nowhere in sight and lyrics of a vulgar adolescent schoolboy additonally marring the whole experiment.

What was going on with My Dying Bride? No one knows for sure but not only had they never repeated such or even a similar endeavor but returned powerfully with the magnifiscent "The Light At The End Of The World" (1999), which brought back both death metal and Aaron's growls. That this was no accident or a fluke but a purposeful upward rise from the mediocre, proved "The Dreadful Hours", by many regarded as their quintessential record, and then MDB started experimenting again with the controversial "Songs Of Darkness, Words Of Light" (2004) and the more consistent "A Line Of Deathless Kings" (2006), and finally settling back into their signature style with "For Lies I Sire" (2009), which indicated a less extreme and a more accessible direction. This was confirmed by the non-metal, all-symphonic whopping 3 disc album of band's greatest "hits" turned classical music called "Evinta" (2011), which proved to bitter a pill to swallow to some of the fans. Where was the metal? Was My Bride Dying? The anwer to both questions came in the form of the fantastic 1-song nearly half hour EP "The Barhest Of Whitby" (2011), as if the Brits were reassuring the fans there was more greatness to come. And indeed, both "A Map Of All Our Failures" LP (2012) and "The Manuscript" EP (2013), proved MDB was still in top form. And that top form was further solidified by one of their finest albums, "Feel The Misery", a fantastic blend of doom and death. Things were going extremely well for the band and nothing predicted the chain of misery (no pun intended) which was to follow.

First, the founding guitarist and songwriter, Calvin Robertshaw left the band, then Aaron Stainthorpe's then 5 year old daughter was diagnosed with cancer which the former later dubbed "one of the cruelest of God's bitter and loveless creations", which left the sole remaing founding guitarist Andrew Craighan writing alone but that more abundantly. When the grueling process of chemo and radiotherapy finally led to Stainthorpe's daughter's fairly clean bill of health, Aaron suddenly found himself unable to sing (or glowl) for the new material. Eventually, he overcame but his struggle is heard in every note of the new material and it is likely the reason behind the unusual simultaneous layering and softening of the clean vocals. Because "The Ghost Of Orion" was an album born from tremendous pain, suffering, struggle, anxiety and adversity, it has a number of characteristics which would likely not have surfaced were it just a "business as usual" recording session.

How does this album stack against the band's past accomplishments? I think we can safely put it somewhere between "Turn Loose The Swans" and "The Angel And The Dark River", although there are some references to "Like Gods Of The Sun" and "The Light At The End Of The World". The opener, magnifiscent video single, "Your Broken Shore", has "Cry Of Mankind" melodies and riffing all over it while not simply a throwback. As it is sometimes the case when a band (Novembers Doom) who builds its foundation on imitating another (MDB), makes the originators sound like themselves, some of the vocal stylings and melody recalls Novembers Doom's ""When Desperation Fills The Void". The opener features also some excellent synth, string (thanks to Shaun Macgowan) as a mood-inducing cello part (courtesy of Jo Quail), but as fantastic and very catchy as it is, though, I wouldn't choose it for an opening salvo (more on that later). "To Outlive The Gods" is even more an obvious reference to "The Angel And The Dark River", "Edenbeast" (from "The Light...") but, too, to Anathema's "The Silent Enigma", a contemporary of the former. It's in the phenomenal "Tired Of Tears" (written entirely about Aaron's struggle with his daughter's disease) which allows some more modern comparisons, such the aforementioned "The Light At The End Of The World" or Corrosion Of Conformity's "Deliverance" vibe in the 2nd chorus. MDB starts out extremely strong with the first three tracks, although the austere use of death growls and death metal stylings raises a concern. This concern is increased with the beautiful, but a little momentum-killing "The Solace" where Aaron entirely gives way to Wardruna's female vocalist Lindy Fay Hella. And just like that, half the album has passed with an expectation of more brutal and extreme things to come if only for contrast.

"The Long Black Hand" both meets and disappoints those expectations. On one hand, it has a clear death metal vibe going back to the first two albums, on the other hand, it is built around simple, lingering riffs played over and over which recalls "The Light..." but also "344.788%...", although I do love the Daylight Dies' melodic atmospherics, definitely a first for MDB. Again, the Depeche Mode meets Opeth short title track with Aaron just whispering leaves me unimpressed but then comes one of, if not THE most ambitious and sprawling epic The Brits have ever penned - "The Old Earth". This is one of those songs which explain my love for this band, this is why. Just counting the melodies, twists and turns, including the beginning highly reminiscent of Machine Head's "A Farewell To Arms" (from "The Blackening"), is impressive enough but Aaron's vocal performance is so caustic and cynical in BOTH cleans and growls it sends shivers down my spine every time. Then it is not lost on me that the driven "hit" riff is a clear nod to "The Songless Bird" the track with similar lyricism. In fact, I am sure all of this is intentional, a kind of bridge to the distant past, and that is why I also think that "The Old Earth" should have been the closer, (instead of the instrumental "Your Woven Shore") especially since it ends like one, which inevitably brings me to the flaws.

First, there is a surprisingly small amount of aggression and hatred. The Devil, who gave cancer to Aaron's daughter and scarlett fever to mine, is mankind's true enemy (John 8:44, 10:10) and he should be hated, songs made with hateful disgust of his miserable existence. It is he who creates (by man's hands, in many cases) deadly diseases, tumors and viruses, and although I hear Aaron's hatred and digust in "The Old Earth" I hear also his FAITH in it, because he was taught (by people or life) that it is God who's to blame for both good and evil. Yet even if it were as he believes, why is there almost no proper death metal on "The Ghost Of Orion", no "Fever Sea", "The Dreadful Hours" or even "She Is The Dark" but just a careful desperation which merely dreams of aggression? This causes the album to be at a fairly same pace throughout with no real surprises so replete on "The Light", "Dreadful", "Songs Of Darkness" or "Feel The Misery". Sure, I get that, they wanted to make the album more accessible than ever (because it's on Nuclear Blast, now?), but in that case there's still a surprisingly small number of actual songs, I mean, the MDB kind songs. We have 5, because "The Solace" and the title track are more like vocalized instrumentals than songs. So we have 5 songs out of 8. That is still stubbornly low for them and, in the end, this album leaves a hunger for more. Finally, and I hinted at it earlier, the choice of the opener and closer boggle the mind. The way I see it, "Your Woven Shore", which is a kind of reference to "Your Broken Shore", could have been an actual prelude to it, leaving "The Old Earth" as the proper closer for both scope and length. Then I could use another track somewhere between "The Black Hand" and the title, preferably more death than doom.

I realize this is a 5/6 review but my criticism regarding the album's flaws might make one think "why not 4.5/6, then?" For starters, that we even HAVE a MDB album at this point is short of a miracle and a testimony to band members' tenacity. Calvin Robertshaw reportedly texted his departure with no explanation whatsoever abandoning everyone in their creative and personal hell. Andrew Craighan was left to create the entire album by himself (and he's no Lars Mikael Åkerfeldt or David Scott Mustaine), while Aaron Stainthorpe, who confesses in "Your Broken Shore" to have lived through depths of time, went through something I had only a passing semblance of in comparison, when my own daughter was recently briefly overtaken by a potentially deadly bout of scarlett fever, where she had almost suffocated, which is why I can somehow relate. Andrew and Aaron are both unquestionable heroes of "The Ghost Of Orion" who pretty much outlived the gods, as per the second track. Having said that, there are issues with this album I had to point out and so I did.

For one of the three legendary Peaceville doom/death purveyors (next to Anathema and Paradise Lost) My Dying Bride still stands very strong with "The Ghost Of Orion" despite the ungodly tremendous pressure on their souls and lives. In fact, given those circumstances, the work shines as exemplary in both songcraft and execution. But I do hope that by the time of album 15 Aaron and Andrew will choose to, once again, express more death than doom in their incredible writing.

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