It’s easy to assume that every artist has an expiry date attached to them, and there comes a point where any new material they release simply doesn’t live up to the calibre of their earlier work. However, there are some bands that never seem to slow down and even decades into their career will still release material that is very highly praised by fans and critics alike. Nowhere is this idea of a band not slowing down more apparent (and ironic) than in doom metal, specifically the British scene which started in the 1990s.
Most bands from this era have aged like fine wine, most notably the “Peaceville three”, which are the British bands Paradise Lost, Anathema and My Dying Bride. Anathema may have evolved from their early doom metal sound to progressive rock, but they have managed to retain the melancholy from their early work and prove that they are fantastic songwriters. Paradise Lost have gone through stylistic evolutions over the years but bring all the best elements of their previous work together on their newer material in a very mature but still crushingly heavy sound. These bands exploring different musical territories makes My Dying Bride an oddball, as they have (almost) always been a rock when it comes to their music, stubbornly sticking to the death-doom sound that made their 1990s material become legendary. However, in spite of this stubbornness and now being 3 decades and 13 albums into their career, My Dying Bride has managed to retain a consistently solid discography despite not having that many stylistic deviations.
The lead-up to The Ghost of Orion, their 13th studio release, was unfortunately riddled with a lot of hardship. The band continued to have instability in their lineup, having two drummer replacements, eventually settling with Jeff Singer of Paradise Lost fame. Guitarist Calvin Robertshaw also left My Dying Bride for the second time in the band’s career; He was in the band from its inception right up until their one experimental album, 34.788%... Complete, and then he returned during the writing for the band’s last studio release, Feel the Misery. On top of this, vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe was focusing entirely on looking after his daughter, who had been diagnosed with cancer. He even considered telling guitarist Andrew Craighan to get a temporary replacement vocalist to perform on The Ghost of Orion.
Because of the turmoil during the writing process of The Ghost of Orion, a lot of the material on this album was written by Craighan. Whilst My Dying Bride’s material has always been very guitar driven, it is more apparent on this album than ever, with the guitar dominating most of the somber melodies and rhythms throughout each song. Speaking of melody, The Ghost of Orion is perhaps the most melodic release in My Dying Bride’s entire discography. The move to Nuclear Blast (the first time the band has moved labels in their entire career) has meant that the production on this album is better than ever before, and the guitars sound crisp and all of the intricacies and melodies can be heard very clearly. On top of this, Stainthorpe’s trademark vocals sound fantastic. His growls and screams are as ferocious as ever, and the layering and harmonisation of his singing voice results in one of his best vocal performances on any My Dying Bride release. This melodicism is best showcased on songs like 'Tired of Tears' and 'The Long Black Land'. The guitars and vocals work together to use this added melody to create the somber atmosphere that My Dying Bride is known for.
Unfortunately, the album does have its weak spots, namely the homogeneity and disturbing lack of dynamics and limited timbre present on the album’s longer songs. Because this album is more guitar driven than previous releases, the dynamic range just isn’t as broad as usual, and violinist Shaun MacGowan feels fairly underutilised as a player. On top of this, whilst the use of melody on The Ghost of Orion is very good, a lot of it isn’t particularly memorable, and there is a serious lack of any real hooks or memorable motifs. Thankfully the shorter interludes do help to diversify the album’s musical palette, such as the vocals on 'The Solace' and the haunting choral vocals on closing track 'Your Woven Shore'. On top of this, hooks are not entirely absent; the ending section on 'The Long Black Land' in particular certainly has melodies on it that are very memorable. However, these deviations are unfortunately too few and far between, especially when compared to My Dying Bride’s last two albums as well as their classic material.
In spite of these complaints, The Ghost of Orion is, for the most part, a solid addition to My Dying Bride’s discography and an album that, against all the odds, is still a very good album. There are so many reasons why this album should have been a disaster, but this album proves that even when faced with immense hardship, My Dying Bride is a band filled with fantastic songwriters that have decades of experience in their craft. Perhaps most importantly for the future of My Dying Bride, The Ghost of Orion also proves that, in spite of being around for three decades, this is a band that is not slowing down any time soon and will likely continue to wow listeners for a very long time, whilst remaining a strong pillar standing true and firm in the doom metal temple.
The Ghost Of Orion is released March 6th via Nuclear Blast.