REVIEW: MY DYING BRIDE – “The Ghost Of Orion”
The cancer diagnosis of My Dying Bride’s vocalist Aaron Stanthorpe’s daughter in 2017 looms heavy on ‘The Ghost of Orion’. After a lengthy break, Stanthorpe posted a heartfelt message on the band’s Facebook page updating fans on his daughter’s diagnosis and the current state of the band. He also announced the beginning of work on a new record that would likely be long in development given his then current circumstances. While Stanthorpe’s daughter is thankfully now in remission with a clean bill of health, death and mortality weigh particularly heavy on a band and on a record whose bread and butter is death and mortality.
“Tired of Tears”, the most direct expression of Stanthorpes brush with mortality, is a record highlight. As the father of a 5 year old daughter myself, this one hits close to home. Sole studio guitarist and principal songwriter Andrew Craighan’s signature chord-less, hard-panned, guitar harmonies provide the funereal backbone for Stanthorpe’s lyrics — “I am so tired/So tired of tears/Lay not thy hand upon/Lay no hand upon my daughter.” The emotional weight of the words manages to somehow supersede the lumbering, monolithically heavy-as-fuck backing track.
“The Long Black Land” builds Shaun Macgowan’s melodic violin intro into an epic slab of atmospheric death doom. Featuring a dynamic bridge accentuated by choral synth patches and chant like vocals, the track is positively aching to be played live. Stanthorpe’s vocal delivery takes on a more authoritarian, less sad-bastard tone as he continues the narrative by beseeching his daughter to “hold my hand young one” and “to listen to my voice.”
Elsewhere, the slighter tracks on the record help build atmosphere and momentum and provide brief respite from the dense lamentation of the heavier, more fully formed songs. The mostly instrumental wisp of a track “The Ghost of Orion” brings the record into the world via acoustic guitar, horror movie soundtrack synths, and arcane whispers. “The Solace ” finds the band embracing roots music with a track featuring a lovely turn by Warduna’s Fey Hella, accompanied by droning, harmonized lead guitars.
As the doom of “Your Broken Shore” washes over me, I’m struck by how My Dying Bride is able to evoke a mood of utter despair that’s at once grim and bleak and yet somehow warm and comforting. On as good a single as any they’ve released over the course of their 12 studio records, the relatively efficient 7 minute track finds the band sounding as good as they did in their mid-1990s heyday. All of the defining elements are here on this and each song on the set; the interwoven melancholic guitars, the weighty and deliberate slowness of the rhythm section, and the folk-inflected violin interludes. Most notably, whether it be the desolate despair of his layered melodic vocals or the visceral strains of his still feral death growl, Stanthorpe sounds particularly vital on this record.
Emotionally crushing and sadly beautiful, the excellent The Ghost of Orion finds My Dying Bride wrestling catharsis out of familial misfortune.