My Dying Bride – The Ghost of Orion Review

When you think of quality doom metal, just about everyone will mention My Dying Bride within the first five bands listed, if not the first. For thirty years, the British sextet’s captivated the world over with their trademark blend of crushing riffs, sorrowful violins and keyboards, and the cavernous growls and pained singing of charismatic frontman Aaron Stainthorpe. So impacting their music has become that they’re the soundtrack to personal situations in peoples’ lives, including mine. But while past albums usually weaved tales of existential dread and woe, the last five years since Feel the Misery have been all too real for MDB. Between Stainthorpe’s young daughter battling (and thankfully beating) cancer and having two members of the band up and quit while this was happening, it’s no small wonder that we even have a new album to begin with, so all the respect in the world for The Ghost of Orion’s creation.

However, with all the talk from the band saying this is their “most accessible album” and their first not affiliated with Peaceville, it’s understandable that people were nervous. Rest assured, The Ghost of Orion is a good album. The “accessibility” lies in the fact that there’s choruses this time around. Opening track (and lead-off single) “Your Broken Shore” easily stands toe-to-toe with their best songs, with Andrew Craighan delivering incredible riffs and beautiful melodies, serving as a blanket for Stainthorpe to howl and croon in one of his best vocal performances to date. Elsewhere, “Tired of Tears,” a painful recollection of what Stainthorpe and his family went through during his daughter’s cancer diagnosis and treatment, hits you right in the throat due to Stainthorpe’s performance. And “The Solace” might be the most experimental the band’s been since Turn Loose the Swans, with Lindy Fay Hella (Wardruna) providing a beautiful siren’s song over Craighan’s melodies.

Yet, for all the high moments on The Ghost of Orion, there’s some major concerns, one being a massive self-editing issue. Now, My Dying Bride have made long songs before, with “The Cry of Mankind,” “Turn Loose the Swans,” and “Your River” being standout tracks in their massive catalog of amazing material. But they’ve also had enough going on in those songs to justify their lengths. On “To Outlive the Gods” and “The Long Black Land,” they don’t have that variety, making the trek feel a lot longer than expected. Penultimate track “The Old Earth” suffers the greatest from this, due to its repetitious nature towards the end. Also, the title track, which consists of just a repeating melody with Stainthorpe whispering over it, doesn’t do much except pad out the album’s length.

Another concern lies in the production, and I never thought I’d say this about a My Dying Bride album. While the violins, cello, and Aaron’s voice sound good, the drums sound a bit distorted, which is a shame as Jeff Singer (ex-Paradise Lost) puts on one hell of a performance, and is easily the best drummer My Dying Bride’s had since Rick Miah. Also, while the guitars don’t sound bad, they don’t quite hit with the same impact as their prior albums. In fact, I’ll say that the production, while clean and professional, is a bit too clean and professional. Part of My Dying Bride’s appeal, besides their penchant for melancholic riffs and somber melodies, is how it had enough grit in the sound to place them apart from their contemporaries. With that grit wiped away, it’s rubbed off a little of the charm in the process.

That said, again, there’s nothing bad on display here. The Ghost of Orion is a good album in a catalog of good-to-masterpiece albums. While not on par with the likes of Turn Loose the SwansThe Angel and the Dark River, and most recently Feel the Misery, it doesn’t sound like it’s aiming to be. Rather, The Ghost of Orion is the sound of a band coming off a string of terrible personal events and internal restructuring, while looking to find footing once again. The fact that we even have The Ghost of Orion at all is something we should be thankful for, as I don’t want to think of a world without My Dying Bride in it.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 11 | Format Reviewed: v0 mp3
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: March 6th, 2020

Written By: Ferrous Beuller

My Dying Bride are incredibly important to me. After years of listening to death metal and thrash, they were the first band to truly effect me on an emotional level other than violent catharsis. It became an absolute necessity to sit down, wrapped in nothing but the lonely night, and give in to their immaculate melodrama. As the years have passed, I’ve followed the band closely. No matter the percentage of pain present in any given release, I actively enjoy their entire discography. Now, having surmounted two line up changes and some of the worst personal circumstances imaginable, My Dying Bride have returned. Thirteenth album The Ghost of Orion whispers of the familiar loss and longing. But what was once forged on a crux of Keats and bolstered by Blake might occasionally struggle to prove its Wordsworth…

The Ghost of Orion is, in many ways, business as usual. Guitarist Andrew Craighan’s writing is immediately familiar and its abides throughout the album like an old friend. His lilting melodies are at the forefront of “Your Broken Shore” and “Tired of Tears,” a song addressing the awful illness of vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe’s daughter.1 In fact, much of the record’s foundation is a stylistic continuation of the sanitization that originated on For Lies I Sire. The Ghost of Orion’s first-half is particularly weighted with the most traditional material. This isn’t unwelcome, but after the much publicized return – and hurried departure – of original guitarist Calvin Robertshaw, it feels somewhat anti-climactic. The prospect of Robertshaw’s writing contributions was an exciting one, and the increasingly streamlined rhythm section rather begs the question “what if?”

Things take an interesting turn on “The Solace.” A minimalist guest vocal spot from Wardruna’s Lindy Fay Hella suddenly breathes very delicate life into the record. A feature by cellist Jo Quail affords the ephemera just enough weight to mark a subtle contrast to Shaun Macgowan’s violin, which accents the rest of the album. It makes for a perfect pallet cleanser before centerpiece “The Long Black Land” envelops the horizon. Long-form has an interesting effect here. “The Long Black Land” emphasizes the band’s doom roots as averse to their gothic leanings, but fellow epic “The Old Earth” represents a retrospective quandary. On its own, its a great song, but the eventual culmination of its crashing opening sequence is a stark reminder that the album is oddly lacking in memorable riffs. The soul-rending hooks of The Dreadful Hours or A Line of Deathless Kings seem to have given way to an overt reliance on harmonies. The writing is still good enough to convey the desired despondency, but my vertebrae remain sadly intact.

One of My Dying Bride’s greatest attributes has always been Aaron Stainthorpe and his poetic lyricism. His crystalline commiserations persist and the bleeding heart so often worn on his sleeve pours for all to see. However, The Ghost of Orion is spotless in production. While this accentuates the instrumental closer “Your Woven Shore” or the slightly redundant “The Ghost of Orion,” it also opts to heavily double-track Stainthorpe’s voice, which just isn’t necessary. Not only are his cleans and gutturals the strongest they’ve been in some time, regardless, but it detracts from the potential fragility he can so capably convey. No doubt some will embrace the polish, but I prefer a little scratch to accompany my sorrow.

I said I enjoy all of My Dying Bride’s work and I still do. The Ghost of Orion is defined by strings and lacrimose melody. The album is certainly no worse for it, but it does feel oddly unfinished. This may be attributed to the trials and tribulations experienced during the writing and recording process. On the other hand, if such a developed act can still produce good records under such duress, it can only bode well for their future. I can’t predict how often I’ll turn to this album when that urge to purge perdition comes back around, but it certainly isn’t at the bottom of the pile. The heartfelt introspection feels cleaner than ever, but while I await a release a little more appareled in My Dying Bride’s usual pall, The Ghost of Orion may keep me in perfectly adequate company.

Rating; 3.0/5.0

Show 1 footnote

  1. Who, fortunately, has gone on to make a full recovery.
« »