MY DYING BRIDE – A Mortal Binding

MY DYING BRIDE – A Mortal Binding



My Dying Bride (named after the middle sequence words in the debut album’s closer “Return Of The Beautiful”) is a British death doom metal band with a penchant for progressive writing which needs no introduction to anyone familiar with the so called British Peaceville Three, along with Anathema and Paradise Lost. My Dying Bride (MDB) are sometimes my favorite band tied with Iron Maiden, sometimes they are the second after the Maiden but never less than that. The “suffering servant of God” lyrics (and the video) to “Cry Of Mankind” and “From Darkest Skies” (off of my favorite album The Angel And The Dark River¹⁹⁹⁵ which I consider an untouchable peerless perfection) inspired me to seek Jesus Christ (of whom I never heard of before despite having been raised a practicing Roman Catholic) and pursue Him with a tremendous success. As for MDB, like their Peaceville brothers, they inspired untold number of bands and possibly even genres, but, in my view, they have done so more consistently and more effectually than their peers, with a single exception I’ll get to later. I was merely 17 years old when I first saw “The Songless Bird” video (from the now sadly defunct “Hanbanger’s Ball” on what used to be Music TV) and instantly fell in love with it because they sounded like nobody else, sporting fierce raw originality (even by today’s standards and demands!) while finding myself rushing to the store to secure my own copy of the excellent Turn Loose The Swans¹⁹⁹³ cassette and they were also the ones who turned me to death metal as a genre. So it is with great pride, honor and pleasure that I get to introduce to you their 14th installment A Mortal Binding²⁰²⁴, released on April 19th via the mighty Nuclear Blast Records, one I review late because I wanted to be as fair and impartial as I could seeing I am obviously a fanboy.

MDB was formed in 1990 from the former members of a gore/death outfit Abiosis (Andrew Craighan, Rick Miah) joined by one of the most colorful voices in doom death, Aaron Stainthorpe. Early tracks such as “Symphonaire Infernus et Spera Empyrium” and “God Is Alone” from the Towards The Sinister¹⁹⁹¹ demo already evidenced an excellent death metal band with incredible songwriting prowess and a knack for catchy riffs, such as the main one in the former song, but it was the debut full length As The Flower Withers¹⁹⁹² that expertly and successfully married it to luscious and mournful melody of the bleakest doom, and it is this album, along with the subsequent excellent The Thrash of Naked Limbs¹⁹⁹³ EP (with its amazing title track) and the sophomore album, which will serve as a career restart point 7 years later. Firstly, however, Turn Loose The Swans¹⁹⁹³ dictated the death doom genre at least as powerfully as Paradise Lost’s Gothic¹⁹⁹⁰, if not more so, only to unleash one of the most perfect genre offerings as well as metal albums of any genre with The Angel And The Dark River¹⁹⁹⁵, and that despite not having a single guttural on it and a slight decrease in heaviness. Like Gods Of The Sun¹⁹⁹⁶ was a surprise and a much more accessible work so far but it still held strongly by its wonderful songwriting and then, we all know what happened, that only genuine misstep in their discography, 34.788%… Complete¹⁹⁹⁸. Inspired by founder guitarist’s Calvin Robertshaw’s dream in which he was told the human race had a limited lifespan on earth, 34.788% of which had already expired, the album had more to do with The Smashing Pumpkins (Adore¹⁹⁹⁸ comes to mind) and Public Enemy (the infamous and severely profane “Heroin Chic” where Aaron mercifully bleeped all the choice words) than with death doom.

But they couldn’t be held in contempt for too long because they followed it the very next year with another near masterpiece, The Light At The End Of The World¹⁹⁹⁹, which I, although not perfect, personally rank just behind The Angel And The Dark River¹⁹⁹⁵ (plus it has growls galore), and then, to double the punch, the almost equally (some say more) fantastic The Dreadful Hours²⁰⁰¹ (which is my personal no. 3) and they have never attempted a genre defiance since, despite occasionally borrowing from some of its ideas for the subsequent albums. Indeed, whether you consider the flawless masterpiece The Angel And The Dark River¹⁹⁹⁵, the fantastic (in order of greatness) The Light At The End Of The World¹⁹⁹⁹, The Dreadful Hours²⁰⁰¹, Feel The Misery²⁰¹⁵, Like Gods Of The Sun¹⁹⁹⁶, the excellent Turn Loose The Swans¹⁹⁹³, the very good As The Flower Withers¹⁹⁹², The Ghost Of Orion²⁰²⁰, Songs Of Darkness, Words Of Light²⁰⁰⁴, A Line Of Deathless Kings²⁰⁰⁶, A Map Of All Our Failures²⁰¹² or For Lies I Sire²⁰⁰⁹, 34.788%…Complete¹⁹⁹⁸ (see how I smuggled my discography ranking here,) remains MDB’s the single universally panned creation, which, may have had some potential (Apocalyptic Woman) but just wasn’t up to par with anything before or since. This is why The Ghost Of Orion²⁰²⁰ was such a curious dish because it was a very good while obviously unfinished and somewhat of a misfit offering or so I thought at the time of writing my review (5/6). However, with the benefit of the new album providing a 20/20 hindsight in search of an answer to the old “do they still have it?”, I will attempt to challenge that, though, likely, however imperfectly. And you know why.

The short answer is because every single shortcoming of the predecessor has been righted on A Mortal Binding²⁰²⁴. Both albums sharing the very same producer, City Of God’s guitarist Mark Mynett, it’s clear that it was by direction of frontman Aaron Stainthorpe that The Ghost of Orion²⁰²⁰ sounded so, well, ghostly, more like progressive doom rock than metal, especially on the longer tracks like “The Long Black Hand” or “The Old Earth”. Those two tracks sounded and played like prolonged bits of great ideas with so much air in between the notes it drew almost all aggression out of it. I cannot prove it but my theory is this was no accident, that he had wanted it very good but glaringly imperfect, he had wanted it to give an air of unfinished business and he succeeded. The riffs were supposed to be there but as if they weren’t and so were the vocals since they were layered, dreamy, with sporadic growls on 3 tracks for good measure which were more like another instrument than emphasis of aggression. I mean, I can’t blame Aaron as, truth be told, if my daughter were fighting cancer at the time of recording my 13th album I would have flipped the proverbial bird at the world saying “Y’all wait ’til I’m done here, right now I can’t even sing properly for crying out loud!” Blame him? On the contrary, the man’s got guts and professionalism coming out of his pores for sticking to it and giving us a very good album where he had every right to give us none and no one would fault him for doing so. Besides, he quietly pushed forward, giving us an immediate taste of what was to come with Macabre Cabaret²⁰²⁰ EP (teasing us in “A Secret Kiss” with guitar squeals akin to “The Songless Bird”), and then, for the next 4 years finally unveiling a tremendous come back with, this here, A Mortal Binding²⁰²⁴ which we will now turn to.

Your first impression from the opener Her Dominion (Her Throat Labours At The Work of Felate) (are we Nile?) is that it just sounds as if were lifted off Towards The Sinister¹⁹⁹¹ demo and given a 21st Century production but as it ebbs and flows it reads like a slower sequel to “To Shiver In Empty Halls”, the fury missing from the predecessor here on full display with not a touch of clean vocal to be found while the light underneath melody and atmospherics harken back all the way to The Light At The End Of The World¹⁹⁹⁹, violins chasing the austere but effective riffs, with Aaron’s growls so caustic, (frankly he hasn’t sounded this pissed off in decades) “Her Dominion” like funeral march which someone crashes with vengeance. Pretty good start, then, but the following two video singles “Thornwyck Hymn (A Choir of Sorry Girls)” and “The 2nd of Three Bells (Even Time Wishes You Were Here)” (are we Nile or Pink Floyd?) blow the opener out of the water in equal measure. The riffs are crushing, probably the most crushing in My Dying Bride’s career, weird, when you consider that the lineup of Stainthorpe (vocals), Andrew David Craighan (guitars), Lena Abé (2007-bass), Shaun MacGowan (2009, keyboards, violin) and Neil C. Blanchett (2019-guitars,) hasn’t changed, the melodies harkening back to Like Gods Of The Sun¹⁹⁹⁶, but, too, unmistakably to fellow Brits and Peaceville breed Paradise Lost from Icon¹⁹⁹³ and Shades Of God¹⁹⁹² and I, for one, couldn’t be happier. Speaking of the 3 bells, according to Aaron and Church history, are as follows: the 1st warned of impending danger such as an earthquake, the 2nd informed of a death resulting from that danger and the 3rd one is the funeral tall rung at the time of a funeral. The abundant violins are not omnipresent as before but are either in place of guitars or neatly and tastefully highlight them. And the songwriting, songwriting is back to those two points in their career where I think MDB were at their prime: between Turn Loose The Swans¹⁹⁹³ and The Angel And The Dark River¹⁹⁹⁵, on one hand, and The Light At The End Of The World¹⁹⁹⁹ and The Dreadful Hours²⁰⁰¹, on the other, with a touch of Feel The Misery²⁰¹⁵ “every track is different” policy. In fact, if The Ghost Of Orion²⁰²⁰ tried to resurrect The Angel And The Dark River¹⁹⁹⁵ (especially with the opening “Your Broken Shore” almost reprising “Cry Of Mankind”) then A Mortal Binding²⁰²⁴ does its utmost to bring back the magic of the legendary sophomore album. Look at that cover which screams “Turn Loose The Swans!” better than Turn Loose The Swans¹⁹⁹³ did, an obvious reference, if not suggestion for the listener to allude to that landmark release, which makes me think might this actually be their last album and they’re about to wrap it up for good so that the Bride finally dies? The fact that they cancelled all the 2024 concerts shortly before the new album release seems to agree. Well, if that turns out to be the case they’re going out like champs!

Case in point, let’s look at their most ambitious song since “Symphonaire Infernus et Spera Empyrium” and one even more complex than that, the sprawling magnificent 11:24 minute tour de force that is “The Apocalyptist (He Did Not Weep for Me)”. Apocalyptic, indeed, MDB couldn’t have picked a more apt title with some of the most ferocious and furious vocals from Aaron while his melodic and probably purposely all over the scale cleans both belie his age (55), (almost no overdubs but in “Thornwick Hymn” as if to tease us a little) like Bruce Banner getting angry and now you have to listen to Hulk talk about how much so buckle up, Dorothy, because we’re not on Orion, anymore, then comes a riff and keyboards so intense and heavy as if the whole tragedy of humanity were wrapped up in them, the whole thing playing out like slamming a few different eras of the band’s sound together, split into equal thirds and then walking between them and picking whatever flowers grew after, to paraphrase Islander from No Clean Singing May 1st review. I love how MDB doesn’t repeat themselves but serve different flavors, moods, emotions tempos, although generally within the framework of their patented sometimes death doom, be it the Black Sabbathian “Unthroned Creed (Filled with Beautiful Blood)” for memorable gnarly riffs, the beautifully atmospheric “A Starving Heart (Beyond the Rim of Sky)” evocative of The Gathering’s”Eleanor” or the “Return To The Light At The End Of The World” closing 9 minute behemoth “Crushed Embers (A Voice Full of Tears)” with the most effective interplay of growls and cleans a nod to 1992-1993 and the most effective yet abrupt ending in MDB career (Aaron singing “I faded from my bloodline and took leave of humanity” precisely at the cutoff point while giving us another hint this could be the last time), unlike the predecessor or many of MDB albums, A Mortal Binding²⁰²⁴ contains nothing even smelling like a filler with some tracks just better than others and which ones, hey, in and of itself, is always a matter of opinion.

A Mortal Binding²⁰²⁴ is not perfect and in my personal ranking of MDB discography places 6th between Like Gods Of The Sun¹⁹⁹⁶ and Turn Loose The Swans¹⁹⁹³ while still ahead of As The Flower Withers¹⁹⁹², but it is a vast improvement over its immediate predecessor, sounds massive and complete and has some of the best songs in MDB career, and, if you’re a fan, you’re getting exactly what you want and then some so pick it up on your next payday. While I can’t shake off the feeling that something terrible may be in store for the fans already hurt by the 2024 tour cancellation and that A Mortal Binding²⁰²⁴ may very well be the, however worthy, consolation prize, I still declare: Long live the Bride!

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