Although their now impressive catalogue is largely immaculate, the biggest factor in MY DYING BRIDE's unassailable reputation has been their ruthlessly sustained mystique. Neither susceptible to the lure of the usual touring circuits nor to even the slenderest outside influence, the Brits' epic, avant-garde doom metal almost seems to exist out of time or recognizable place. As a result, "The Ghost of Orion" can hardly fail to be a watershed moment: after decades with PEACEVILLE RECORDS, MY DYING BRIDE have joined forces with the more powerful NUCLEAR BLAST stable, with an honestly stated desire to increase activity levels and get some long overdue recognition in the process.
That would all count for nothing, of course, if "The Ghost of Orion" was either more of the gloomy same or some cynical attempt to turn this irrevocably left-field band into a shiny, commercial proposition. But then MY DYING BRIDE have been a stubborn bunch throughout their 30-year existence, and while this is undoubtedly the most polished and accessible thing the band have produced, at least since 1996's "Like Gods of the Sun", it's also as remorselessly bleak, crushing, grimly beautiful and musically extraordinary as long-time admirers will be yearning for. As an added bonus, new drummer Jeff Singer (formerly with PARADISE LOST among others), has given MY DYING BRIDE a sense of rhythmic momentum, groove and swing that hugely contributes to this record's overall freshness and vitality. If this isn't a wholesale reinvention — and it definitely isn't — then it's evidence of a truly vigorous spring clean, with triumphant, reinvigorated results.
First single, "Your Broken Shore", will have calmed any worried diehards: this is prime MY DYING BRIDE, but somehow sturdier and more powerful, with those irresistible violin lines cutting through like persistent flicks to the heartstrings. You don't have to do much research to learn that vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe has been through the emotional mill over the last few years, and while crestfallen dismay has long been his trademark, there's an extra layer of vulnerability and real-world fury in his performance. When he sings, "I have lived through the depths of time…", you can feel that it's true. But more than merely blurring the lines between abstract lyrics and real-life events, these songs do seem to represent a late-career blossoming of this band's songwriting gifts.
Guitarist Andrew Craighan is one of metal's great unsung heroes, and here his knack for searing the soul with skewed melody is showcased in three or maybe even four dazzling sonic dimensions. "To Outlive The Gods" is a case in point: as huge and as devastating as anything MY DYING BRIDE have written. It's a great song, but also a master class in modern metal production, with guitar tones that shake the walls and, with Singer behind the kit, drums that genuinely sound dedicated to stirring the dead. "Tired Of Tears" is even more astonishing. Part artful throwback to the glacial woe of early classics like 1995's "The Angel and the Dark River", part euphoric reconstruction of those same elements into grandiose new forms, it's as majestic a piece of music as you will hear in 2020.
Bizarrely, it's outstripped in both size and sumptuousness by the album's two lumbering colossi, "The Long Black Land" and "The Old Earth". As ageless and unstoppable as the grind of tectonic plates, the latter is a particularly enthralling tumultuous ten minutes, with all the expected dynamics and snail's pace majesty, but a strong sense of ongoing evolution, too, as Craighan's riffs warp and meander through territory both alien and familiar. Even over a short distance, this latest incarnation of UK doom's most shadowy icons are audibly brimming with ideas and enthusiasm. Both the elegant and haunting "The Solace" and the elegiac shimmer of the title track indicate that the MDB blueprint is still in a state of exhilarated flux, and it will be fascinating to see what happens next, particularly if "The Ghost of Orion" gives MY DYING BRIDE the boost they so richly deserve. By grabbing new opportunities and flexing their creative muscles like never before, these kings of morbid mystery have made one of their finest albums yet. Class, much like death, is forever.