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My Dying Bride - The Ghost Of Orion

My Dying Bride - The Ghost Of OrionFor a while it seemed like this album may never happen. After the triumph of 2015's Feel The Misery, the band went on their typical post-album break and then… nothing. News emerged of the band going on a hiatus due to a serious illness afflicting a family member. Eventually, in October 2018, Aaron Stainthorpe announced the reason for the break; his five year old daughter had been battling cancer and was now in remission. He also confirmed that the band were reconvening and a new album was being worked on. But that wasn't a smooth process either. Original guitarist, Calvin Robertshaw, who rejoined in 2015, left again and there proved to be problems with Shaun Steels who left due to "unresolvable drumming issues".

At least Andrew Craighan wasn't idle during the band's enforced break, writing all the music for The Ghost Of Orion. Given the long break and the problems encountered you could forgive the band for sitting back on their laurels or rehashing past glories for this release but not a bit of it. The band set their stall out straight away with opener Your Broken Shore, classic My Dying Bride. Everything is present and correct, the gothic feel, the forlorn violin, the slow, crushing riffs and Aaron's glorious vocals. The track is epic in scale, immense in scope, building gradually like a wave from a vast ocean and then finally breaking on the shore with a coda of violin and cello.

That doesn't mean, however, that the album is a carbon copy of what has come before, quite the contrary. This may be the band's most mist-shrouded, mournful album. The songs are slow, thoughtful and full of melancholy, none more so than the fragile title track, where the vocals are whispered so quietly they are almost unintelligible and are certainly imbued with a specter-like quality. And the sweeping Tired Of Tears (written about the stress of Aaron's daughter's illness) is the most accessible composition the band have ever written. You can feel the sadness and despair but it's handled with such a deft touch, it caresses you rather than dragging you down.

There are some gorgeous multi tracked guitar harmonies, like the start of To Outlive The Gods. The song collapses into a brief medieval acoustic guitar section before stuttering, gargantuan riffs take over again. The sombre violin throughout this song and indeed the entire album only adds to the archaic air of the music. The Ghost Of Orion itself is a delicate composition of mostly acoustic guitar and piano which sounds so very decrepit.

The album's centrepiece is spectacular in nature, despite its simplicity. The Solace is just a electric guitar with guest vocalist, Lindy Fay Hella from Wardruna, singing beautifully over the chiming, soaring six string. Ethereal and haunting, the track demonstrates that, like all the best bands, My Dying Bride are not content to stand still. Thirty years into their career they are still pushing boundaries. Every moment of this album is finely crafted and every note of every instrument has its own purpose. From Lindy's delicious vocals to Jo Quail's cello and the choir on the album's short conclusion, Your Woven Shore, every moment is perfect. The music hangs in the air like dust particles, illuminated by sunlight through a window; visible but somehow intangible.

Experienced new drummer Jeff Singer (formerly of Kill II This and Paradise Lost) has added a new dimension to the percussion department and his playing is crisp and inventive. Anyone who is a fan of the band already knows they can play. After the departure of Calvin, Andrew Craighan handles all guitar duties and he seems to have an endless supply of riffs and also some beautifully fluid leads. His songwriting and playing are superb, especially on the aforementioned The Solace. Lena Abe is as reliably solid as ever on rumbling bass guitar, providing the bedrock on which the music is built and Shaun Macgowan provides the colour that separates this band from the mundane with his keyboard and violin playing. He manages to balance his bow sawing perfectly with the wall of guitars and it seems instinctive when the violin takes over as lead instrument.

As ever, it is vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe who is the star of the show. Often more restrained than on past releases, the musicians provide the framework for him to hang his tales of woe and on The Ghost Of Orion he really does manage to paint a fog-swathed picture of a time long past. His deathly roar appears sparingly here, The Long Black Land being the track where it is used most extensively, although on Your Broken Shore he duets with himself, clean vocals and throat-ripping growls harmonising together. Mostly his vocals are clear and subtle, elegant and restrained, which adds to the antediluvian ambiance. Aaron's lyrics are as poetic and graceful as one can be while singing about "sacred horrors" and the "Lord of Flies"!

It's true that this album is more muted and reflective than usual but this is understandable given the circumstances. However this actually works in the bands favour, allowing them to demonstrate other facets of their psyche and the different aspects of the songs make for an interesting listen. The mood is made even more sombre thanks to Jo's cello, the perfect addition for this album. Produced and engineered by Mark Mynett, he allows room for these Gothic hymns to breathe with his bright, crisp mix.

Whilst the band have come a long way from their early classics, they still demonstrably sound like My Dying Bride. Their sound has expanded like ripples on the surface of a cold, still lake in the aftermath of a cast stone. The band are always looking for new ways to express darkness, sorrow and loss. Those of us outside of the band will never really know quite how close we came to losing My Dying Bride but I for one am glad we didn't, as The Ghost Of Orion is a triumph over adversity. Out of great upheaval and stress they have managed to craft another towering masterpiece.

Released: 06.03.2020

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