MY DYING BRIDE
The Ghost Of Orion
Five years after 2015's stunningly good Feel the Misery, My Dying Bride are in a very different place. Not only have guitarist Calvin Robertshaw and drummer Shaun Taylor-Steels departed again, Aaron Stainthorpe has been dealing with his daughter's cancer (a battle that she has happily won). It's hardly the best of places to start from when writing music, even music so emotionally-laden and heartfelt as doom, so it's no surprise that The Ghost of Orion isn't among the band's best work, as good as it can be at moments. The stripped-down band led to something of a stripped-down sound, Andrew Craighan's single guitar in the mix sometimes fighting for attention with Shaun Macgowan's violin. And each song seems to move at the same pace, with little that stands out to distinguish between most on early listens; it's notable that nothing here is as instantly arresting or memorable as And My Father Left Forever from the previous album, and The Ghost of Orion suffers for it.
Which is a shame, as there is plenty of good to be found here even beyond that arrestingly beautiful cover art. Opener Your Broken Shore switches between a lighter, airier style driven by clean vocals atop the rhythm section, and a steadier, doom-death churn, the two forming a nicely melancholic atmosphere between them that is only enhanced by the cello-driven outro. The Long Black Land's central riffing, meanwhile, is among the album's purest and doomiest, the guitar a tremendous highlight as it rises and falls, seemingly threatening to drown Aaron's voice out at points! Yet the track is only damaged by the production which makes the drums sound distractingly flat and plastic in comparison to the guitar's thick roar. And the best track present by a mile is The Old Earth, having plenty of the atmospheric punch and doom metal heaviness that was once My Dying Bride's signature style. It stands out from the other songs here thanks to being better-written, complete with shifts in tempo and catchy riffs capable of being hooks. And Aaron's clean and harsh vocals act as a duet here, more than they ever have; changing as the instruments do into a kind of call-and-response pattern, all resulting in a great track that feels much shorter than its ten-minute-plus length.
And yet, and yet. Some of the studio decisions taken here seem downright strange, like the near-constant layered harmonisation of Aaron's clean vocals with himself which doesn't help the album's perceived sameyness. Certain songs seem to hit a melody and then repeat it without developing, To Outlive the Gods and Tired of Tears especially; the former a pleasant four minute song stretched too long, the latter having more of a melodic doom vibe as it addresses Aaron's daughter's illness directly. At least the violin motif is a pleasant one, good enough to save the song as a whole! And although The Solace does stand out thanks to Wardruna's Lindy Fay Hella providing folky female vocals atop droning guitar, it's such a sidestep from what comes before and after that it altogether unbalances the album, not least because of the lengthy section in the middle of the track where the guitar drones on unaccompanied. It's more Myrkur than My Dying Bride, acting as something of a lengthy (nearly six minute) interlude alongside the title track's acoustic strum and almost whispered singing - both tracks ending up dull at best.
Finale Your Woven Shore is a little better, acting as an echo of the cello melody that closed Your Broken Shore performed alongside delicate piano and faint vocals, but it is an unsatisfying ending to the album. Comparing The Ghost of Orion to Feel the Misery only makes it a disappointment, not least for the complete lack of any gothic experiments that helped the older album feel so varied and revelatory. Yet this is not a bad record when given familiarity and viewed in isolation, and considering the turbulence of My Dying Bride's journey thus far a shaky landing is understandable, especially when the results are this solid.
Goat quoted 75 / 100
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