More than thirty years on, My Dying Bride have added yet another doom metal classic to their legendary discography.

Release date: April 19, 2024 | Nuclear Blast Records | Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram

A distant church bell reverberates through the oppressive murk that hangs over the old village and the rain falls, seemingly endless, as it has for days. Guided down a cobbled lane, slick with fallen autumn foliage and beset by stone structures of crumbling antiquity, you come to see the spire which towers into the dusk ahead. Any sign of daylight has nearly expired, and you’re overcome with a sudden sense of dread at the sight before you…

It’s been nearly 60 years since Tony Iommi introduced us to the downtrodden, tritonus melody of “Black Sabbath”, and it continues to haunt and inspire listeners to this day. We can trace the roots of most heavy metal back to that singular moment in time, but arguably it’s the subgenre of doom metal where we feel its influence most significantly. Many bands have come to define the sound of doom, but few perhaps are as synonymous with it as My Dying Bride. Since 1990, My Dying Bride has come to champion this slow and miserable din where many of their peers have either moved onto new territory or dropped off entirely. While the band have certainly groped at the edges of darkness for new ideas throughout their 30-years-plus reign, their sense of identity has seldom wavered, and their output has remained consistently strong. That said, it’s been my opinion that the weakest entry into their discography (if we’re to exclude the experimental and ambient Evinta, which was still intriguing in its own right) was their most recent outing, The Ghost of Orion.

The period in which The Ghost of Orion was written was a challenging time for the band, most notably with vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe’s daughter receiving a cancer diagnosis. So, it gives me no pleasure to take a negative stance toward the record, especially knowing the personal burden and catharsis contained within it. The production, specifically on the vocals, however, and its inconsistent writing make it difficult to hold it to the same standard as even some of their other recent works, like Feel the Misery and A Map of All Our Failures. Therefore, it’s with some skepticism that I took the plunge into the mire that is My Dying Bride‘s fifteenth and newest full-length offering, A Mortal Binding. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but what I found at its depths is an album that will no doubt come to stand as a classic among classics.

“Her Dominion”, as an opener, feels comparable in structure to “The Wreckage of My Flesh”, from 2004’s Songs of Darkness, Words of Light. Biblical and loathsome in its presentation, the track showcases all the cornerstones that have come to comprise the My Dying Bride sound. Aaron’s harsh and dusty rasps, characterized by raw, emotional conviction, along with his dark, poetic verses drive the song forward. “Her Dominion” comes up short if we’re comparing it to a song like “The Wreckage of My Flesh”, but overall, it’s an effective, albeit somewhat repetitive introduction that sets the tone for what’s to come. The second track and first single from the album, “Thornwyck Hymn”, is vintage My Dying Bride through and through. Shaun MacGowan has his first of many opportunities to shine here, with a violin performance that perfectly complements the crooning, harmonized guitar melodies of Andrew Craighan and newcomer Neil Blanchett. Aaron, too, has several moments of greatness here, especially in the delivery of his clean vocals. The song closes with an acapella of the line ‘I wither coldly and then I am gone‘, which is simply chilling.

“The 2nd of Three Bells” is the second single from the album, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s one of the best songs that My Dying Bride has written in years. Punctuated with some of the finest and most melancholic melodies on the album, the band also briefly dips into the well of death-doom brutality that shaped their earlier history. The vocal melody which makes up the latter portion of the song, beginning on the line, ‘Here comes my wounded hand‘ is Aaron at his woeful best. Interwoven with Shaun’s violin, it becomes an absolutely sublime moment on the album. “The 2nd of Three Bells” is a triumph – not only in the confines of A Mortal Binding, but for the genre itself.

“Unthroned Creed” follows, lurching gracefully between somber and sinister swagger, with Aaron embracing his inner Tom G. Warrior at mid-point with a haunting, monotone spoken word reminiscent of Celtic Frost. This track showcases some of the heavier moments on A Mortal Binding, and it’s another of the more memorable songs at that. Tipping the scales at eleven-plus minutes, “The Apocalyptist” is a bleak odyssey that only My Dying Bride could charter and perhaps holds claim to Aaron’s most poignant lyrics here. Due to its length, this track takes a bit more effort to digest than some of the others, but there are moments of greatness to be found throughout. “A Starving Heart” is another personal favorite on the album, with its old-world mysticism and earthy tone that hearkens back to The Light at the End of the World. A Mortal Binding at last ends with “Crushed Embers” building towards a fiery climax before abruptly snuffing the album into silence, which feels jarring but works in conjunction with the final lyric, ‘I faded from my bloodline and took leave of humanity‘.

A Mortal Binding, to me, exceeds its predecessor in every way. There’s a tangible atmosphere throughout this album that pulls you in like black waves to the darkest of seas. Whether it lives up to the great standard the band achieved in the ’90s and early 2000s will be up to time to determine. I wouldn’t hesitate, though, to hold it up next to more modern favorites like Feel the Misery or A Map of All Our Failures. From a production standpoint, this album is certainly more akin to those and more aligned with what I look for from the band. At the end of the day, for being 30 years into their career, to still be releasing music of this caliber is a truly impressive feat. Long live The Bride!

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