Review: My Dying BrideA Mortal Binding

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A decade is a long time, especially in music, but man, Feel The Misery still feels like it came out yesterday. It wasn’t a comeback album—with the exception of maybe Evinta My Dying Bride has been consistently solid for 30 years—but it felt like an album that completely captured, in sound and spirit, the feeling of their best material, an album completely different from Like Gods Of The Sun or Turn Loose The Swans but absolutely in line with their quality.

And while they were never the most prolific band, the album also marked a decline in My Dying Bride’s productivity, though that’s not necessarily a negative. It would be 5 years before we’d get their next full-length record, The Ghost Of Orion. Written in the wake of horrific personal events in vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe‘s life, The Ghost Of Orion was interesting in that it was more lethargic and detached, and while this wasn’t conducive to the most captivating record in their catalog, it’s an album whose mood and tone was notable and distinct. A prospective follow-up to an album like that is hard though, because My Dying Bride didn’t seem to have a clear direction to go in.

Now 4 years later, A Mortal Binding sees My Dying Bride re-introduce themselves a bit toothlessly. “Her Dominion” erupts into life with a riff that’s developed and recontextualized throughout the track, all open and rung-out in its introduction, before being chugged and palm-muted once Aaron’s harsh vocals hit. Though occasionally accented with some distant choral vocals, as a song it’s unfortunately a bit forgettable—all the elements of a great track underdeveloped and plain, composed and framed like a template in a DAW. My Dying Bride’s rhythm section is often pretty overlooked, maybe due to their turnover of drummers over the years, but the drumming, courtesy of Paradise Lost alumni Jeff Singer, sounds great, and is uniformly fantastic throughout the album.

“Thornwyck Hymn” helps gets things on track proper. The clean vocals are as expressive as ever, paired with soaring lead guitars that both act as a great counterpoint to the low, dirge-like guitar performance. “The 2nd Of Three Bells” isn’t entirely different from the first two tracks but something about its delivery feels deliberate and funereal rather than plodding. The unbroken rhythm and strumming pattern throughout much of the song adds so much weight and atmosphere, and Aaron’s vocals are stellar.

“Unthroned Greed” isn’t as impactful, a chugged guitar arpeggio that gives way to spacious open chords, it’s only real dynamism coming in the form of a short mid-track break. “The Apocalyptist” is more aggressive and angular, with harsh vocals scraping against the start-stop guitars. The longest track on the album, it really earns its length: a track that develops and unfolds its layers as it continues, with Shaun MacGowan‘s violin at its most prominent on the album. It’s so well written, compositionally sharp and densely recorded, easily a highlight in My Dying Bride’s entire discography. The definitive turning point on the album.

Following on from that, “A Starving Hand” is less ostentatious on first listen but it shares a lot of the dynamism of “The Apocalyptist”—both displaying My Dying Bride’s knack for pacing and mood—and is another solid track. “Crushed Embers” finishes the album with aplomb, introducing itself with a sharp, melodic guitar arpeggio and tightly syncopated drum-work that forms the backbone of the track. Abruptly ending with dueling harsh-clean vocals, the track neatly sums up the best qualities of A Mortal Binding.

The fact that A Mortal Binding is an album that has many peaks and troughs as it does might speak to My Dying Bride’s knack for cinematic albums, and whatever I might say against it, A Mortal Binding certainly feels like a journey. While in its lesser moments it feels like My Dying Bride spinning their wheels in a style they’ve singularly influenced perhaps more than any other, it still feels —for the most part—driven and deliberate. A lot of bands become slaves to their own style, but My Dying Bride still feels like a project with life in it. And at 30 years, when so many bands pump out the most lifeless shit imaginable from day one? That’s admirable.

3/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell

A Mortal Binding is out April 19th via Nuclear Blast.

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