Hot on the heels of ex-bandmate Hamish Glencross’s latest effort with new band Godthrymm comes The Ghost Of Orion (Nuclear Blast), the fourteenth full-length from Yorkshire Gothic Doom royalty My Dying Bride. This year celebrating 30 years as an entity, any pressure the band may have felt is counteracted by an expectedly assured, emotionally raw performance that comes with such craftsmanship and experience. Continue reading
More often than not the most gut-wrenching, profound music has its roots in real-life experience. Throughout a career celebrating its silver jubilee this year, that’s been the case for Halifax, West Yorkshire Gothic Doomsters My Dying Bride. New album Feel The Misery (Peaceville) is arguably their finest, a tour de force of despair which possesses the deathly steel of earlier years.
Vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe explains the creative process: “Emotions are almost elbowed to one side during recording. You’re aware that time is money so you’ve got to crack on in the studio. Writing is different. We really put a lot of effort into our songs as we want them to have an impact, something that touches you and lifts you to a different place. We imagine people listening to our music with headphones on, their eyes closed and just enjoying the experience: going off on a journey, as dark as it may be. It sounds clichéd but when I write the lyrics I always do so in the middle of the night. It’s practical as well as emotive: just undisturbed, quiet time. I only write when I’m feeling pretty low, so what you end up getting is words from somebody who’s not in a great place.”
Album opener ‘And My Father Left Forever’ didn’t start out as autobiographical, but it sadly assumed such significance. “I wrote the song last December. Sadly my Father died in January, right in the middle of recording” explains Aaron with no little emotion. “The guys said “You know, we can change the title, we can drop it.” But I wanted to go ahead with it because when I wrote it I felt deeply passionate about it. I had to take a break but, when I came back, I was in a very dark place but I went for it and did everything I had to do. When you finish an album, it’s customary to go out for a curry or a beer…there was nothing like that this time. It was a sad period.”
Aaron’s intonations are usually a perfect blend of romance, horror and drama. This time however, his harsh vocal stands out. “I was possessed, obviously. When I returned to the studio I was angry and sad at the same time so when it came to do the Death Metal things, they weren’t a problem at all. Normally when I’m singing I stand up straight but here I was, hunched and screaming in agony. I was moving further away from the mic so they had to lower it a good few inches to capture it all! Subsequently I was spent: I couldn’t talk for a day or two afterwards. It’s great that after 25 years I’ve still got that ability, but I think my Father’s death pulled out a performance that may not have been there otherwise.”
The harsher elements of the band’s past are revisited frequently during the album, assisted by occasionally rampant rhythm section Lena Abé and Dan Mullins. It’s easy to conclude, somewhat mistakenly, that the return to Academy Studios and the welcoming of original guitarist Calvin Robertshaw back into the fold have been telling factors: “I guess the studio must have made a contribution. Our usual studio, Futureworks in Manchester, was unavailable. We knew Academy, and our drummer Dan is learning how to be a studio engineer there. We asked ourselves if it was a risk, letting him twiddle the knobs: he’s in the band too of course, so he didn’t want to fuck it up. But he did a grand job. I couldn’t believe just how skilled he was; I was really impressed.
“Calvin actually returned quite late in the day, when most of the album was already written. He contributed a few riffs and some lovely harmonies, but Feel The Misery is 95% Andrew Craighan’s guitarwork. I don’t really know why it’s got that old-school feel to it. What goes around comes around I suppose, and we’re sort of back where we started.”
Speaking of which, that 25th anniversary. There are no plans of a celebratory DVD and tour for this unique outfit: “We’re not really celebrating it. We would have liked a party, because it is some kind of milestone: we just haven’t got around to organising it yet! I made some coffee mugs for everybody, that’s as far as our quarter-of-a-century celebrations have gone! I’m sure something will happen around Christmas-time, when the summer festivals are out of the way and when the album is comfortably out. We’re not making a huge fuss about it. There are people saying “Why don’t you do the whole of Turn Loose The Swans (Peaceville Records) at a great venue in London or Paris” (but) we thought “Meeh, everyone’s done that!” We figured we’d just release a great album instead.” It’s said with tongue-in-cheek, but a sense of satisfaction also.
That reluctance to tour widely is borne of pure integrity: “We want people to feel the experience. In the early days we lit loads of incense sticks before we went on stage because we wanted people to smell us! We only do about ten shows a year. That’s not due to being bone idle, it’s because we want to make sure that when we do a show, people talk about it. We want to give 100% every time as we need each show to be filled with passion.”
For a band still averaging an album every two years, it’s natural to think that My Dying Bride would be getting more selective about their ingredients. Aaron dismisses this notion. “I think we’re becoming less choosy about the material. Andrew invited me round to his house one evening, to hear some riffs. They were bright, not the uber-crushing Doom riffs you normally get, but they had a melancholic harmony running through them and I thought “That’s absolutely perfect! Go with that”. He was relieved because in the past we’d have thought “It’s too bright: if it’s not crushing the soul and spirit, we don’t want it.” These days we’re allowing a little bit more of the twiddly guitars and the rather nice, pleasant moments to seep in because we’ve learned over the years that those moments pick people up, which means when the pulverising riffs return, they push people all the way back down again. If you’ve got 100% crushing Doom all the way through your album, the impact will be at the very beginning, then people just get used to it and it becomes a non-entity. If you hold people up, then drop them from a great height, repeatedly, they’re going to notice it!”
That balance is so evident throughout the record although, with typical candour and modesty, Aaron underplays the intent: “That’s a fluke because when we write, we don’t know whether the album’s going to be more Death Metal-heavy, Doomier, where the Gothic bits are going…we just don’t plan it. We don’t write it all down, we go with the flow and see what comes out.”
The master of understatement. Among its many stories Feel The Misery pores forth the heartbreak of a lovely, eloquent, candid gentleman, and returns My Dying Bride to total supremacy in the process.
Feel The Misery is out now via Peaceville Records
WORDS BY PAUL QUINN
When the history of doom metal is written, English miserabilists My Dying Bride will have their own chapter; preferably written in gothic script by a quill. As part of the ‘Peaceville Three’, along with Paradise Lost and Anathema, they helped redefine doom by blending it with the aggression of death metal and in the process created timeless classics such as Turn Loose the Swans and The Angel and the Dark River, the latter of which earned them a support slot with none other than Iron Maiden.
While their contemporaries have strayed from the path and ventured into electronic and prog territories, the Bride have steadfastly remained committed to northern darkness, with each release brimming with misery, despair and loss. Twelfth full length Feel the Misery (all Peaceville) is no exception, and while a cynic may claim that such a title indicates the band are falling into self-parody, only a fool would doubt the sheer mastery of the songs contained within.
After years spent dealing with an inconsistent line-up with drummers here one minute and gone the next, things looked even bleaker last year with the departure of long-term guitarist Hamish Glencross. However a replacement was soon found with original guitarist Calvin Robertshaw returning to the fold, and his presence has been an undeniable shot in the arm.
Opening track ‘And My Father Left Forever’ is vintage Bride, featuring pacy riffing, ghostly keyboards and some typically morbid lyrics from vocalist and figurehead Aaron Stainthorpe. Written about the recent death of his father, it’s an absolutely gut-wrenching way to open an album, with Stainthorpe opening his heart about the grief he experienced. The heaviness is jacked up with the grimy chugging and guttural vocals of ‘To Shiver in Empty Halls’ with both Robertshaw and fellow axeman Andrew Craighan perfectly in sync with each other. The snail-paced second half with its stark atmosphere and spoken word spills into funeral doom territory before finishing with a macabre folk song that in any other band’s hands would sound absurd, but here is perfect.
‘A Cold New Curse’ flits between lurching riffing and sprawling melancholy with Stainthorpe sounding utterly furious and disgusted over the thunderous fretwork while the devastating riff of the title track would have stood proud amongst the finest material on the aforementioned The Angel and the Dark River, not least for the desperately sad violin-led chorus where Stainthorpe plaintively asks “Is there hope for me?”
While the guitars play a prominent part and sound as harrowing as ever, it’s on tracks such as the beautiful ‘A Thorn of Wisdom’ where a basic piano motif, choral ambience and a snaking bassline from the understated yet competent Lena Abe take the listener on a emotional journey. This mellower avenue is further explored on the heartbreaking ‘I Almost Loved You’, where the overwhelming bleakness threatens to take over, recalling tracks such as the seminal ‘Sear Me MCMXCIII’ from Turn Loose the Swans.
The Bride’s brand of tar-thick chords and personal misery will always be an acquired taste and their straddling of the doom/death and gothic metal scenes have lead to them being rejected by purists. However, while their dismissal by the masses may appear a travesty at face value, their staunch authenticity and willingness to continue exploring the avenues of misery in uncompromising style is to be cherished. After twenty-five years in the game, their long march towards the sinister continues and Feel the Misery has to rank among their best works.