Monday 6 May 2024

My Dying Bride - A Mortal Binding (2024)

Country: UK
Style: Doom/Death Metal
Rating: 9/10
Release Date: 6 May 2024
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I liked My Dying Bride's previous album, 2020's The Ghost of Orion, rather a lot, though it's proved a little polarising with fans. Some see it as the best thing they've ever done, while others, well, do not with vehemence. I wonder what the reaction to this one will be, given that it's less a follow up and more a reaffirmation of everything that this band does. Sure, as with that prior album, it's all fundamentally doom metal, but it's done with serious emphasis this time, almost as if they didn't mean it before and they really, really mean it now.

Lead vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe moved a little back into the band's original doom/death territory on The Ghost of Orion, but he doubles down here, practically spitting out his lyrics at the start of opener, Her Dominion. He stays harsh for much of this song and he follows suit on a bunch of other tracks, most obviously The Apocalyptist. Of course, he doesn't stay there throughout, shifting to a clean melancholy voice for Thornwyck Hymn and The 2nd of Three Bells, but returning to harsh when a song needs it. There's a neat alternation between clean and harsh on Crushed Embers as he duets with himself.

Maybe it's just the crisp production by Mark Mynett, but it feels like the two guitarists, Andrew Craighan and Neil Blanchett, both mean it all the more this time too. The riffing here is cavernous from the glorious staccato riff early in Her Dominion onwards. The slower metal gets, the more important the riffs become. The riffs on this album are consistently instant, few of them remotely complex and some slow enough to be sets of power chords, but every one nailing what it needs to do. For something completely different, there's an elegant duet between acoustic and electric guitars to open up A Starving Heart too.

Back to the production again, the bass of Lena Abé is easily distinguishable within the mix and it's far more than just an underpinning for the heaviness of the guitars. Of course, it does that and it does it deliciously, but it also does a lot more, especially in moments where the guitars step back and Abé often carries on, often serving as the change between sections. The drum sound is strong too and returning drummer Dan Mullins, who played with My Dying Bride from 2007-2012, joining at the same time as Abé, who never left, has a varied approach that's sometimes patient but also sometimes prominent, as on Unthroned Creed where he could easily have held back far more but adds a jagged rhythm instead.

That leaves Shaun McGowan, who's responsible for the vast majority of the gothic feel nowadays, not through his keyboards but through his violin. Those keyboards are there right from the start, adding texture behind the opening of Her Dominion, but we have to pay attention to hear it over most of the album. The violin, on the other hand, dominates whenever it shows up, which is often. It's a perfect instrument to echo the melancholy of Stainthorpe's clean vocals, but it works just as well adding that aching feel behind his harsh voice too on The Apocalyptist, and of course serving as a soloing instrument.

Apparently there was tension within the band while they were recording this, which ought to be a shame. We always want people to get along, but maybe that friction helped bring the vibrancy to this album that wasn't there last time out. Is it anger and frustration that fuels the attitude that pervades this album? I have no idea, but whatever it is worked a charm. Everything here is stellar. Of course, it tends to happen this way but my first 9/10 for the year came as recently as 29th April and yet here's another one on 3rd May. I loved it on a first listen but it just gets better on repeats.

Her Dominion kicks it off hard with angry harsh vocals and a vicious punch of a riff. Opening single Thornwyck Hymn and The 2nd of Three Bells shift back to the clean approach they ran with for lots of albums. All three are excellent songs, but Unthroned Creed raises the bar with a solid chugging riff and a catchy vocal line, the combination reminding of Candlemass. On my first time through, The Apocalyptist after it was my favourite of these seven tracks by far, but, on each return visit, Unthroned Creed threatens to match it.

That said, The Apocalyptist is gorgeous. It's the longest track here and it's the standout, its riffs simple but thoroughly effective, it's vocals blistering. Stainthorpe gets serious attitude into his death growls here and no less feeling in the clean ones. There's also a delightful violin during the elegant midsection and the song grows and evolves effortlessly, even though it travels quite a lot of ground over its eleven and a half minutes. A Starving Heart is an achingly slow counter with a vocal that moves from pleading to angry to commanding. Crushed Embers takes the album home with style.

This is a generous album at almost fifty-five minutes, even if it's slightly shorter than The Ghost of Orion, and it's consistently strong throughout. I'm half a dozen listens in now and, every time, I'm just as engrossed by every song as on my first time through. I liked its predecessor enough to give it a highly recommended 8/10 here, but this is easily a step up. I wonder how the folk who see that one as their best album thus far—I don't, by the way—will see this one.

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