My Dying Bride - A Mortal Binding

Artist: My Dying Bride

Album Title: A Mortal Binding

Label: Nuclear Blast

Date of Release: 19 April 2024

When a band can boast no fewer than fourteen albums over a career spanning nearly 35 years, it’s inevitable that different fans will have different favourites. It will, no doubt, depend on your age, your musical journey of discovery, or maybe a bit of blind luck. In my case, I discovered Halifax-based My Dying Bride around the release of their fourth album in 1996, ‘Like Gods Of The Sun’. And it was definitely a punt in the dark, that’s for sure. I saw the black digipak on the shelf of a local record store in the days when these existed more prevalently in my home region. It intrigued me, and despite being only a couple of years into my personal voyage of discovery, I was fully aware of the Peaceville label. So, I took a shot.

I still love that record, and the feelings it evokes, not to mention the nostalgic element that cannot ever be ignored. However, strangely, I’d never say that I’ve been the biggest or most consistent fan of West Yorkshire’s finest death/doom merchants. My enjoyment of ‘Like Gods Of The Sun’ inevitably led me to check out previous records, as well as keep in touch with new albums as and when they came along. But, if I’m honest, their output has been a little hit and miss as far as I’m concerned. When they are on fire, I love them. When they’re not, I’m much less keen. I lavished high praise on their last album, ‘The Ghost Of Orion’ and rather liked large parts of ‘For Lies I Sire’. But ’34.788%’ wasn’t my thing, whilst ‘Songs Of Darkness, Words Of Light’ left me pretty cold.

What about ‘A Mortal Binding’, then? Where does this fit into my personal hierarchy of My Dying Bride material?

To answer that question, I feel I need to use words like ‘frustrated’ quite a lot. You see, there’s a lot to really enjoy about this new album, much of which I shall dive into shortly. However, when I add everything up, and take the sum of all its parts into account, I’m left feeling…well, frustrated.

The fact that there are so many good aspects to this album only makes it all the worse when I reach the conclusion that I have. For a start, I absolutely adore the artwork that adorns ‘A Mortal Binding’; it’s probably my favourite cover of them all, certainly since the very early years. I also find the production to be nothing short of magnificent. I love the resonant crunch and bite of Andrew Craighan’s and Neil Blanchett’s guitars. Lena Abé’s deep bass rumble is marvellous, whilst the drums courtesy of the returning Dan Mullins snap and hit hard, and Shaun MacGowan’s violin cuts through wonderfully. In addition, the separation and clarity of the mix allows all elements of My Dying Bride’s music to shine. But those riffs sound immense and are the stand-out aspect for me within such a brilliant production.

I also like the fact that we hear both clean and gruff vocals from Aaron Stainthorpe, sometimes both within an individual song, or mixing it up from one track to the next.

All of the ingredients are therefore present and correct for My Dying Bride to hit a home run with ‘A Mortal Binding’. Unfortunately, whilst there are some great songs to be heard here, the quality is not as consistent and impressive as I would have dearly loved. Despite moments within each that pique my interest a little, tracks like ‘Unthroned Creed’ and the finale, ‘Crushed Embers’ leave me a little unmoved and disappointed in the context of this album. It’s all subjective of course, but these songs don’t hit me as powerfully as I would have liked, and I find myself itching to skip on, or end the album earlier than intended. And when there are only seven tracks in total, having two or three that fall short is a pretty big deal.

My Dying Bride - A Mortal Binding

On the positive side, however, are tracks like the incredible ‘The Apocalyptist’, an eleven-minute epic that sums up just about everything that’s so wonderful about My Dying Bride when they hit the sweet spot. Opening with clean guitar and bass notes, alongside a plaintive violin melody, the sextet then descends into much heavier territory, with heavy, lumbering riffs, pinched harmonics, and savage growls from Stainthorpe, accented by bursts of double pedal drumming. Calming slightly, the violin is reintroduced to reprise the opening melodic refrains before in marches one of the best riffs on the album; melodic, chunky, satisfying, it punches me hard in the gut and I love it. It’s short-lived as the composition then meanders on but retains my full attention and affection as riffs and violin merge in gorgeous harmony, creating one of the most immediate and stunning passages on the album, full of Gothic romanticism and dark seductiveness. There’s not a moment I’d change on this most exquisite of songs as it uses its extended run-time to the fullest extent, fully justifiable in my eyes.

I’ve grown to enjoy the opening track, too. ‘Her Dominion’ is a strange one in some respects given the stop/start nature of it, and the churning nature of the riffs at points. It never really releases, or changes tack from its main two or three riffs, but those riffs start to really get under your skin and become a little hypnotic after a while. Plus, the sheer weight of the guitars is enough to have an impact on their own. It ends a little abruptly and clunkily, whilst the ‘windswept’ sections where growls dominate are not the greatest elements for my tastes. But, if My Dying Bride can be considered to be catchy, then this is the song where that descriptor is true.

Pushing ‘The Apocalyptist’ close is ‘Thornwyck Hymn’, a track with a thunderous introduction of muscular riffs and even meatier drumming. This is death/doom metal at its finest as slow, ponderous riffs blend in with more furious double pedal drumming to create something properly heavy and arresting. The vocals of Stainthorpe are clean and drip with his brand of fragile emotion, whilst the violin melody that emerges alongside a more melodious riff is like nectar to my ears.

There is much to like about both ‘The 2nd Of Three Bells’ and ‘A Starving Heart’, as well. The latter is a more instantly melodic composition, starting off gently with a delicate clean-picked guitar melody, alongside semi-clean strumming. And then…in comes the heavy riffs, alongside a steady rhythm and swathes of dramatic keys, courtesy of Shaun MacGowan. It’s a lush and inviting soundscape that is both beautiful and seductively dark. The former is about as Gothic and opulent as these guys get, with subtle melodies that grow with every passing listen, to a point where I end up really appreciating them and taking them to my heart. The abrupt burst of death metal brutality in the latter stages is a nice touch and helps to ensure that the ensuing return to more melodic climes with violin embellishments is all the more satisfying.

Maybe, with a little more thought, my ‘frustrated’ comment may seem a little harsh, seeing as how much quality can be heard within large parts of ‘A Mortal Binding’. I might grow to like the songs that I’m not so keen on at the moment, only time will tell on that score. But I have to speak as I find and, with just seven tracks on offer, to have two significant compositions fall a little short is disappointing, especially when the rest of the record is so strong. I’ll still buy this album; I know I will. The good songs are too good not to have in my collection and the artwork is so damn pretty that it’ll look great on the shelf. But, as superb as some of the music is here, I just can’t help wishing that it was a little more consistent overall.

The Score of Much Metal: 85%



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