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Tired of Tears: How My Dying Bride Overcame Adversity to Make 'The Ghost of Orion'

Thursday, 05 March 2020 Written by Matt Mills

If their name doesn’t give the game away, My Dying Bride are an extremely miserable bunch. As of 2020, they’ve been peddling depressive doom metal for exactly 30 years, and are responsible for 13 albums packed to the brim with melancholia.

To listen to My Dying Bride is to be immersed in a funeral march. Their songs are long and patient, crawling forward with pensive rhythms and hammering guitar riffs. Humming violins only up the heartbreak, as do the diverse vocal displays of frontman Aaron Stainthorpe, who regularly switches between angered screams and remorseful clean singing. “Our music, it’s preparation,” guitarist Andrew Craighan says of his band’s bleak stylings. “It’s camouflage. By writing songs involved in things that are so miserable, it allows us to cope with real life.”

Craighan, white wine in hand and with Stainthorpe at his side, is sitting in the lobby of a hotel in King’s Cross, London. The duo co-founded My Dying Bride in the summer of 1990, and are here as part of the press tour to promote the outfit’s latest slab of darkness, ‘The Ghost of Orion’. It’s a record that comes almost five years after its predecessor, ‘Feel The Misery’, ending what was My Dying Bride’s longest musical dry spell to date. 

Although it’s common for long-serving artists of their ilk to take so much time between new releases (thanks, Metallica), this half-decade gap was certainly not by choice. “There were times when I thought the band was over, and that we’d never recover mentally, or care enough,” Craighan remembers. “The fact that we got through it all, I can’t tell if it’s a testament to our stupidity or resilience.”

Ironically, as My Dying Bride entered the studio to record ‘Feel The Misery’ in late 2014, the six-piece felt that they were poised to enter the most settled and prolific era of their career. Earlier that year, the band had been reunited with fellow co-founder (and longtime fan favourite), guitarist Calvin Robertshaw, after his exit 17 years earlier. They were still releasing music on Peaceville Records, which had been their home since their 1992 debut album, ‘As The Flower Withers’. 

Plus, the band were set to re-embrace their death-metal-tinged roots. ‘Feel The Misery’ would feature Stainthorpe’s most prominent use of growled vocals in over a decade. “At the time, I thought things were OK,” Craighan says. “We were confident we had the music and the skills. We had everything we wanted. The people were in place, everyone seemed happy. It was probably as stable as it was going to get.”

The first blow against the regenerated group came at the start of the new year, when Aaron’s father, Archie Stainthorpe, passed away aged 74. “A lot of the album was already done,” the singer recalls. “We’ve had a lot of hurdles in My Dying Bride but we’ve got over all of them. I knew that that was a big one; I needed a breather.”

As a result, although the recording of ‘Feel The Misery’ wrapped in early 2015, its release wouldn’t arrive until that September. Touring off the back of the album began properly in March the following year, before a handful of festival slots saw My Dying Bride through to 2017. It was a slow but comfortable pace for the veterans, and perfect for their recuperating vocalist, who was now spending more time with long-lost members of his father’s family.

“I thought I was the last male Stainthorpe,” Aaron says. “Until an uncle we didn’t even know about showed up! He came out of the woodwork for my dad’s funeral. He’s a big walker, so, after that, he and I just walked. We walked and walked together. I was given another lease on life.”

My Dying Bride’s momentum picked up again in spring 2017, with the surprising news of them leaving the Peaceville roster after more than 25 years. Fans began to see a potential 13th album on the horizon, this time destined to arrive via the large-scale Nuclear Blast label.

This second wind would prove painfully short. As that summer decayed into autumn, Stainthorpe’s five-year-old daughter started experiencing pain in her left side. Then her parents noticed a lump developing in the same area. It ran from her hip to her armpit, growing to the point that it physically pushed out her ribcage. The young girl was diagnosed as having Wilms’ tumour: a rare form of cancer that attacks the kidneys of children. Naturally, Aaron’s world was shattered.

“It was as horrendous as you can imagine it to be,” he says. “Everything stops. Everything. And not just the band: ‘The boiler man’s coming around next week? Not anymore!’ And it has to stop, because nothing else matters.”

He adds: “People with other kids of a similar age go, ‘I don’t know what I’d do.’ You’d do exactly what I did. You’ve just got to get on with it. The doctor takes you away into a room to give you the news and there are tears galore, all while my daughter’s playing with the nurses two doors down. We can’t go in there crying; she’d wonder what the fuck’s going on. If you tell her it’s cancer, she’s no better off. She doesn’t know what that means.

“They started chemotherapy the next day. You see what the doctors use for it and there are warnings everywhere: ‘toxic’, ‘radioactive’. Then you have to go, ‘Yeah, put that in my five-year-old daughter, that’s fine.’ You’ve just got to man up and get on with it.”

Stainthorpe’s daughter battled cancer for a year. She endured two operations, chemotherapy and radiotherapy before, thankfully, conquering the disease. During those 12 months, the singer unofficially departed My Dying Bride, dedicating himself solely to his loved ones. “We didn’t want to feel like we were drawing him away from this important matter just for the band,” Craighan explains.

The already bleak situation in the My Dying Bride camp grew worse still. As Stainthorpe was absent, Robertshaw and drummer Shaun Taylor-Steels both abruptly quit, with Craighan later describing the pair’s decisions as badly timed and “somewhat wrong”. In a matter of months, already plagued with concern for their frontman, the sextet’s ranks had been halved, and the guitarist was suddenly fighting tooth and nail to maintain his life’s work.

“We thought Calvin could quit if things got tricky,” he says of his former bandmate. “But we never thought it would actually happen. We dared to dream that one of the original guitarists could come in, fill the gap and learn My Dying Bride again.”

Nonetheless, hopeful in spite of the immense odds, Craighan continued to write, penning riffs for what would eventually become ‘The Ghost of Orion’. “I knew he was doing it,” Stainthorpe states. “But I couldn’t be along for the ride. I just didn’t feel it. A year down the line, when my daughter was starting to get better, the album was almost complete.

“Although no one had said, ‘We could do with some lyrics,’ I knew it was coming. And, because she was [recovering], I finally thought, ‘I can do this.’ I listened to the music, headphones on at full blast, and was just like, ‘Fucking hell! This is awesome!’ The connection was remade and the bridge rebuilt—but it was a rickety bridge.”

Stainthorpe gradually returned to the My Dying Bride fold in September 2018. Their lineup was rebuilt thanks to the addition of Vallenfyre guitarist Neil Blanchett and ex-Paradise Lost drummer Jeff Singer, and recording for ‘The Ghost of Orion’ commenced shortly afterwards. Although the album’s instrumental takes were tracked without a hitch, Stainthorpe’s mindset, still wrestling with his recent trauma, meant vocals took a whole year to complete.

To guide the fragile Stainthorpe through such a recording process, producer Mark Mynett adopted a slow, methodical pace. “He wanted me to do things I’d never heard of,” the vocalist explains. “Mark wanted lots of double and triple-tracking to get a nice choral harmony. The first line of the album, I must have recorded it 10 times! Then he’d go, ‘Right, let’s do that with the second line now.’ The first line’s just taken three hours.”

‘The Ghost of Orion’ was a herculean challenge for My Dying Bride in so many ways. However, having now emerged out of the other side, Craighan and Stainthorpe express nothing but pride in their creation, born from the most intense adversity. “I’m so relieved it’s all over,” Stainthorpe sighs. “This is the hardest album I’ve ever done. It was tough, but I can hear that it was worth it now.”

“I am so tired of tears,” the chorus of the album’s latest single says through a forlorn hum. And, knowing about the five years that led up to its parent LP, you absolutely fucking believe it.

‘The Ghost of Orion’ is out on March 6 via Nuclear Blast.

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