A Mortal Binding

Nuclear Blast
rating icon 8.5 / 10

Track listing:

01. Her Dominion
02. Thornwyck Hymn
03. The 2nd Of Three Bells
04. Unthroned Creed
05. The Apocalyptist
06. A Starving Heart
07. Crushed Embers

As dedicated as they are to conjuring dark, desolate reveries, it is MY DYING BRIDE's essential humanity that continues to enable their music to cut deep. Evoking the remorseless grimness of human existence is a popular pastime in doom metal, but even this band's metaphors have always arrived stained with blood: a reminder that every artifice has a beating heart behind it. Perhaps influenced by our species' ongoing descent into madness, "A Mortal Binding" has been a longtime coming, but the prolonged wait turns out to have been little more than preparation for one of MY DYING BRIDE's heaviest albums in a long time.

Last time out, the Brits' released "The Ghost of Orion": an album that was widely agreed to be a fresh peak in the MDB discography. That album was overtly melodic and unusually sprightly, as another lineup change was swiftly assimilated, and chief songwriters Andrew Craighan and Aaron Stainthorpe blossomed and flourished anew in response. "A Mortal Binding" is notable for both its similarity to, and difference from, its predecessor. Yet another change of drummer aside (longtime alumnus Dan Mullins replaces the departing Jeff Singer),  this feels like a typically askance evolutionary step; the boldness and clarity of "The Ghost of Orion" attached to material that reaches into MY DYING BRIDE's dark past and draws back a bloody stump.

Craighan's ability to continually reinvent the band's melodic trademarks has long been their most potent weapon, and while "A Mortal Binding" is an often-brutal affair, there are numerous moments of effortless sophistication, fueled by the guitarist's seemingly inexhaustible well of inspiration. Combined with lyrics and performances from Stainthorpe that are more unhinged and hostile than expected, MY DYING BRIDE's ageless sound has rarely sounded more alive to its own possibilities. Blending savagery with refinement, the opening "Her Dominion" is a glowering demon of a song, with Stainthorpe a howling, abominable presence at its heart. "Thornwyck Hymn" is an immaculate example of late period, classic MY DYING BRIDE, wherein the oppressive austerity of early benchmarks like "Turn Loose the Swans" meets the poetic richness of their most recent creations. Even a pitiless centerpiece like "The Apocalyptist" defies expectation, with scabrous, monochrome doom riffs that leave enchanting ghost melodies hanging in the air, and a sense of impending catastrophe that feels more hopeful than harrowing.

Elsewhere, "The 2nd of Three Bells" finds a gothic cautionary tale lurking in the middle of an ornate maze of riffs; and "A Starving Heart" dares to reimagine traditional doom as the grief-stricken soundtrack for some surreal, ceremonial ritual.

As ever, the heaviness is twofold: MY DYING BRIDE have always bulldozed with conviction in a musical sense, but this album carries a vast emotional burden too. The thin line between artistic conceit and jarring reality becomes particularly nebulous on the closing "Crushed Embers", a snail's pace dirge for the dying of the light, and one of its creators' most affecting songs in years.

Another year passes, and the light of hope grows feebler by the day. Luckily, we have MY DYING BRIDE to document our well-deserved demise, and "A Mortal Binding" is another righteous addition to that proud, prophetic legacy.

Author: Dom Lawson
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