My Dying Bride are lucky to make it to their 30th anniversary. That’s because a little while ago, it was almost all over for the British gothic and death-doom metal pioneers. Following 2015’s album, ‘Feel the Misery’, vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe’s daughter, five years old at the time, was diagnosed with cancer. Naturally, he put all his band activities on hold to dedicate his time to her. Stainthorpe had never been a religious man, but the news reaffirmed his scepticism of dieities. “I heard Stephen Fry doing a talk in Australia and it was regarding religion. The first thing he said was, ‘If there’s a god, can you explain bone cancer in children?’ And that was years ago before we had the cancer in our child. And when when cancer shows up – it’s awful when it happens to a person who’s generally a bit older – but when it happens to a child, it is absolutely devastating. You instantly, instantly think there cannot be a god, because what is the point of this? And again, some people will argue, ‘Well, he’s testing your belief, you know’, and it’s like, ‘Fuck off’. This is a terrifying, absolutely awful thing and if there’s a god, what on Earth is going on? And what have I done to deserve this?”
Stainthorpe said it wasn’t just about his family either. When he went to the hospital, he said his five-year-old was the oldest in her ward. “And you realise there are babies with cancer. Some cynics think cancer; you get cancer from plastic or if you eat microwave meals all day long for the rest of your life and you drink out of plastic things and … it’s all chemicals… How does that work in babies? They haven’t been around long enough to have the poison of those sort of things. So it’s just an awful situation and plenty of the album – if you read between some of the lines – is questioning in the same way that I’m questioning: I don’t know what’s going on. If there’s a god, could it be a bit nicer? Would it kill him?”
Though he’s not a believer, he doesn’t want to void it for others who need it. “I’m not anti-religion, because, I know for a fact that some people need the church to help them to get through life. Life is tough, and if you can find a crutch there to help you through – whatever religion it might be – that’s absolutely fine. I’m not gonna start yelling and shouting that you’re doing it wrong. I’m just not a huge fan of the blatant and blind massive corporate religion. We all know the Pope’s sat on trillions of dollars but won’t release it for the poor, and you just wonder, ‘Okay, that’s that’s a bit odd. What’s going on there?’ And you know that half the priests around the world are having sex with children. Everybody knows that. And yet why aren’t the police at the Vatican? It just does not make any fucking sense whatsoever, and yet, even old grannies who live at the end of your street; they know what’s going on and they still go every Sunday, and I just think … what on Earth are you believing in?”
The misfortune did not stop there. In 2018, returning original member and guitarist Calvin Robertshaw announced his immediate departure. Then, just as My Dying Bride had regrouped after news that Stainthorpe’s daughter was effectively cancer free, returning drummer Shaun Taylor-Steels departed right before the band were about to enter the studio to make album 14, ‘The Ghost of Orion’. “Compared to my daughter’s cancer, it’s absolutely fuck all,” Stainthorpe says. “So, these are simple hurdles that we can easily get over. And we have got over them. The proof is in the pudding.” Stainthorpe says Robertshaw left the band because he longed for a more furious pace – one which death-doom couldn’t offer. “I think it’s because Calvin was always a thrasher. He really liked his stuff 100 miles an hour. And when he could see which direction we were heading in, I think he just thought, ‘You know what, that’s not my cup of tea anymore’. While not ideal, it did allow original guitarist Andrew Craighan free rein to do anything he liked. “You give that opportunity to any guitarist and they will go for it,” Stainthorpe says. “So the album was sort of written with Andrew, Lena (Abé, bass) and Sean (Macgowan, violin and keyboard). I was too busy in the hospital with my daughter. I took no part in the writing process whatsoever except right at the end.”
Along with the change in lineup, there was another personnel change on The Ghost of Orion – the producer. They had used Rob “Mags” Magoolagan on every record bar their 1992 debut, ‘As the Flower Withers’, but the timing didn’t work and they ended up hiring Mark Mynett at Mynetaur Productions – a PhD in engineering, producing and mixing. “Mags was getting busier and busier. We knew it would be tricky to nail Mags down for this next recording and people have recommended Mark. So we gave him a ring, asked him if he would be willing to help us out and he was all over it. Very, very enthusiastic. So we did the album with him, and now he’s going to be our live gig engineer as well. So we’ve got Jeff, Neil (Blanchett) and Mark all coming along for a ride and everything feels rosy again.”
Mynett not only filled their producer vacancy; he also fixed their drummer problem. When Taylor-Steels left the day before they were due to go in the studio, Mynett had an idea. “Mark at the studio decided, ‘Don’t panic everybody, Jeff Singer’s (ex-Paradise Lost) drum kit is in my studio now because he was doing some session work earlier. I’ll give Jeff a ring. We’ll meet up in the studio same time as planned and we’ll see if Jeff wants to drum on the album’. And that very next day Jeff is drumming the album. So, you know, it’s almost like every cloud has a silver lining. So now Jeff’s in the band.” Robertshaw was replaced by Blanchett; though he joined after the album’s recording.
If new members and producers weren’t destabilising enough, MDB also left their comfy home of 25 years – Peaceville Records – for a different label. The band, set on broadening their fan base, signed with Nuclear Blast in 2017. “Peaceville were great and we still have a good strong relationship with them. I was at (founder) Hammy’s (Paul Halmshaw) birthday party just a couple of weeks ago. But they did everything they could for us, and we still felt – particularly after the reviews of the previous album, Feel The Misery, which was the best of our entire career – great, we are still relevant and we have more to offer. But do we have the right platform to expand? And we didn’t think we did.” Since Feel The Misery was the final album on the contract with Peaceville, the label encouraged them to look around. “We know you’re going to look for other offers and you’d be silly not to,” Stainthorpe paraphrases. “‘When you get these offers, let’s have a look at them, and if we can match them or beat them, we’ll try our best’. And they’ve done that over the years, which is why we stayed with them. If Peaceville could have matched Nuclear Blast’s offer, fine, but they still wouldn’t have been able to expand My Dying Bride. Everybody had their eye on Nuclear Blast – they’re the movers and shakers – and we hoped that they would be interested. And luckily there were 11 labels all hankering over a piece of My Dying Bride. Nuclear Blast had by far the best offer, so it was a given. We signed to those guys, we said goodbye to Peaceville and I think so far it’s the right move.”
With a bigger label comes bigger opportunities, so the band are wanting to get to one place they haven’t been – Australia. MDB are hoping they may be able to partner up with a couple of likeminded Nuclear Blast bands and finally get to Australia to play some live shows. Stainthorpe says they’ve never been capable of doing it in the past because the numbers just weren’t there. “It’s fine getting the odd text message and email from fans down there saying, ‘We love you. You’ve got loads of fans down here’. But when our promoter in London rings the promoters in Australia, some go, ‘Who?’ They’ve never even heard of My Dying Bride so they won’t book us. But things are really changing now. So I think the move to Nuclear Blast has ticked so many boxes and it’s going to be the right thing. We’re going to end up down there because of this move. It won’t be this year obviously, but we always sort of thought it’ll be 2021.”
Stainthorpe says cynics will probably think now they’re signed to Nuclear Blast and their new album is more “accessible” that they are sell outs. He has other ideas. “When we were still on Peaceville we knew that our next album was going to be a bit more accessible. We spent years being quite technical and showing off a bit. When you’re younger, you’re trying to prove yourself and you’d write weird riffs that would be a bit jarring on the ears and you’d play them three-and-a-half times and then change to another awkward riff and play that seven-and-a-half times and they were really awkward. And you know, we’re getting a bit long in the tooth now, and me and Andrew decided, ‘You know what, why don’t we write an album that you’ve got four great riffs; let’s play the first one four times. When you feel that natural change coming, let’s change. Let’s not fight it like we’ve done in the past’, so that’s exactly what we’ve done. Again, cynics will say My Dying Bride has sold out because: ‘Look at the new album. Look how polished and clean it is’. I think the production’s the best we’ve ever had. And we still get diehards complaining that it’s too clean, it’s too overproduced. But then we get diehards complaining about every single album we’ve ever made. It’s part of the territory. We just wanted to write songs that were … accessible. They’re more accessible from a My Dying Bride point of view. You’ve still got some very long, heavy songs in there, which to the average listener are still too awkward for them to really enjoy. So it’s not like we’ve written an album with 25 three-minute songs on it.”
With perhaps the most tumultuous period of the band’s career behind them, it’s on and up for the six-piece. And don’t worry, they’ve still got the violin, keyboards, Romantic era literary devices and obsessively long songs serving as distinct identifiers. It might just sound better in your headphones now.
The Ghost of Orion is out now via Nuclear Blast.