My Dying Bride
Songs Of Darkness, Words Of Light
14 March 2007
Words by Justin Donnelly
In the early '90's, four groups emerged from the North of England to release their debut albums almost simultaneously, and as a consequence, changed the face of the U.K. doom/death metal scene forever. Those acts in question were Cathedral, Paradise Lost, Anathema, and the subject of this interview, My Dying Bride.
Since the release of their debut E.P. Symphonaire Infernus Et Spera Empyrium on Peaceville Records in 1992 (The follow up to their 1991 seven inch single God Is Alone on Listenable Records), the long running West Yorkshire based act have continued to challenge their ever growing audience with their unique take on the doom genre (With a sound that is every bit as poetic and melancholy as it is heavy, droning and all round different from any other group within the scene) with each successive release.
After a huge to return to form on 2004's Songs Of Darkness, Words Of Light, My Dying Bride (Who consist of vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe, guitarists Andrew Craighan and Hamish Glencross, bassist Ade Jackson, keyboardist Sarah Stanton and session (Who is otherwise a member of The Prophecy) drummer John Bennett) returned in October (2006) with their highly anticipated ninth full length effort A Line Of Deathless Kings.
While spending the better part of the day taking it easy in bed nursing an unforgiving hangover, I finally caught up with guitarist Hamish Glencross to talk about the group's enduring fifteen-year legacy, the band's newfound sense of inner harmony, and the overall embracement from all quarters to their latest epic A Line Of Deathless Kings.
“We worked hard on A Line Of Deathless Kings, so it's great that people are finally able to hear it. We can really start gauging people's response to it. Throughout the whole time of writing the album, we were just falling in love with the album ourselves, so we just hoped that other people would feel the same way. So far, from all the critics and the interviewers that I've spoken to, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. A lot of people have been giving us some great feedback, and it shows just how much they have been listening to the album. There's been comments like, 'This has some of Stainthorpe's best vocal performance he's ever done', and that's something I completely agree with. They've also commented on the depth and layers of the music itself, and how the contrast has been really turned up, and how we go from extremes to extremes. It just seems that every aspect of what makes up My Dying Bride as to who we are is represented in this album. So the reactions to A Line Of Deathless Kings have been great so far.”
And it's the diversity on A Line Of Deathless Kings that seems to be striking a chord within long time fans and critics alike.
“That's right. That does seem to be the case. It certainly wasn't a conscious move on our behalf. It wasn't like we thought to ourselves, 'Well we haven't done anything like we did on As The Flower Withers (My Dying Bride's 1992 full length debut), so let's tag this mental ending on here!' It all just came out really natural. It was just how we were feeling, and how the music was going. I think it was just the positive vibe we have in the group these days, which is quite strange considering the miserable music that comes out of us! (Laughs) The working process for this album was just so smooth, and we really felt invigorated with the writing of this album. We also had a new drummer in John Bennett (Who replaced Shaun Taylor-Steels earlier in the year after he handed in his resignation due to an ongoing ankle problem), who also brought a lot of enthusiasm and energy to the proceedings.”
Interestingly enough, even though Bennett has been performing with My Dying Bride for the last two years, the band doesn't officially have a drummer as such.
“Bennett's not officially a full time member just yet, but he's been drumming for us for the last two years now. Creatively, professionally and personally, he's just fitted in perfect with us, so he's going to continue playing with us. But it's at his request that he stay on session musician status at the moment, because he also has his own commitments with his other band (The Prophecy) as well. We respect that. So at this point in time, we don't have an official fulltime drummer in My Dying Bride since Taylor-Steels stepped down. All I can tell you is that for the immediate future, Bennett will continue playing all our live shows to promote A Line Of Deathless Kings, which he also performed on. We'll just see what happens in the future. We're all friends outside of the band, and we spend a lot of time together socially. Bennett in particular is great fun! (Laughs) He fits in great, despite the short hair and baseball cap! (Laughs) I don't think he'll be going anywhere anytime soon.”
Apart from the positive vibe within the group, another huge factor that added to the diversity on A Line Of Deathless Kings was the collaboration of all members of the group.
“Songs Of Darkness, Words Of Light was almost solely written by Craighan and I away from the rest of the band really. This time around, the album was very much written in advance in the rehearsal room before we even hit the studio. It's just been a very creative time for us. Everyone has had some great input into this album. With Songs Of Darkness, Words Of Light, we only managed to get a couple of songs written in the rehearsal room with the rest of the band. And then we had our drummer Taylor-Steels, who was having serious problems with tendinitis in his ankle, so any sort of band rehearsals at the time kind of came to an end. Craighan and I ended up working independently from everyone else holed up in his home studio with a couple of guitars. We then went back to the rest of the band to allow them to hear the material for the first time in the studio. So this time around, with Bennett having played with us for a couple of years now, it was very comfortable, very natural and a logical progression to be thrashing out these new songs as a unit together. I think that's why it sounds very solid. I view this album as a real whole, and full of strength, rather than a collection of songs. Each song might have its own identity, strength and character, but I do feel that it's a very complete album.”
In light of the way the songs on A Line Of Deathless Kings were put together as a collaborative effort rather than by a couple of members exclusively, any pressure following up the highly successful Songs Of Darkness, Words Of Light seemed to be of little concern according to Glencross.
“I found Songs Of Darkness, Words Of Light seemed to polarize people quite a bit. They seemed to either absolutely love it, or they simply didn't get into the feel of it at all. I mean I really do love that album, and I think there are some really great moments on there. I think A Doomed Lover is one of those absolute high points of our career. We were also experimenting with different things on there as well. In A Doomed Lover, it was the first time that we dropped the tuning right down to B and played in such a different way, which I thought was really cool. But when it came to writing A Line Of Deathless Kings, we really didn't think about it in terms of comparing it to the previous album, because the circumstances of how we were creating this album were so different. The writing sessions were instantly showing themselves to have a unique character. We always put pressure on ourselves to try and progress every single time we hit the studio, but that's pressure we put on ourselves. There's that responsibility to live up to those who love and appreciate our work. So we want to please them. Ultimately, we're very responsible to ourselves.”
Another intriguing aspect about My Dying Bride's new album is the title A Line Of Deathless Kings.
“The title A Line Of Deathless Kings partially refers to the immortality of music. These albums will continue to exist long after the band is gone, or hopefully even after we have gone ourselves. A Line Of Deathless Kings is an album that reflects us at this time, and a body of work that will then be immortalised forever. The album then becomes another in a line of these deathless kings. The actual title came from a book on Egyptology that Stanton lent to Stainthorpe. He thought that it really stood out as a really strong title, as well as being a phrase that could be read into on a number of different levels. A Line Of Deathless Kings seemed to respect and acknowledge our past and history, as well as looking forward into our future. These songs are, I hope, immortalised for all time. I think this music will last long well after the band is no more.”
When asked as to whether or not he thought My Dying Bride's place in music history is secure given their immense influence over their fifteen-year history, Glencross remains modest of the band's achievements and successes.
“I do like to this that we have continuously tried to push the boundaries, and ourselves, constantly forward. It's nice to be recognised for your efforts. But we're also keen to avoid any big heads, inflated egos or anything like that! (Laughs) But it's great when we hear from people that we respect and admire ourselves when they like our work. We did a bunch of shows with Celtic Frost recently (In August), and it's just such an honour hearing from Tom G. Warrior (Celtic Frost vocalist/guitarist) what he thinks of My Dying Bride. That just means an awful lot to us. They're people that we have such respect and admiration for, and then likewise have that respect for us is just great. It's very humbling! (Laughs)”
With Celtic Frost being brought up, I had to ask Glencross what his thoughts were on the recent return of Celtic Frost were when the pair were out on tour, their brief stint with the original Testament (Back in July) and what he thought of his own band's performances in from of the European audiences were.
“We played some shows with Testament earlier this year. They're heroes of mine. It was great seeing Alex Skolnick back with Testament, and playing some awesome guitar. They're great guys as well. They were really cool to hang out and have a few beers with. We always love making new friends. My Dying Bride are all friends outside the band as well, but when you're touring in such close proximity over long periods of time, it's nice to be able to spend some time and hang out with other people and make new friends. It's cool to play some shows, and recognise someone and get a chance to catch up. I love that aspect of touring. As for Celtic Frost, they were simply crushing. They were great. Their older material sounded better than ever. They just sound so heavy. And I love their new album (Monotheist) as well. It was just great seeing them be so vital and crushingly heavy after so many years away. Those were great shows. We really felt the pressure to put in the best show that we could, but we were very lucky to have the Celtic Frost crowd support us. For instance, when we were in Norway, we seem to do really with the Norwegian crowds because they have a great respect for our brand of darkness, which is quite removed from a lot of the Norwegian bands themselves. They can see us being related, and very important to their scene. We've always had great shows throughout the Scandinavian scene. We always get a really good reception. So the crowds there make us feel very welcome, which helps when supporting a band like Celtic Frost. But even if we didn't have that initial support, we'll always put everything into our performance. It's a bit like doing the festival scene as well. I mean the festival goer may not necessarily be into My Dying Bride, but they go to have a few drinks, band their head and shake a fist to some of our more rocking tunes. We do have some songs that do get a little more up-tempo, and have a bit of that metal fury. But a lot of it is quite emotive music that isn't necessarily meant for daytime drinking! (Laughs) So we always make a point of being ourselves and putting on the complete show we do. We really feel the responsibility of putting on the best show we can, so that's why we limit the amount we drink before taking the stage, and we always have our own sound engineer and lighting engineer. That way we can be sure that we're putting on the best sonic and visual show that we can. We really do see the importance of putting on the best show that we can possible, and we really do hope to show Australian audiences this as soon as we possibly can too.”
With the subject of a much hoped Australian tour brought up, I questioned as to whether or not My Dying Bride would ever make it all the way down south, especially given the few failed attempts in the past.
“As you can imagine, it's a bit of a logistical nightmare to bring My Dying Bride down to Australia, but we really want to make it happen. We've had a couple of offers over the last couple of years, and we've always struggled to see how we could make it viable so that weren't actually going to be losing a ton of money. I was just talking earlier with promoters and our label representative over there, and our booking agent's details have been handed over, so hopefully before too long, we'll be able to get over there off the back of A Line Of Deathless Kings. It would be great if it does happen, because Australia's a country that I've been dying to visit. We also have some friends out there too, like the band The Eternal (Who toured with My Dying Bride a couple of years ago). It would be really cool to come over for a tour, and I would love to see that happen in the next year. In the meantime, we'll take a break and focus on what we have planned for the next year. We just finished up our touring commitments for this year. We just did the summer European festival circuit, along with a handful of independent shows as well. Our last show was just last week in Turkey. But it has just been in the last couple of weeks that we started playing songs off the new album. It was really cool to gauge the reaction from the audience. One thing we did think about with this album was to make sure that any one of these songs could be played live. They translate to the live setting very well. So far we've played the single Deeper Down, I Cannot Be Loved and To Remain Tombless. We really look forward to playing more off this new album as soon as we can. So right now we're planning to get some new shows booked, including Australia obviously! (Laughs)”
My Dying Bride's latest album, A Line Of Deathless Kings, is out now on Peaceville Records through Stomp Distribution. For more information on My Dying Bride, check out www.mydyingbride.org.