Becoming one with the ashes of pain and suffering.
The power of the arts transcends the physical medium, capable of encouraging reflection and self-awareness via many forms. Life may not always be on your side, but the arts will, for they offer an avenue for channeling feelings and self-expression when circumstances may not be the most fortunate. In looking at metal, death doom is but one of the many routes that allow one to tap deep into the darkest depths of their hearts for relatable listening experiences. If anyone has mastered this particularly heavy art form, it's MY DYING BRIDE.
With the forthcoming new record The Ghost of Orion, MY DYING BRIDE return to form with an outing that stems from victory against life's worst trials. Emotion radiates from each offering, paired well with the melancholic nature of Eliran Kantor's illustration at the forefront. This audiovisual presentation engages the mind, the soul, and more importantly, the heart, encouraging one to indulge in the sorrows of MY DYING BRIDE's serene sonics.
We go Behind the Cover of The Ghost of Orion with frontman Aaron Stainthorpe and artist Eliran Kantor to learn more about what lies beneath the sadness:
My Dying Bride is now entering their third decade in existence, changing the landscape for death doom and touching the lives of thousands in the process. Where do you see yourself now as a musician and as a band compared to when this all began 30 years ago?
Aaron: Oddly enough, not that far removed from when we began. Our core values remain the same as does our dedication to our art form. Of course, we have evolved and developed the sound of My Dying Bride to become more appealing as the years pass, but we’ve not lost sight of our roots. The way I construct the words today is very like I did when I was thirty years younger.
Seeing as you're a huge fan of the band yourself, what can you recall about the first time listening to their music?
Eliran: I first heard ‘Like Gods of the Sun’ in high-school, saved some money and found ‘Turn Loose the Swans’ at a record shop. Bought it based on how much I liked ‘Like Gods..’ and ended up loving it even more. To this day, ‘The Songless Bird’ is one of my favorite songs by anyone. That riff set the bar for modern misery-filled doom riffs. But I love a lot of their albums, I find myself going back to “Songs of Darkness..” often too.
You’ve worked with plenty of notable bands across the market, but seeing as My Dying Bride is one that you particularly resonated with, does it all change your approach or add pressure in any way?
Eliran: Yes, because you’re more emotionally invested. You also don’t want to let down someone that you really appreciate their craft.
The band serves as a conduit for channeling the less fortunate moments of your life, which is of course reflected in the atmosphere and overall tone of the records. Does writing and composing the material take an emotional toll on you at all?
Aaron: Indeed it does. I never really meant it to but when I began to write, I felt an urge to make it personal rather than ride all the usual heavy metal tropes, and found myself pouring my mind into the words. And I go to places I wouldn’t go when lucid, using the pen and paper has a kind of sounding board that doesn’t answer back or judge. I need to write these things down because if I leave them in my head, I’ll explode!
‘The Ghost of Orion’ marks the largest gap between any of the band’s recordings, of course due in part to the tribulations life placed before you. What sparked the need to get back into the studio despite said tribulations?
Aaron: Life must go on. My daughters health was improving and that meant I was able to respond to the call of the music once again after such a long time away. The album was recorded and it was just my input that was missing, so when I felt the time was right, off I went to do my thing. It wasn’t easy – in fact, this was the hardest LP I have ever recorded. I thought I was ready but clearly wasn’t and the studio really took it out of me. I just couldn’t nail the vocals at all but thankfully Andrew and studio engineer Mark Mynett helped me get through. I still don’t feel fully reconnected with My Dying Bride but it will come in time.
Like the music, the art before each record resembles that same somber and melancholic tone, even more so on records like ‘Turn Loose the Swans’ and ‘The Dreadful Hours’. What do you look for when approaching the visual component of your records?
Aaron: We have made the mistake of trying to come up with a cover design before the album is actually recorded, which is never a good idea because the overall sound changes with each song addition and steers the emotional feeling this way and we’d have to keep telling the artist doing the cover, explaining that it’s not that idea anymore but a different one. Only when the album is complete do we get the general feeling and then it’s possible to work on the cover as you now know what you’re after.
You and Andrew have a large role in the art direction for your records, including ‘Turn Loose the Swans’, ‘Evinta’, ‘The Voice for the Wretched’, and more, but have also collaborated with numerous artists in the process. Is there something that triggers the decision to rely on external artists compared to having you or Andrew take it on?
Aaron: I believe it is a feeling that we both get that dictates where the art direction comes from. I often have a look at the LP and see if I can come up with a good visual representation of the sound and if I’m not feeling it, then we’ll have a look at other artists. Some we use again and again, others, like Eliran Kantor, we have used for the first time and may indeed use again if the feeling is right. We have an EP coming out later in 2020 and the artist for that is Roberto Bordin and his creation is nothing like the LP cover but is a totally separate entity with a beauty all of it’s own.
Though it does provide you all with more time to focus on the recordings, does leaving the art to others impact the creative process in other ways?
Aaron: The creative process of writing songs is not dictated to in any way by the thought of the visuals and how the LP might look. If I can come up with a good idea, then we might go with that and if I can't see the wood for the trees, then we call someone else. Sometimes I’m too deep inside it to see what it should be like and we need an outsider to see it for what it really is.
The band’s album covers have been largely varied throughout your discography, each distinct in their art form. How important is it for you to have the art be one with the music?
Aaron: Oh I believe it’s vital. It will be the first contact many folks will have with the LP and first impressions last. I suppose we could have a solid black cover with the logo and title in white and it would still sell OK, but it would be soulless and less believable. The cover needs to evoke the call of the albums heart and that is why we spend so much time getting it just right.
With that said, what sparked your interest in wanting to work with Eliran for ‘The Ghost of Orion’? Any particular works of his?
Aaron: He got in touch with me just after the last LP was completed, so I said email me again in a couple of years and lets see if we can make things happen. But then, my daughter became ill and Eliran was aware of this so he didn’t contact me until things were improving for her. When I got the email, I immediately checked out his work and found elements in there that I knew would work well for MDB. I sent him the lyrics and the title (or a variation of it) and he did his magic. There were very few alterations from us as he pretty much nailed it in one take.
Like mentioned, the band’s album covers have been largely varied throughout their career, each distinct in their art form. Visually, what did you want to achieve with this particular cover?
Eliran: Once I came up with the concept, and started visualizing how it would look like, I wanted to tread the balance between not feeling alien as a MDB cover, yet standing out. Having familiar elements already appearing on past covers like a female character and the old logo were decisions I made not only because that’s what I wanted to see, but I also knew it will allow me more freedom with everything else.
The concept of a person smearing the remains of a loved one from open urns would have worked with a male character and the band’s name in a standard font, but would not set the same atmosphere in the context of My Dying Bride. It wouldn’t exactly be what I would have liked to see, as a listener or a person from ‘the inside’ that tries to capture the feeling of the music.
Upon approaching Eliran, what did you envision for the album cover?
Aaron: Not what we got ha ha. His final creation blew me away and it looks magnificent but I had no idea it would look anything like that. Boy, was I impressed. I told him no spikes and blood, but he was already aware of the sensibilities of My Dying Bride and was never going to do that. I never tell an artist what I want as it means they will have restrictions on what they want to do and what I want from them is their total input without someone else meddling in the process.
‘The Ghost of Orion’ is deeply rooted in the personal, stemming from the band’s will to succeed through life’s hardships. How did you conceptualize these ideas and interpret them in your own artistic manner?
Eliran: I didn’t want to be on the nose with the circumstances leading to the writing of these songs. The last thing on my mind would have been to do a straight up blunt depiction of ‘Tired of Tears’.
What I always do, is read all the lyrics, find a common theme that captures the essence of the record as a whole, and come up with another new layer of metaphors that will depict it. So my idea was to make an allegory to obsession with loss and the far edges one might take the unwillingness to face the finite nature of mortality.
Many bands like to leave the creative duties to the artists themselves, having very little input aside from lyrics. How engaged were you throughout the collaborative process with Eliran?
Aaron: As mentioned, I gave him the lyrics, a rough idea of a title and let him go for it. I could have asked for this and that but that would have tainted his idea’s so I just left him to it. I think that is the sensible way forward. Bands who mess with the art will never get what either them or the artist really wanted in the end.
Having read through the lyrics in advance, were there any particular lines or themes that stood out as something you’d want to reflect in the painting?
Eliran: No, I just read the entire set of lyrics a couple of times, trying to focus more on the essence of things and the underlying recurring themes, and later that day as I laid down in bed not being able to fall asleep, I came up with the concept for the cover. It made it even harder to fall asleep, since I had to wait until tomorrow as I didn’t want to text Aaron in the middle of the night talking about ashes and urns.
Where did you and Aaron find common ground to make this a seamless collaborative process?
Eliran: Because we haven’t worked together before, and relatively I haven’t done too many covers in the past that you could picture as a MDB cover - with the exceptions of what I did for TRISTANIA - I knew I wanted to make gradual steps in order to not betray Aaron’s trust. That’s why I first wrote him my idea in text, as an email, before even sketching anything.
Were there any particular elements of the painting that required revision or further discussion between you and Aaron to fully reach the intended result?
Eliran: Yes - the frame on the right side. It was a bare wall at first, and Aaron felt it was feeling too empty, and suggested having a framed picture there. I’m never just ‘filling up’ empty spaces, but in this case I did see that it would give the overall composition a bit more balance, and agreed with Aaron’s idea.
Aside from Aaron’s input, were there any external factors or influences that played a role in the development of this piece?
Eliran: Nothing. Nuclear Blast only saw it upon completion, and really loved it. Overall, I think the only time Nuclear Blast ever gave me notes on a cover I did, was on the 2nd ever record I did for them (The Crinn’s ‘Dreaming Saturn’) a decade ago.
I’ve done tens more with NB since, and they never tried to compromise any of it. I know people see them as this big business, but I have to say everyone on their team, even the accountants - are all rabid metal fans, so they tend to sign bands they really like, and let them do their thing.
Your paintings live and breathe on their own with human-like elements, including ‘The Ghost of Orion’, of which your wife Nicky modeled for. How did the idea of incorporating your wife come about?
Eliran: Her appearance was just perfect for the feeling I was going for. As I mentioned, it’s balancing the line between making sense in the MDB context while also standing out. She is very pretty and her face is also unique and memorable. And she nailed the pose and expression perfectly.
Are there any tracks or moments of ‘The Ghost of Orion’ that you feel are most apt to the cover?
Aaron: I can’t think of an individual track that reflects the cover more sincerely than the overall sound. Eliran did a great job with the lyrics I sent him and his overall interpretation seems to have been spot on.
From music videos to vinyl packaging and album art, visuals have always been a key component of My Dying Bride and Eliran captured your music immaculately. Seeing as art is open to impression, what do you take from it?
Aaron: I get a somber but relaxing pleasure from simply gazing upon the cover. I am fortunate enough to have the version without the logo or title, making it a standout piece of art which sits on my wall looking down on everything I do. I almost look at it some days and say “I know”, nod slowly and walk on by. I don’t know why I do this – it just seems natural. Perhaps it’s a touching of souls who have both been damaged, or maybe I’m becoming insane.
Though simple in nature, the decaying skin texture, muted colors, and facial expression add layers of depth to the painting, making it as complex as the music itself. Is there something that you as an artist would like viewers to take from the cover?
Eliran: When you listen to music, your imagination goes wild, because it’s not a film - the entire visual dimension is a gap that your imagination has to fill. And when you make a picture, logo, band photo, video etc to accompany the music, it’s always hard to go against one’s imagination. That’s why the book is always better than the movie. So I hope the viewers get something that expands their experience of the music, and not diminish it, like an uninspired visual can do.
Having now completed the cover and other artistic elements for the physical package, what do you, as a fan and as an artist, take from this entire experience?
Eliran: The rest of the packaging was actually done by Aaron, but I love waiting and seeing the band and label announcing more and more implementation of the artwork - shirts, posters, flags. There’s even a The Ghost of Orion jigsaw puzzle, and I can’t wait for my son to play with a jigsaw puzzle of his mom.
The next chapter in My Dying Bride’s renowned 30-year career is almost here. Is this something you envisioned at all when you first came together to put together ‘Turn Loose The Swans’?
Aaron: We certainly didn’t envision being around for such a long time because we were composing such somber music of such length and complexity that I guessed we’d be done in a few short years due to lack of interest. But somehow, we have found gifts worth giving year after year and this gives us purpose and an appetite for more. Planning a career in rock music will inevitably lead to failure so it’s best to just go with the flow and try to enjoy the journey.
Many can attest to the power of your music. What do you say to those, specifically your listeners, with ongoing pain and a desire to thrive?
Aaron: I NEED this band for my own sanity and health. It’s a vessel for my negativity and my pain and all the woe’s life burdens me with. I am fortunate that I have this. It clears my head and keeps me grounded. I often encourage people to find a creative outlet for their negativity as it can be most elevating and greatly relieving. When the band are quiet, I still write, prolifically to get all the thoughts out of my complicated head – poems, novellas, rantings and gibberish – I do them all! Hoping to release a book in 2021 with this content, which may or may not be compelling reading.
The Ghost of Orion is out on March 6th via Nuclear Blast Records. Pre-orders HERE.