Sunday, 12 July 2015

Paradise Lost's 'The Plague Within' - Album Review

Since forming in 1988, British death/doom/gothic metal band Paradise Lost have been at the forefront of their genre. While doom metal had been around for years prior to Paradise Lost's formation (you could argue that the majority of Black Sabbath's early output was pure doom metal), it was the so-called 'Peaceville Three' that brought doom metal to a bigger audience, and fused it with elements of death metal to create a heavy and menacing sound. Of the three, My Dying Bride are the band who have stayed the truest to their sound throughout their career; while Anathema are now indistinguishable from the band that released Serenades in 1993. Paradise Lost are somewhere in the middle, and have constantly attempted to evolve their sound while not straying too far from their roots. As they moved forward, the band incorporated more gothic and melancholic sounds into their music, while still retaining the heavy, doomy riffs and creepy atmosphere. Vocalist Nick Holmes gradually moved away from harsh vocals however, and by 1995's classic Draconian Times they were almost entirely absent from his repertoire. They experimented with a The Sisters of Mercy-esque sound on 1997's One Second; and with synthpop overtones on 1999's Host - and ever since the band have used a mix of these sounds, along with their early doom metal influences to create plenty of heavy albums. 2012's Tragic Idol, the band's last release, was very typical of the band's modern sound and places a large emphasis on Greg Mackintosh's guitar leads. The Plague Within, the band's fourteenth studio album, sees the band return to their early sound somewhat. Influenced by his successful side-project Vallenfyre, Mackintosh has put the death metal elements back into the band's sound. Holmes' recent inclusion into the ranks of death metal supergroup Bloodbath ensured that harsh vocals would enter into his conscience again. This has resulted in the heaviest Paradise Lost album in quite some time, but the band have not lost any of their now-trademark melancholy. Jamie Gomez Arellano's production is key here. The sound is extremely clear, which helps the heaviness, and the guitar tones chosen convey that melancholy emotion that is weaved throughout the band's discography. Fans of old-school death/doom will really enjoy what Paradise Lost have done here, and have brought that late 1980s sound into the 21st Century with ease.

The album gets underway with No Hope in Sight, and the sound of this song typifies the rest of the album. Mackinstosh and fellow guitarist Aaron Aedy combine well throughout, mixing dark, gothic riffs and melodic leads to create the band's trademark melancholic sound. A dense verse section with Holmes' clean vocals standing out is what makes the song so powerful, and Steve Edmondson's bass guitar really dominates this section. Sections of harsh vocals are dotted throughout too, and shows that Holmes has lost none of his grit over the years. Terminal picks up the pace a bit with Adrian Erlandsson's double bass drumming leading the way. There is more than a big chunk of melodic death metal influence here, possibly brought in from Erlandsson with his years as a member of At the Gates - in fact, this song is quite reminiscent of their latest album At War With Reality. Holmes growls throughout the song, which gives it serious power; and discordant riffing stops and starts throughout creating a schizophrenic feel that really suits the band. This is the heaviest they have been for quite some time. An Eternity of Lies opens with a beautiful orchestral arrangement that soon morphs into a groove-based riff that knocks you off your feet. Heather Thompson (Tapping the Vein) provides some guest vocals on the song, that compliments Holmes' croon well, and harks back to the band's early days. Elsewhere, there is definitely a big Draconian Times vibe here with ringing guitar arpeggios and a certain gothic beauty. This song also includes a great solo from Mackintosh, whose feel has always been unrivalled in the genre. Punishment Through Time is up next, and this feels quite similar to the sound the band has been using on their more recent work. Holmes' more aggressive clean vocals are used here, and the song would have sat nicely on Tragic Idol and not seemed out of place. There is a more traditional heavy metal feel here, with a pacy riff and some tight power chord chugging throughout the verses. While Paradise Lost usually prefer the slower songs, they also are quite adept at speeding things up when the song requires it. To fit with that traditional metal feel, there are also plenty of short bursts of lead guitar to fill the voids between vocal lines. Video choice Beneath Broken Earth is almost the opposite of the previous song. It is a flat out doom track with some seriously heavy riffs that creep along slowly as Holmes growls menacingly over the top of them. Fans of the band's early albums are likely to find a lot to like here, and Mackintosh once again shows off with plenty of extended lead sections. This is a heavy song, and sees Paradise Lost at their most dense and potent.

Sacrifice the Flame opens with a subtle bass melody backed up once again by a string section. After the heaviness of the previous song, it is good to hear Holmes' croon again, and he mixes it up well with his harsh vocals throughout this song. The main riff for this song is one of my favourites on the album, and Mackintosh and Aedy create a huge sound with their two guitars. Despite how slow it is, it is still filled with plenty of melody; and this only increases mid-way through when the strings come back to overpower the guitars and create something quite special. The strings remain for the next number Victim of the Past and the sparse intro reminds me of the band's mid-period where they were experimenting a lot with their sound. This soon changes though, and another crunching riff comes in to change the mood. The strings remain though, and surround the heavy guitars with a bright sheen that compliments Holmes' harsh vocals well. Melancholic moments are spread throughout the track too which makes this song one of the most dynamic on the album. The melodic death metal sound returns in Flesh from Bone and Erlandsson gets to show off some of his skill as a drummer. Paradise Lost albums find him more restrained than he is with the majority of his other bands, but the simpler style fits the band's music so it is right that he does not overplay. This song however gives him a chance to mix it up again, and there are plenty of big drum fills here and fast footwork from the great Swedish drummer. Elsewhere, Holmes once again shreds his throat with some great harsh vocals, and some tremolo-picked riffing really enhances the extreme metal side of the band's sound and chokes any life out of the piece. It works well though, and gives the listener a shock after the slower songs that have come before. Cry Out again has a more traditional heavy metal sound, with a surprisingly bouncy riff that is not something the band would usually do. This is a guitarists' song, with plenty of big guitar leads, often sitting under the vocal lines, and plenty of memorable riffs that all fit nicely together. The album's final song Return to the Sun opens like a creepy horror film with some spooky sounds, which soon leads into another great doom riff that is perfect for the album's finale. There is something quite anthemic about this song, and I have a feeling it would go down really well live as the chorus is very simple and memorable. The song features a bit of everything that has been used on the album so far, and works well to bring everything together and conclude the album. Overall, The Plague Within is a great album, and one that grows on you more with each listen. With it, Paradise Lost are continuing their resurgence, and I am sure it will bring back a few fans who may have been turned off by their more experimental work.

The album was released on 1st June 2015 via Century Media Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Beneath Broken Earth.

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