You can be sure of one thing when a new Paradise Lost album is released – that pretty much every review will spend the first paragraph detailing how the band alienated the majority of their fanbase with the “One Second” and “Host” albums, and have then spent the next decade and a bit releasing quality dark metal albums in a bid to recapture some of what made them so special in the first place.
The funny thing is that the one thing that made them so special in the first place was the fact that Paradise Lost don’t sound like any other band out there. Think about it; they don’t sound like any of the bands that influenced them and they don’t sound like the bands who followed in their wake trying to rip them off. In the same way that Iron Maiden have ploughed their own furrow for the last thirty-plus years, seemingly oblivious to the fact that other bands do exist, Paradise Lost have always done things on their own terms and, regardless of the merits of their musical experiments, both of the aforementioned albums produced some of their best songs. In fact, if any of their albums could be called a dud it would be 2001’s less-than-spectacular “Believe in Nothing”, which the band themselves have publicly slated as a ‘compromise album’ to get out of their record contract.
“Tragic Idol” is the band’s thirteenth studio album and sees them continuing in the doom/death vein that has permeated their last few releases. Recorded using the seven-string guitars that the band used on 2009’s “Faith Divides Us – Death Unites Us”, the album is certainly one of their heaviest and would sit nicely amongst their pre-“One Second” material, although there are enough tweaks to ensure that this is no mere throwback album.
The band have readily admitted that playing the fan-favourite “Draconian Times” album in full last year influenced their songwriting for this album, and the songs highlight the fact that it wasn’t necessarily the sounds that the band experimented with during the late 90’s but rather the structure of the songs that made more of a difference. The album’s opening track ‘Solitary One’ harks back to “Draconian Times” with its subtle use of keys and sombre mood, yet the thick production (again courtesy of Amon Amarth/Opeth producer Jens Bogren) makes it sounds fresh and modern. ‘Crucify’ has been around for a couple of months now but in the context of the album sounds even bigger, its main riff adding a bit of swagger showing that the band have retained a little of that snappier songwriting style.
One thing that sticks out more on this album more than some of the recent albums is the guitar interplay between Greg Mackintosh and Aaron Aedy. Probably one of the most underrated guitar duos of the last twenty years, a lot of the songs build themselves around their chugging riffs and Mackintosh‘s snaking leads, probably moreso than at any time since 1994’s “Icon” album; a fact hammered home on tracks like ‘Honesty in Death’, a song that could easily be related to their classic ‘True Belief’ in terms of feel.
The other band members are also giving career-best performances here. Unbelievably, drummer Adrian Erlandsson has been in the band for three years now but this is his first recorded output with them, and his playing really anchors each song as he effortlessly switches from the intricacies of ‘The Glorious End’ to the double-bass thrashings of ‘Theories From Another World’. Nick Holmes‘ voice is also the strongest it’s been in a while, not that it was bad before this but his clean singing voice sounds smoother and a little restrained, making his gruffer vocals all the more effective.
So this album has the style, the musicianship, the sound and the songs to be up their with the best of the bands output. Whether or not we’ll be mentioning “Tragic Idol” in the same sentence as “Draconian Times”, “Icon” or “Gothic” remains to be seen, as those albums have been part of our listening habits for over a decade and a half. But for now, this is as close to recapturing the majesty of their ‘classic’ period (as some would call it) as they’ve come and they’ve done it without blatantly rehashing old material. Still sounding like nobody else, in a just world this album would put Paradise Lost up there with the likes of Iron Maiden, Def Leppard or Bullet For My Valentine as one of the UK’s most commercially successful exports – although in truth, they should be up there already. As it is, they’ll probably have to settle for being less commercially successful but still artistically unique and on top of their game. Long may it continue.