Paradise Lost. One of Metal’s finest treasures. They are innovators, originators and dominators. If you are a fan of this band then be very proud of yourself, because many more bands quite this special, you will not find!
Now, when I say that “The Plague Within” feels like the album the band have been threatening to make for a good while now, I do not mean that in a negative way, whatsoever. In all honesty, I still think the band’s best release of the last decade is the self-titled record from 2005. What I am offering up is that the band have finally managed to go right back to their roots without being a total retread AND also have incorporated a good chunk of the experience, musical nous and sophistication they have undoubtedly gained in their long and varied career.
‘Terminal’ could slot onto the last couple of albums as well as be amongst the tracklisting on “Shades of God” or “Icon”, and that is pretty incredible to even write down. It is derivative of neither era, but testament to how clever PL are without it even being contrived or pre-meditated. Therefore, something else that I am glad the Yorkshire outfit, again, clearly exude is honesty – spades of it.
Everything you want is present. Frontman Nick Holmes is mixing up the still brilliantly clear and strong death metal style vocals with his unmistakeable and warm clean voice; even at the higher end of his register it still has a wonderful timbre to it. Surely he is one of metal’s most underrated singers? A run through of ‘An Eternity of Lies’ should illustrate my point.
Gregor Mackintosh is still unrivalled when it comes to making the guitar emit the saddest noises you’ve ever heard. The main guitar hook in ‘No Hope in Sight’ is one glaringly delicate and melancholic example. Aaron Aedy is, as per usual, the brilliant beast to Mackintosh‘s beauty. It has to be said that his rhythm playing is often overlooked, and criminally so because seeing them live you fully understand how important to the band’s sound he is, holding it all together. When you hear about great tone being 90% fingers and 10% gear, this guy is the real deal.
There are some of the band’s most dense and doomy tracks on “The Plague Within”, which will definitely sort out the men from the boys, but, without doubt, delight the long term fans. ‘Punishment Through Time’ is one of them, and it actually serves as a primer for ‘Beneath Broken Earth’, which the band have said is one of, if not the, slowest song they’ve ever committed to tape. Only bands as comfortable at this level of pace and gloom can keep it interesting and enthralling. The phrasing of the vocals that Holmes employs on this number is brilliantly off-kilter. A case of ‘that shouldn’t work, but it really does’. I actually get a huge kick from the fact that the band chose this as the lead track and first video from all the 10 on offer. A very Paradise Lost-style move, indeed.
‘Victims of the Past’ could be spectacular live, if they choose to play it. The strings intertwining with the guitar harmonies are incredible. The switching of styles from Holmes is also a real highlight. Songs like this and the preceding ‘Sacrifice the Flame’ are tough nuts to crack, even by PL‘s standards, but once under your skin they will become favorites.
‘Flesh From Bone’ is as death metal as they have been since debut “Lost Paradise”. Also, it features a couple of sections that are undisputedly the fastest in the band’s history, allowing drummer Adrian Erlandsson a chance to play closer to a speed he used to be known for in his other (also legendary) outfit At the Gates. Not a bad song by any means, but most certainly the weakest on the record. It does feature a rather tasty solo from Mackintosh, though.
Penultimate track ‘Cry Out’ is a bit of a departure for the PL boys BUT… do not be alarmed, they fucking own it. It has a real Down, late-Pantera, Corrosion of Conformity swagger about it. The boys from Yorkshire kidnap it from the streets of New Orleans, purge it of the fried chicken, force feed the opening riff some Yorkshire pudding and mushy peas and wash it down with real ale in the Shibden Mill and make it sound like Paradise Lost invented the style all along. Brilliant, and a bit of a curveball. The repeating lead line in this track is also fantastic.
Now, closing epic ‘Return to the Sun’ is truly breathtaking. Another long-term fan of the band said to me that this is, quite easily, one of their best ever songs. Simple as that! Pretty lofty statement to make for an album he had only lived with for a week himself, but, bloody hell, it is killer. Lyrically, I find it one of Holmes‘ most haunting and sinister works, probably enabled by the mood of the music. Let’s put it this way – if you wanted to soundtrack the last time you were going to see daybreak, pending an apocalypse or armageddon, here is your jam! Forget ‘South of Heaven’ by Slayer or ‘Ov Fire and the Void’ by Behemoth, this is what should usher in the end of days.
Most of Paradise Lost have been keeping busy in other projects and musical directions, and if this is what it results in then long may it continue. They don’t make bad albums – they never have – and despite what you hear about “Believe in Nothing”, it is still pretty good. A collection quite this involving, inspiring, forlorn and full of anguish, whilst still being truly alluring, gorgeous and bewitching, I don’t think they have ever produced, and yes, I do realise this is the band that released “Icon”, “Draconian Times”, “In Requiem” and “Tragic Idol”
Album of the year – I am calling it now!