Yes, you’re right – rock bands playing some of their repertoire backed by an orchestra is not a new thing. The two big ones that spring to mind are obviously Deep Purple and Metallica. Guess what? This smokes both of them. I am a fan of both of those bands and their orchestral experiments but let’s facts – Paradise Lost (by their own admission) really make music that cries out for this treatment, so how could this not work? Well, it does work. It really fucking works!
Just to give you a bit of a background on all this before going into what is actually featured on the release, Plovdiv is the second largest city in Bulgaria and they have a state opera orchestra. They also have a rather wonderful choir called The Rodna Pesen Chior. In Plovdiv is a stunning venue known as the Ancient Roman Theater of Phillipopolis. It is an outdoor amphitheater-type-of-affair, gorgeous and a wonderful location both acoustically and aesthetically. The orchestration for this special occasion was conducted by Levon Manukyan, who has also worked with such diverse acts as Alice Cooper, Marilyn Manson, Nirvana and Judas Priest. As the DVD of the show clearly illustrates, he had a total blast doing conducting this show and his treatment of the songs is nothing short of wonderful.
Now to the release itself. You have the choice of the vinyl version or the CD versions but both come with the aforementioned DVD of the whole set. Please, please, please take my advice on this – watch the DVD first before sitting down and listening to this. It really helps with getting a feel for what you are listening to and you can take in the band, orchestra, choir and crowd all really having a blast. You really feel that there is a real buzz in doing something that is very different for all involved. Professional or not, I am also going to say that within the all-female choir lined up on a ledge behind the band and orchestra in figure-hugging black dresses, there are some total slamming hotties! Always a bonus, yes? Ahem, moving on…
The first eight tracks are with the orchestra and choir and then you have nine without. With a band of PL‘s pedigree and depth of catalog, the choice of set-list is always going to ruffle feathers but hey, it is a good problem to have for band and fans alike. I do feel that some of the songs that are in the non-orchestral section would have been stunning given the treatment of the first half but in all honesty there aren’t many songs in the PL canon that wouldn’t really benefit, apart from anything from their debut.
When watching the DVD and hearing these songs made even more epic, bombastic, delicate and dramatic I truly had goosebumps pretty much all the way through. They are fair at hitting plenty of records, kicking off with ‘Tragic Idol’ from the album of the same name which was, at the time, their current release. Heading backwards in order for the first four songs you get sublime renditions of ‘Last Regret’ (from “Faith Divides Us – Death Unites Us”), ‘Your Own Reality’ (from “In Requiem”) and ‘Over the Madness’ (from 2005’s self-titled record). These are all on the same level of brilliance before they go all the way back to many a fans’ favourite album “Icon” and play ‘Joys of the Emptiness’. I must admit, when I saw that in the first half of this set I was looking forward to it and, almost ironically, it is perhaps tied with ‘Soul Courageous’ (from 1997’s “One Second”) in having the not-as-good-as-the-rest tag. When you hear how good the other six tracks with the orchestra are, you will fully understand my sentiments.
Then there is ‘Victims of the Past’ on the then still-to-be-released and fantastic “The Plague Within” album that was released earlier this year. It is brilliant with the backing of the choir and orchestra and heavy as fuck! The crowd certainly love it, probably down to the return of Nick Holmes‘ death metal growl. Ending this segment of the show with ‘Gothic’ is a masterstroke and the song is breathtaking in this guise. Strangely, they use the recorded female vocals from the record, as they do in the normal live setting, but with the female choir at their disposal, surely there was a strong enough solo singer that could have done those parts? This is a minor gripe but still a bit puzzling.
The second half is, of course, a visit to quite a few different albums and let’s face it, PL are a cracking live band. ‘Say Just Words’ is given a great rendition here but it is “Icon”‘s best track, ‘True Belief’, that really takes the crown. Runner up is the title track from “Faith Divides Us – Death Unites Us”. It really is a modern PL classic and should be in their setlist until the band calls it a day. This was one that had me wishing it was given the symphonic treatment.
I don’t know who did the live recording and the post-production here but it works well in capturing the fantastic atmosphere that was undoubtedly present. The balance between the crowd and band is spot on, which isn’t often the case with live records.
I wouldn’t use any live record to try and win a band new admirers but if you’re a casual listener of the band or a super-fan, then you will get something out of this and the DVD alone is worth buying the whole package for. Brilliant band releases fantastic live record with a twist. Well played once again, lads!