Their humble and deathly beginnings gave rise to the pioneering style of “Gothic Metal”, before they went on to become one of the most successful and popular U.K. metal bands, with the albums ‘Icon’ and ‘Draconian Times’. Then, having divided opinion by reinventing their sound with ‘One Second’ and ‘Host’, they firmly re-established their metal credentials by way of ‘Symbol Of Life’. Leading them into a run of brilliant and heavy albums, culminating in 2012’s ‘Tragic Idol’.
Although not every step of the journey has been appreciated by the general record buying public, one thing has always been evident, the honesty and integrity of each step has shown a band determined to craft good songs. Even their flirting with electronica still produced some damn fine Paradise Lost. But as the albums got heavier, and a couple of side projects began to show the players yearning for a rawer metal path, the stage has now been set for the new album, ‘The Plague Within’.
It may harken back to the doomier and death-like beginnings of the band, but it still successfully showcases and maintains all the strongest elements of a lengthy career of consistently good material.
The first growls from Nick Holmes on opening track ‘No Hope In Sight’ may come as a suprise to some, but if you’ve checked out his work on Bloodbath’s ‘Grand Morbid Funeral’ last year, you will know that old Nick can still grunt with the best of them. And it’s not long before Greg Mackintosh’s familiar lead guitar tone greets you like an old friend, as Nick’s voice softens to produce those great PL vocal hooks, before scarily intoning “You’ll face your fears…through fleeting years” over the urgent mid-section.
Track 2, ‘Terminal’ is an entirely different beast, with excellent double-kick drumming from Adrian Erlandsson. This is probably the coldest sounding track that Paradise Lost have ever unearthed, and at times veers into black metal territory…seriously!
Providing quite a startling counterpoint, is the rather twee sounding string section at the start of ‘Eternity Of Lies’, which transforms into a very catchy swirl of great lead guitar and female backing vocals, with ‘Punishment Through Time’ proving a mighty riff workout for Greg and Aaron Aedy. With more vocal hooks and a verse section that comes across like a slightly slower ‘Pity The Sadness’.
The next track may be familiar to some already, but ‘Beneath Broken Earth’ is certainly one of PL’s slowest and dirgiest songs. One that could fit quite happily onto one of Greg’s Vallenfyre albums.
From this point on, ‘The Plague Within’ actually becomes grander and more epic sounding, with the subtle and emotive symphonic elements that Paradise Lost excel at. The sombre strings and cello of ‘Sacrifice The Flame’ gives way to the fluid bass playing of Steve Edmondson, into doomy chords and sweeps of orchestration, with alternating clean and harsh vocals. And ‘Victims Of The Past’, with it’s choppy string section and opening confession of “Lost faith in others…lost faith in all” turns nasty with sneering vocals and frenzied lead guitar tapping.
The gloomy gregorian chants of ‘Flesh From Bone’ may also lead you into a false sense of security, as this one turns out to be a right vicious little bugger. And ‘Cry Out’ could well become a live favourite, with its groovy central riff making it probably the most accessible track on the album.
It’s also nice to hear the faint rumblings of electronica amongst the choir and chanting in the intro of ‘Return To The Sun’, before the dramatic stop/start riffs and tension adding leads bring in some “classic” Holmes. Ending ‘The Plague Within’ in a pretty epic sounding fashion.
But it’s not an immediate album, there are one or two surprises here, it’s certainly an album of depth. There are many different textures, and as you would expect with PL, most of them are miserable! And although it could be argued that this release sees Paradise Lost coming full circle, in truth it’s much simpler than that. ‘The Plague Within’ is the sound of one of this country’s finest bands, once more, superbly delivering the goods.
(9/10 Stuart Carroll)