Friday 15 May 2020

Paradise Lost - Obsidian (2020)

Country: UK
Style: Gothic Doom/Death Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 15 May 2020
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I've had a lot of favourite bands in my time, from Adam and the Ants to Iron Maiden, Nuclear Assault to Celtic Frost, but Paradise Lost have surely been my favourite band for longer than anyone else. It can't have hurt that I was a seventeen year old metalhead in Halifax in 1988 when they formed, but part of it is surely that I like bands to evolve over time and few have evolved more than Paradise Lost, and in such influential ways too.

Gothic utterly blew my mind when it came out and, quite frankly, it's still doing that today. Draconian Times is utterly fantastic and I've never sung myself so raw as the secret Paradise Lost gig in Bradford as The Painless a heartbeat before that came out. One Second could well be the most ambitious and influential a change in style as I've ever heard. Those are three of my favourite albums of all time and they're all by one band, but they're wildly different musically.

I did lose track a little in the new millennium, but I've been fascinated to see a resurgent Paradise Lost bringing all their sounds together into one, a heady mix of doom/death, gothic metal and new wave that's unmistakably them. This isn't consistently as heavy as Medusa three years ago, not by any leap of the imagination, though it does find those levels at points. However, it finds a more delightfully varied mix.

Oddly, the opener Darker Thoughts didn't grab me, even with such a versatile dynamic play, but Fall from Grace and Ghosts did and they help to define the album to come. The former is old school doom/death done to perfection, while the latter is fundamentally gothic, an Andrew Eldritch style vocal laid over that recognisable Gregor Mackintosh guitar. Two songs later, Forsaken may be the quintessential new Paradise Lost, mixing everything into a coherent song and making it work.

As a Paradise Lost fan going back to the demo days, it's great to hear those different eras manifesting themselves within the same songs. Forsaken makes that easy and so do Serenity and Hope Dies Young, all these songs catchy but heavy, crushing but melodic, synthpop but metal. What's perhaps most telling is that we can imagine these as well as metal songs synthed up or pop songs heavied up. Whichever way they evolved, they work and they work consistently within the framework of the album.

Perhaps the best example is the way Ravenghast builds. It starts out synths all the way, raindrop keyboards against swirling mist, but power chords set up a dark side and a fretboard slide segues into a achingly heavy slow riff. It's one of the heaviest songs here and one of the slowest, but not once is it forgetful of those synthpop years. Even as vocalist Nick Holmes lets out a death roar for emphasis, Mackintosh's keyboards keep delicately tinkling around him.

I like this new Paradise Lost. This doesn't blow my mind the way that Gothic did, or even Draconian Times for that matter, but it's a strong album with a host of highlights, pun not intended. Even lesser songs, like The Devil Embraced and Ending Days, are growing on me. And, who knows, while this band's helped to create at least two genres already, this combination of styles might just make it three. That wouldn't be a bad thing.

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