Rebounding from their infamous flirtation with electronic pop music, British doom legends Paradise Lost have kicked out a string of albums since 2005 that rival the sonic oppression of their early-’90s heyday. More recently, the band has embraced their death metal roots, as evidenced by guitarist Gregor Mackintosh’s Vallenfyre project and singer Nick Holmes’ involvement with Bloodbath. This intensified commitment to old-school heaviness sets the stage for Paradise Lost‘s latest record, The Plague Within.
The aptly-titled “No Hope In Sight” kicks off this installment, and immediately reveals what will become recurring themes. First off: Yes, Nick Holmes is once again singing death metal vocals on a Paradise Lost record. His voice bears little resemblance to the growl on PL‘s classic records, sounding considerably thinner and croakier, but hey — you asked for it, you got it. The song is anchored by riffs that are pretty generic by PL standards, and Holmes’ vocal patterns feel awkward and disconnected, as if he’s short of breath. The result is a track that, while heavy, is the very definition of “unmemorable.” My opinion of the next two tracks, “Terminal” and “An Eternity Of Lies” can be found by pasting those song titles into the above paragraph.
Elsewhere, shit just gets weird. “Punishment Through Time” could be mistaken for Crowbar, eventually picking up the pace for a “Pity The Sadness”-esque feel. Old-school PL fans will rejoice over “Beneath Broken Earth,” which sounds like their old records played at half speed, but even more depressing. “Flesh From Bone,” on the other hand, is easily the fastest song that the band has ever executed, with drums approaching blastbeat tempos while dissonant, near-black metal guitar lines swirl around them. There’s also the bizarre “Cry Out,” a sort of ’70s-ish boogie rock tune, although Holmes is still singing death metal over it.
There are some bright spots though. “Sacrifice the Flame” effectively layers violins and cellos over a truly morose riff, leading to a brief orchestral section that is one of the more adventurous pieces of music in the PL canon. “Victims Of The Past” is one of the album’s few concessions to melody, blending both clean and death vocals, while Mackintosh’s abstract guitar work and tasteful orchestration create a sense of urgency. Incidentally, this is probably the best song on The Plague Within. Paradise Lost has always excelled at integrating classical instruments into their compositions, and honestly I’d rather see them pursue that direction instead of this death metal midlife crisis they are currently indulging. Seriously, how awesome would it be if they turned into the doom equivalent of Septicflesh?
Apparently no one else will come out and say it, so I will: Just because Paradise Lost is “metal” again, doesn’t mean they’re Paradise Lost again. They are increasingly favoring heaviness at the expense of good songwriting, and The Plague Within continues that trend. It feels like the band is trying way too hard to be something they aren’t anymore, throwing ideas against a wall and pursuing them whether they stick or not. I suppose fans of the band’s very early days will enjoy the record, and there’s probably some new-school death/doom crossover appeal. But deep in my ice-cold heart, I know Paradise Lost is capable of better, and I anxiously await music that meets those standards.