Well, well, well, if it isn’t Paradise Lost. This band is a reviewer’s wet dream, simply by virtue of all the weird shit they’ve pulled over the years. Starting out as one of the pioneers of death/doom metal in 1990, the band mutated into a sort of gothic hard rock/metal, before suddenly turning into Depeche Mode towards the end of that decade. Eventually, they saw the error of their ways, and since 2005’s self-titled album, have been releasing some of the heaviest music of their career. Their new album Tragic Idol continues this trend, channeling the band’s earliest, doomiest elements through the filter of their present-day abilities.
Not surprisingly, Tragic Idol pretty much picks up where their last album Faith Divides Us… Death Unites Us left off. As though making up for lost time, the band is trying to pack as much crushing doom metal as possible into one album. “Honesty in Death,” “Fear of Impending Hell” (great title), and the title track are all the type of song that Paradise Lost has excelled at writing over the past few albums: heavy but with melody and hooks, and weighted down with oppressive negativity. Guitarist Gregor Mackintosh’s Vallenfyre project from last year seems to have awakened some old-school death metal influences here, and brought Paradise Lost back to their roots somewhat.
Nick Holmes’ lyrics seem to be more fixated on death than usual on this record, and not the cartoon grim reaper that inhabits most metal songs either. No, this is Death with a capital D, the one that strikes fear in grown men, that inspires deathbed confessions and last-minute declarations of faith. The subject matter is not pretty, and Holmes rises to the occasion with his ugliest, crustiest vocal performance since Icon. Mackintosh remains the Dave Gilmour of doom metal, accomplishing more with one note than most shredders will accomplish in a lifetime [So fucking true. — AMG]. This guy is truly one of the unsung heroes of the genre, and metal in general. Oh, and Adrian Erlandsson (ex-At The Gates) is the new drummer on this album, and although most of his skills are completely useless in a band like this, he still sounds good.
Oddly enough, the heaviest tracks here seem a little forced, as though they’re trying too hard to prove that they’re still the band that made Gothic or whatever, when they obviously aren’t. The lengthy doom section of “To the Darkness” is a perfect example: It’s heavy as hell, and probably exactly what their fans want to hear from them. However, it’s also completely disingenuous, coming from a band that sounded exactly like Sisters of Mercy not that long ago.
I guess my main issue with Tragic Idol is the same problem I had with Faith Divides Us: the sound. Don’t get me wrong, producer/mixer Jens Bogren has more than proven that he’s capable of making great-sounding records (see Opeth, Ghost Reveries). But Paradise Lost is one of those bands that needs some dynamics in the mix, some peaks and valleys to help out the flow of the songs, and that has never been Bogren’s thing. This album sounds fucking gigantic, but it lacks the atmosphere necessary to make Paradise Lost’s music work [Damn you Volume Wars!!! – AMG].
Of course, any verdict on this album depends on which version of Paradise Lost you were hoping would show up (for the record, I was pulling for the version that made Draconian Times). For those of you who preferred the crushing death/doom of the first few albums, this might be for you. As for everyone else, just wait for their next one, because there’s no telling what they’ll do…