If there was ever a band that has truly come full-circle with their music, Paradise Lost would be it. From atonal death/doom metal to Gothic metal to the full plunge into Depeche Mode-esque electronica before returning in sequential order, the British doom band proved to capably transform with each release, and yet still sound unmistakably like Paradise Lost. Back in 2015, Dr. Fisting reviewed The Plague Within, an album that found PL ready to re-embrace their death/doom roots, and while he didn’t enjoy the album, it did grow a bit on me… with one glaring exception. “Beneath Broken Earth,” perhaps the band’s most miserable song ever penned, was love at first listen, and very narrowly escaped being my Song o’ the Year winner. Now, with Medusa, the band proclaimed to have made an entire album in the vein of that song.
Immediately, the misery bleeds through from opening track “Fearless Sky,” with somber riffing by Aaron Aedy blanketed by a mournfully trademark Gregor Mackintosh melody. Nick Holmes sticks to mostly the same growls he utilized on The Plague Within, only they’re a touch stronger here. Only towards the middle and end of the songs do his clean vocals surface, and they add more heft as things progress towards a downtrodden finale. At eight-and-a-half minutes, this is the band’s longest song yet, but the journey remains enjoyable throughout and is one of Paradise Lost‘s strongest (and heaviest) songs penned to date.
The majority of Medusa retains this oppressive, foreboding aura with mixed results. The title track blends their recent death/doom resurgence with dashes of Draconian Times majestic clean singing, producing another instant classic as a result. But while those two songs could easily fit their band’s live repertoire with no problem, the majority of Medusa sounds (and feels) a bit safe. Mind you, “safe” doesn’t equate to “bad”, but very little risk is taken, and the lack of variety pulls the album down a bit. “Blood and Chaos,” Medusa‘s most upbeat song, would feel less bizarre if Holmes just sang on it instead of relying on his growls. Closer “Until the Grave” feels so out of place, coming across as a Draconian Times B-side than a fitting end to an oppressive album. That fact is made even more ridiculous when you factor that “Symbolic Virtue,” an actual B-side to the “Blood and Chaos” single, would have made a stronger album closer. The rest of the album, though good, feels interchangeable.
Further diminishing things, the Jaime Gomez Arellano production and mix hamper the material. While I appreciate actually hearing and feeling Stephen Edmonson’s bass, the way new drummer Waltteri Väyrynen’s (also of Mackintosh’s Vallenfyre) plays sounds a bit off, especially in the cymbals and snare. Also, the overall mix feels a bit too smothered, not allowing for much breathing room. Songwriting-wise, just like with The Plague Within, there are a couple of strong songs, but the overall package just feels a bit too comfortable for my tastes. Again, not the worst thing in the world, but something to be mindful of.
Overall, though, Medusa adds another solid record since returning from their self-imposed hiatus from all things metal. While this won’t topple 2009’s incredible Faith Divides Us – Death Unites Us as my go-to post-Host Paradise Lost album, Medusa has moments of sheer death/doom majesty. It’s Paradise Lost doing what they do best, and nothing more needs to be said.