Paradise Lost – Obsidian Review

I remember when Paradise Lost was hyped up to be “England’s answer to Metallica” in terms of their burgeoning popularity when Icon and Draconian Times saw the Halifax quintet’s star grow in leaps in bounds. It’s also not a stretch to say they shared the same rollercoaster ride in terms of stylistic shifts and quality. While Master of Puppets and Draconian Times were both top-tier masterpieces, they also had Load and Reload, and Believe in Nothing and Symbol of Life, respectively. That said, Paradise Lost has Metallica beat as they’ve been on a massive upswing since 2007’s In Requiem, and have largely put out albums that were, at their worst, still pretty damn good since then. But now, with talks of their love for Sisters of Mercy creeping into their sixteenth full-length, Obsidian, many were worried that doom’s forefathers have donned the dance shoes once more.

Well, worry not, as this is a solid album that, once again, takes an outside influence (albeit a rather obvious one), and incorporates it into their successful formula just fine. In fact, as opener “Darker Thoughts” exhibits, you wouldn’t know it as all the trademarks are still in place. Nick Holmes’ plaintive croons and cavernous growls sound terrific, as does Gregor Mackintosh’s signature tone and sorrowful melodies. From the quiet, introspective acoustic pluckings to the powerful, heavy finish, “Darker Thoughts” ranks up there with “Enchantment” and “Embers Fire” as an incredible opening song amongst a catalog chock full of strong lead tracks.

But the rest of Obsidian isn’t so readily immediate. Rather, most of Obsidian may appear to be simplistic in terms of adhering to tried-and-true sounds, layers slowly peel back and the dark beauty of the album begins to take form on repeated listens. “Fall From Grace” and “Ending Days” possess a depth to them that make both tracks more addictive with each spin, especially with drummer Waltteri Väyrynen’s stellar performance on the latter. And while nothing on here matches the ridiculous heft of, say, “Beneath Broken Earth,” there’s a lot that would go toe-to-toe with anything from Icon or Draconian Times. There’s no shortage of quality tunes on Obsidian, and once again Paradise Lost are bringing their A-level doom game to the fore.

Now let’s talk about the Sisters of Mercy-isms apparent in a couple of their tracks, namely “Ghosts” and “Hope Dies Young.” Sadly, they’re the two weakest tracks on the album, but that has nothing to do with the Sisters influence. “Ghosts” has a catchy rhythm and cadence, but the lyrics in the chorus are a bit hokey (“For the fire burns, deep within mistrust/For the ghosts, the ones to break me…/FOR JESUS CHRIST”). The stomp is cool, but the way Holmes delivers “FOR JESUS CHRIST” feels so heavy-handed and goofy. “Hope Dies Young” stays at a mid-tempo while not doing much that’s exciting or ear-catching. Otherwise, I have no problem with Paradise Lost incorporating the Sisters motif in their music. In fact, I’m honestly surprised they didn’t sooner, like they did with Depeche Mode on One Second.

With all that said, Paradise Lost came back with an album more varied than Medusa while simultaneously adding new influences and remaining Iconic. It’s hard to stay fresh and relevant with over 30 years and sixteen albums under your belt, but Paradise Lost continue to impress while stomping to their own beat. Fans who are worried about another shift in style have absolutely nothing to fear, as this is quality Lost through-and-through. And besides, I’ll gladly take this over Metallica any day of the week.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: v0 mp3
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: May 15th, 2020

Written By: Mark Z.

Paradise Lost have been one of my favorite metal bands since high school. As a teenager obsessed with Finnish goth rock band HIM, I remember hearing Lost’s 2005 single “Forever After” on Pandora Radio and being blown away by how much darker and more mysterious it sounded than anything I had heard before. Over the years the English quintet continued to enthrall me as they steadily moved from goth rock back to the doom metal of their early years. With 2017’s Medusa, Lost finally made an album just as heavy as their 1990 debut Lost Paradise and, for the first time since I had started following the band, I had no idea what they would do next. Thus, their sixteenth album Obsidian had a special sense of anticipation associated with it. Would the band stay heavy? Get lighter? Throw us all a massive curve ball?

Having now heard Obsidian several times, I suppose the approach here is exactly what I should have expected. In the vein of CarcassSurgical Steel, this album is the sound of a veteran band with a stylistically diverse back catalog combining many of their previous sounds together into one cohesive opus. As such Obsidian reminds me a lot of 2015’s The Plague Within with the way doom and beefy gothic metal exist side by side, as well as with the way vocalist Nick Holmes employs his deep clean singing and rotten death growls in roughly equal measure. Early highlight “Fall from Grace” even sounds like a lost cut from Plague with the way it combines simple melodic guitar lines with cleanly sung hooks and wretched growls.

Yet Lost have never made the same album twice and it’s readily apparent they’re not going to start now. “Ghosts” showcases the band’s 80s goth influence in a way that Plague never did, sounding like a heavier Sisters of Mercy track with its snappy drumbeat and catchy crooned chorus. Opener “Darker Thoughts” takes a wholly different approach, beginning with soft singing and acoustic guitar before abruptly crashing into death roars, massive chords, and vast echoing melodies. It’s a terrific and dynamic song that reminds me a lot of modern Swallow the Sun while containing some of the best clean singing I’ve ever heard from Holmes. Sadly, he doesn’t remain as compelling as the album continues, with later tracks like “Hope Dies Young” featuring less notable performances.

In fact, as a whole Obsidian feels quite top heavy, with the opening trio of aforementioned “Thoughts,” “Grace,” and “Ghosts” being quite a bit stronger than anything else here. Part of the problem is the lack of truly standout ideas. In the past, Lost were great about ensuring every song had a strong chorus or noteworthy riff to keep it aloft. Here, cuts like “Forsaken” are enjoyable but hardly memorable on either the vocal or instrumental front. Late highlight “Ending Days” has one of the best choruses on the album and initially seems to be an exception, yet even its instrumentation just isn’t that interesting upon closer examination. While guitarist Greg Mackinosh redeems things somewhat with the fantastic and yearning leads he sprinkles liberally throughout these nine tracks, overall the engaging riffs and melodies I’ve come to expect from the band are simply in shorter supply on Obsidian than I’d hoped. Fortunately, the production is terrific, with full and meaty guitars buttressed by a clear and rich soundstage.

Stylistically, I love the approach Lost took with Obsidian. The album feels wholly natural for them and sounds unmistakably like Paradise Lost without feeling like a retread of any of their previous work. My biggest gripe lies in the execution. Even for a band with such a long career, relatively new albums like Plague and especially 2009’s Faith Divides Us – Death Unites Us still felt wholly engaging and replete with fresh ideas. Yet while it’s hard to say the same for Obsidian, it’s worth noting that even the worst songs here are merely nondescript rather than bad, and the album still has enough good ideas to make these 46 minutes a largely enjoyable listen when all is said and done. Even if it isn’t a resounding success, I suspect I’ll continue spinning Obsidian for some time to come, though I do hope future albums have just a little more fire inside.

Rating: 3.0/5.0

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