A while ago, I was walking about and found myself in want of a quick, cheap, easy snack. I knew I was close to a McDonald’s, and that a greasy, delicious McDouble was under two bucks; perfect. Yet when I reached the restaurant, something was weird: it was called “McCafe” and designed to look trendy, modern, and friendly to Starbucks-sipping screenplay scribblers. I used to be rather good at guessing an album’s genre based on the cover, but trips to the record store have proven confusing nowadays for the more extreme variants of metal. The new Downfall of Gaia cover could just as easily be metalcore. Wormwitch could just as easily be stoner or doom. Here I’m presented with flames, a fallout mask, blood, and a saw. This seems a safe bet.
Yes, Paragon’s Controlled Demolition appealed to me in part due to its cover, which could have also graced a PC game from the late nineties. It’s unironically metal, which is fitting because Paragon are unironically metal. Now, there is metal and there is metal, and Paragon are the horns raised, cranked to eleven variety of metal that characterized the ’80s and the wave of ’80s nostalgia. Their sound is a simple one, a mixture of Accept’s Teutonic metal and Exodus’s chunkier, more midpaced moments, and a bit of Saxon too. Vocally, I’m reminded of a lower-pitched Udo or Zetro with the melodic snarling on display. The clear production of post-reunion Accept is employed, with guitars “distorted” in Sneap-esque fashion, bass rumbling and crunching audibly throughout, and drums sounding big but a few hairs away from replaced.
Paragon deliver fun and wholesome heavy metal. There’s no attempt to reinvent the wheel, which is good — this means more focus is on riffs than breaking the mold. Where they do break with convention is in making the title track — an instrumental intro — an absolute banger, repurposing the “Hell Awaits” intro riff to great effect. Also unconventional is back-loading the record. While the whole of Controlled Demolition is good, the final four songs are a proper winning streak. “Blackbell” rides an Exodus mid-tempo crusher type riff, and climaxes in a great lead section that’s metal to the bone. “The Enemy Within” may get a bit too cozy with the “Brotherhood of the Snake” riff for relative comfort (a chaperone should perhaps move the hands up a bit here), the song is catchy, fun, and features some solid guitar interplay and falsetto vocals. The backing vocals carry the chorus on “Black Widow” — an interesting choice, but one that pays off, as the less snarly tone sells the hook nicely.
There’s something comforting about records like this, much like there’s something comforting about the McDouble. I know what I’m going to get, and I know that I’m going to enjoy it, barring any egregious errors. None appear here, and I’ve enjoyed spinning Controlled Demolition. Paragon crafts agreeable, engaging metal — no more and no less. It sounds inspired enough to hit consistent singles and doubles or to get four or five rushing yards reliably. This strategy wins the game, but it doesn’t make for a big highlight reel. There are no bad songs here, but nonetheless, Controlled Demolition epitomizes the good metal album flawlessly. I like it for that reason, as we need records like this — listening to great albums all the time is an exhausting exercise. Sometimes what’s needed is to bang your head, be unsurprised but happy, and focus on good riffs, good hooks, and good leads. Paragon achieves this goodness with aplomb.
I remember looking at my father’s LP collection one afternoon. He showed me good albums I’d never heard — ones that escaped the ’70s and ’80s without critical acclaim. These were interesting, as I’d already heard the big ones before. Controlled Demolition is that first type of record. Should I secure a copy of this, I have no doubt that, in twenty years’ time, I’ll pull it off the shelf and think “Paragon was good, I like this album.” They do just enough of their own sound to be relevant — Teutonic Bay Area heavy metal is a fun niche — and they put together enough solid tunes to make spinning Controlled Demolition a worthwhile experience. A McDouble is certainly not the best food you can get at a restaurant, but sometimes it hits the spot. Controlled Demolition fills this underappreciated role, satisfying and satiating not in spite of but because of being just good.