Artist: Paradise Lost
Label: Nuclear Blast
I’ve been a fan of Gothic doom pioneers Paradise Lost for about 7 years now. Their discography is one of the most interesting in the history of metal, ranging from death/doom to synth-tinged Gothic pop. While fan-favorite Draconian Times (1995) is my favorite album as well, I also love the controversial Host (1999), which left metalheads scratching their heads in disbelief, and therefore almost all the different phases of the band’s career have something to offer to me. Paradise Lost have gradually returned to a heavier sound, and The Plague Within (2015) finally brought back the death growls heard on the band’s first few releases. Medusa, the first PL album through Nuclear Blast, will be released on September 1st, and it builds upon the doomy direction of the Plague track, “Beneath Broken Earth.”
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Although I didn’t like The Plague Within as much as its three predecessors, and in some parts of the songs, the growls felt like a cop-out when clean singing would’ve been more appropriate, it was still a quite solid album and didn’t abandon the melodic sensibilities that the band had developed over the years. Despite that, I wasn’t totally sure what to expect from Medusa, as the band had described it as a sludgy album and the missing link between Gothic (1991) and Shades of God (1992). I’m not really into sludge metal, and to me Icon (1993) is the first album in which PL truly hit their stride, so the first three albums aren’t exactly close to my heart. While the first two singles showed a lot of promise, it turns out that my concerns about Medusa were not unfounded – the growling has become even more predominant, a lot of the songs are at similarly slow tempos, and sadly PL’s trademark hooks, melancholy, and atmosphere aren’t very prevalent.
Let’s start with the good: the 8½-minute “Fearless Sky” is the longest Paradise Lost song ever, but it flows very well compared to, say, “Crying for Eternity” from Shades of God. The Hammond organ (an instrument the band has never used before) intro sets the mood nicely, and the Sabbath-y riff after the 6-minute mark is a good one, although the song could do with more melodic vocals in the first half. The lead single, “The Longest Winter,” is the strongest tune here, with a soaring chorus, a Type O Negative vibe (never a bad thing!), and a cool guitar effect that almost sounds like a keyboard. The title-track includes haunting piano, Nick Holmes‘s vocal melodies are interesting, and the clean guitar in the middle is nice. “Blood and Chaos”, the second single, is a Draconian Times -style upbeat track that’s a breath of fresh air from the doominess of the rest of the album, although the murky production and growling don’t really fit it. In that sense it’s like “Cry Out”, the most rocking tune on The Plague Within.
Then comes the bad: “Gods of Ancient” is one of the most forgettable PL songs ever with its pedestrian doom riffage, while “No Passage for the Dead” tries to recapture the ‘evil’ vibe of the band’s debut, Lost Paradise (1990), and lesser Gothic tracks like “Rapture” and “Silent.” “Until the Grave” is a rather underwhelming ending to the record compared to previous album closers such as “The Glorious End” and “Over the Madness.” “From the Gallows” is the most frustrating track of all, as it begins with a promising melodic intro, but quickly descends into standard death/doom, sounding like a poor man’s “Dead Emotion.” According to lead guitarist and composer Greg Mackintosh, the song has its origins in 1989 – if it wasn’t good enough for a studio album back then, why was it worth recording now?
When it comes the production, I have to say I’m not a big fan of the buzzsaw death metal tone of the guitars, because it makes Aaron Aedy’s rhythm guitar tracks sound less tight than they should be. The drum sound is also very similar to that of The Plague Within, which I believe hinders the album’s own identity a little bit. Speaking of drums, the young Finn, Waltteri Väyrynen, makes his debut behind the kit on Medusa. He does a good job, managing to throw in some nice fills despite the general slowness of the music – too bad his youthful energy didn’t spark the band to make stronger songs. Nick Holmes’s vocal performance is unfortunately a little one-dimensional, as his Hetfieldish rasp is absent, which only leaves us with growling and clean crooning. It’s a shame, because at many points throughout, a gritty yet melodic approach could’ve done more justice to the material than simply growling his way through it.
I’m afraid I can’t shake off the feeling of a musical midlife crisis while listening to Medusa. Paradise Lost is like an uncle who used to be naturally cool, but has now bought a Harley Davidson and is trying too hard to act like a badass. Considering that the gap between the two newest albums was merely 2 years, instead of the typical 3, and that Greg Mackintosh wrote the music while working on the latest Vallenfyre record, I think taking more time might have done wonders considering how rushed the final result sounds. As a big fan, I hate to give the album such a low score, but when you only truly like half the songs, out of which a few could’ve been stronger with changes in the vocal and production department, and the rest is a big blur that fails to convince you even after several listens… well, there isn’t much of a choice. To add insult to injury, bonus track “Symbolic Virtue” is available for listening on Spotify as the B-side to the “Blood and Chaos” single, and it’s a lot better than most of the songs on the actual tracklist – I wish the album had been more in its vein, with mainly clean vocals and a little more keyboards to make things sound more colorful. As is, Medusa is a disappointing throwback to Paradise Lost’s most embryonic and least mature era that doesn’t play to the band’s strengths. It’s the third real clunker in their otherwise consistent catalog, the first two being Lost Paradise and Believe in Nothing (2001).
Rating: 5/10, 2½ stars
1. Fearless Sky
2. Gods of Ancient
3. From the Gallows
4. The Longest Winter
6. No Passage for the Dead
7. Blood and Chaos
8. Until the Grave