The kings of gothic doom return to meld all eras of their vast catalog into a defining statement that complements an already immortal discography.
Quantifying the influence of a single group on any musical genre is a rather difficult, almost impossible task. As someone who considers the grand influence of current music, one must also confront the Goliaths that have preceded the new blood. To accurately describe the influence that Halifax’s PARADISE LOST have had on the world of extreme music is ultimately an exercise that will result in dismay and bewilderment. In the thirty plus years that the group has been active, each release has revealed a band that is not content with staying in one lane for exceedingly long periods of time. From their auspicious beginnings as forerunners of the death doom movement in the late 80’s, pioneering gothic doom and experimenting in the 90’s, firmly establishing themselves as elder statesmen in the 2000’s and finally returning to their roots in the 2010’s, PARADISE LOST enter another decade of existence with a true prime mover in the form of their sixteenth studio album Obsidian.
Following the massive return to death doom stylings on The Plague Within (2015) and Medusa (2017), the West Yorkshire doom gods have crafted one of the most layered and interesting listening experiences in their discography since Draconian Times (1995) hit the ears of the world nearly twenty five years ago. So, what makes the band qualified to stand toe to toe with the rest of the doom world in which the style they helped pioneer has now gained worldwide admiration? Well, the truth lies in the fact that a band who helped forge a sound can still bring the necessary energy and vitality to the genre that plods and yet still manages to give the young bucks another blueprint to base their sound and aesthetic on.
Formed in the West Yorkshire town of Halifax in 1988, PARADISE LOST began and has remained consistent with the core lineup of vocalist Nick Holmes, guitar wizards Gregor Mackintosh and Aaron Eady and bass lord Stephen Edmondson with a revolving door of drummers. These four men, along with founding drummer Matthew “Tuds” Archer, would record two highly influential demos entitled Paradise Lost, which came to light in December of 1988, and the Frozen Illusion demo in the summer of 1989. Off the back of these two demos and their explosive live performances, the group were signed to the Peaceville Records imprint and would later release their first full length record Lost Paradise in the early months of 1990. The record was a brutal mixture of mid-tempo death metal ala AUTOPSY and BOLT THROWER combined with the slow grinding pace of CANDLEMASS, BLACK SABBATH and TROUBLE. But as history would play out, the band were not content with staying in just that course for long.
Soon after, the band would release their arguable masterpiece Gothic (1991) the very next year. While downplaying a lot of the death metal, the record saw the group incorporating influence from THE SISTERS OF MERCY, JOY DIVISION, and classical music to create what would eventually become gothic doom. 1992 saw the release of Shades of God through new label Music For Nations, which would introduce the world to the cleaner vocal stylings of Mr. Holmes, becoming a large success despite the record having a hefty track listing with many songs breaching the seven minute mark. It saw the band at a point where they could take the then experimental nature of Gothic and combine it with totally unique songwriting and riff work. This style would culminate in the 1993 masterwork Icon and refined further on 1995’s Draconian Times. After the release of Icon however, Tuds Archer would exit the band and Lee Morris would take the drum throne.
The next release from the band entitled One Second (1997) would see PARADISE LOST strip much of their metallic sound in favor of a more straightforward gothic rock approach. This experiment would come to a head on the band’s most divisive record, 1999’s Host, which saw the band go full DEPECHE MODE with synth pop and an overall cleaner production from what they had in the past. On the last two releases with Lee Morris, those being 2001’s Believe in Nothing and 2002’s Symbol of Life, the group wisely chose to return to heavier pastures, which included the return of guitars taking center stage. Jeff Singer would join the band for the self-titled record released in 2005 and for 2007’s In Requiem before exiting soon after. These records saw the band return to a slightly more metallic sound that seemed much more palatable for fans of the group’s mid 90’s output.
Faith Divides Us - Death Unites Us (2009) would follow this trend and would result in 2012’s Tragic Idol, seeing not only a true return to doom metal but also the introduction of legendary AT THE GATES drummer Adrian Erlandsson, who would also lend his thunder to 2015’s The Plague Within. This record represented the first time in over 23 years that PARADISE LOST had performed straightforward, unadulterated death doom while also incorporating the gothic rock elements that had always been a part of their sound. 2017 would see the band at their heaviest in over two decades with Medusa, which would top many year end lists including the coveted Decibel Top 40. This record would also be the first to introduce new drummer Waltteri Väyrynen of ABHORRENCE fame.
And thus, we come to Obsidian. While the history lesson may seem redundant and unnecessary, let me assure you, much like this year’s ELDER record, a history and knowledge of the band’s previous works is a major factor to understanding and fully appreciating this record. Opening track Darker Thoughts begins with Holmes offering a melancholic yarn as a delicate acoustic guitar and violin accompany him. This instantly reminds me of the softer moments of his vocal work on Host while the instrumentation behind offers up the ballroom tenderness of a record like Draconian Times or One Second. Roughly two minutes in, the band kicks in and Holmes returns to his trademark growl. While some have argued that his voice has weakened with age, I would argue that Nick Holmes has one of the most versatile voices in metal with the ability to sing you to sleep and then haunt your dreams much like OPETH’s Mikael Åkerfeldt. Two minutes in and Edmondson and Väyrynen lock into an infectious groove before Holmes offers a layered vocal that proclaims your time here is done. Very post punk laced guitar work from Mackintosh and Eady quickly melts into a raucous line as Holmes continues to growl his way into your soul. Nearly four minutes in and we are treated to a trademark Gregor Mackintosh solo that would fit perfectly on Shades of God. Eady, Edmondson and Väyrynen anchor in the background and the track drifts to an end on dissonant violin and reverb guitar.
Single Fall from Grace shows a slight recall to the sounds of The Plague Within with triumphant riff work before Holmes begins his tale. He also can counter his vile venom with deceptively soothing cleans that have pretty much become his trademark. The track follows as any great PARADISE LOST cut would without sounding dated and dull. Guitars offer the listener a true fist pumping quality while the bass and drumming keep everything moving at a brisk pace. Another soaring Mackintosh solo around four minutes in sends chills down the spine while also prompting you to not shed a tear for all of mankind.
Following track Ghosts is quite possibly the most “fun” song on the record despite being rather morose. This is a track that draws immediate comparisons to goth club bangers that would be hammered out by the likes of BAUHAUS or SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES if they listened to a shit ton of DREAM DEATH and CATHEDRAL. Eady’s clean guitar and Edmondson’s bass are the prime focal points of the track and they really stand out to make this an almost danceable cut. In the vocal department, Holmes firmly keeps it in a lower register like his performance on Tragic Idol. Edmondson’s bass glides across the soundscape to dazzling effect while guitars offer a balancing act of melancholic and hopefulness.
The album’s longest cut The Devil Embraced harkens back to the time of Shades of God with some welcome atmosphere and riffing that is straight out of Tony Iommi’s notebook. A simple piano melody behind the group gives the track a somewhat hypnotic quality while Nick’s vocals initially begin sounding like his plaintive chants on Icon cuts like True Belief and Weeping Words while interspersing his grim gutturals. Once again, Mackintosh rips into an absolute face melter before the band goes full death doom beast mode in a bulldozing chug. The track ends with one final slam before fading away.
The track Forsaken INSTANTLY caught my ear as it features a choir intro that would seem very fitting in the band’s Gothic era of their career before dipping into Holmes vocal style seen on One Second. The track rides out for a moment before allowing itself to settle into a very gloomy groove courtesy of some great riffing via Mackintosh and Eady. Once again, soloing comes in to guide you like the heavenly choir in the foreground. Holmes keeps things very grounded while still sounding as if he is a man who has walked the earth for thousands of years.
Serenity begins with a very syncopated riff pattern that seems eerily like a cut from Symbol of Life or even Believe in Nothing if you have the perfectly tuned ear. It does however get more gloom and doom as it progresses, eventually sounding like a very malformed TROUBLE cut without all the religious subtext. It’s a sweet little barn burner and that’s all there is to it.
Ending Days begins with some contemplative drumming while Old Nick waxes philosophical about suffering and sadness. This cut also benefits from the welcome addition of a violin before the gothic doom returns to hit you directly in the heart. While it can be said that the main men behind this group know exactly what they want, I must add that Waltteri Väyrynen feels completely at home working with these veterans. The track floats on a melodic note that also could be seen to share similarities with fellow Peaceville Three compatriots MY DYING BRIDE before the solos signal a dramatic end to one of the record’s best cuts.
Shortest track Hope Dies Young carries a mid-paced groove right into an atmospheric section that echoes the beauty and majesty of Draconian Times. Holmes begs you to draw closer as he tells you that hope is just a concept to simply pacify. It’s all a futile exercise in the end and that’s the magic of PARADISE LOST: beauty and grace amidst decay and horror. Keys whirl behind the group and establish this short tune with some much needed end of record gusto and muscle. But everything closes out brilliantly on closing bruiser Ravenghast.
Nick Holmes channels his nastiest notes to offer a true death doom masterclass which wouldn’t sound out of place on Lost Paradise. It’s heavy, it’s despondent and above all…IT SIMPLY CRUSHES. This is most certainly one of the heaviest songs the band have recorded and it is a rather sinister end to a record that to my ears, really combines the best parts of every era of PARADISE LOST to create a record that is rather nuanced for a band that is thirty years into their existence. Even after multiple listens, Ravenghast has quickly risen to become a favorite cut as it ends the record on a simple yet haunting piano melody.
Despite being the old guys in the doom scene, PARADISE LOST can still show the world that they have what it takes to make true gothic doom as poignant and relevant now as it was in 1991. The band have gone through many different styles and it is on Obsidian where even the parts of albums you don’t like (Host fans rise up) are able to be put on display as worthy matches to the timeless works of a band who have remained timeless throughout their tenure. I don’t know how much longer we will be blessed by these icons of melancholic bliss but I can assure you that even on album sixteen, PARADISE LOST have proven that the masters are always in command and that while the mortals watch the day, the fear that PARADISE LOST sow into the hearts of all will pave the way to an experience unlike any other. The shades of gods indeed.
Obsidian arrives on May 15th via Nuclear Blast Records. Pre-order your copy HERE.