posted on 4/2012 By:
On the day I started writing this review, I got out of work early. It was a beautiful day, 80 degrees and sunny, and I knew I had some writing to do, so I grabbed my iPod, went to the park near my office and plopped myself down under a tree. I’d been listening and re-listening to this new Paradise Lost record since I’d gotten it two weeks prior, but between dealing with day jobs and real life, no matter how much I listened, I had struggled to put words on paper. (Well, “on screen” would be more accurate – oh, the wonders of technology.) So, with my world turned off and my afternoon free, I sat there under my tree in the sun, watching the children play and the clouds roll lazily by and the bees buzz about.
And I didn’t write a damn thing. I could hear the music, but I couldn’t feel it. I was processing it on a cerebral level, not an emotional one. This was dark metal on a sunny day, and the words wouldn’t come.
Thus defeated by springtime pleasantries, I climbed back in the car and rolled along to a nearby sandwich shop for a cheap dinner. In the twenty minutes it took me to devour my tuna sub, alone in the restaurant but for the sandwich artist, I watched the world wash away. When I sat down, the sun was shining, and though twilight was approaching, nothing appeared amiss. But then came one of those sudden turns that characterize Nashville weather, and the clouds turned black and churned in a rapidly darkening sky; and sudden winds drove all the trees hard to one side; and in an instant, the rains poured down in a wall, infinite and impenetrable; and the night came crashing in and all the street lights and headlights and neon on Nolensville Pike could but barely break it. And though darkness covered all of creation in nearly the blink of an eye, this wasn’t a frightening nightfall. It wasn’t evil or malevolent – it was tragic in ways, and transcendent in others, turbulent and tumultuous and yet tranquil; it was bleak and lonely, and yet in the blackness that swallowed an entire suburban street, there was a certain melancholy beauty.
I put my headphones back on, and I scrolled back to the start of Tragic Idol.
Because this… this was Paradise Lost weather.
Gradually returning towards more metallic climes after spending the late 90s in maudlin rock territory, these gothic metal icons hit a home run with 2010’s Faith Divides Us – Death Unites Us. That album capitalized upon those heavier turns, blending them with enough shades of goth to effectively marry the best parts of those divergent records with the glories that came before. In much the same manner, just approached in reverse, Icon and especially Draconian Times achieved similar musical results – on those records the gothic overtook the band’s pioneering death/doom, before One Second signaled the abrupt abandonment of that hybrid fully in favor of the interloper. So, in effect, Paradise Lost’s recent progress is a regressive one, but it’s been enacted far more gradually in this direction, and time will tell if the band continues to move deeper back into harsher waters. Equally indicative of the conscious decision to revisit Draconian success, Tragic Idol sees the resurrection of the band’s second-era logo, the first time that typeface has appeared since One Second. In the end, be it progress forward or backward or both, Faith stood as the band’s best and heaviest effort since Draconian, the last of their early run of classics.
Tragic Idol begins where Faith ended, and it sees these Peaceville Three veterans getting heavier and stronger still with the addition of Adrian Erlandsson on drums. (Erlandsson previously played in At The Gates, The Haunted, Cradle Of Filth, and Skitsystem, among others.) Further planting the band firmly back in the gothic metal of their commercial heyday, Nick Holmes sings most of Idol in the same snarling Hetfield-ian half-growl he developed on Icon. As before, he offsets that snarl with a baritone croon during select powerful instances, using the balance to build hooks and tension within the tunes – most notably in the verses of the stellar “Fear Of Impending Hell” and in the chorus of doom-leaning opening track, “Solitary One,” which also sports some fleeting piano amidst the darkened tones.
Founder and songwriter Gregor Mackintosh has always had a wonderful penchant for catchy guitar melodies, indulged splendidly here, blending doom riffs and traditional leads a la classic Paradise. Often, Mackintosh’s melodies dance atop Aaron Aedy’s crunchy chords, and that interplay is as important as Holmes’ semi-melodic bellowing in terms of keeping the tracks moving and memorable. But what steps Idol above others is the interplay between Mackintosh / Aedy and Erlandsson, whose stellar drumwork sits expertly in the pocket and pushes the whole affair forward, driving even when the band appears to be trudging. And therein lies the secret: Paradise Lost swings and swaggers, even when it seems like they're sliding, and the band's ability to rock their sadness results in many of Idol's best and heftiest moments ("Theories From Another World," "In This We Dwell," "To The Darkness" -- that latter track is a grower, but deserves attention).
Though its songs are as strong or stronger than those of Faith and the album is nearly flawlessly performed, Tragic Idol gets docked a half-point for a slightly muffled production. Like its predecessor, Idol was produced by Jens Bogren (Katatonia, Opeth, the forthcoming and killer Kreator disc), but this one doesn’t punch as hard; it hits softer, feels flatter, and given that the band is best when balancing a harder metallic edge against its lachrymose tendencies, dulling that edge doesn’t help matters. Still, those differences are neither excessive nor deal-breakers, and though it might not sound quite as sharp or as big, Tragic Idol rivals or exceeds Faith in every other capacity, most notably and importantly in that of memorable songs. Some of these tunes are easily among the best that Paradise Lost has written in nearly two decades – the soaring chorus and hard-and-haunting guitar-work of “Crucify” and single “Honesty In Death”; the riffs and tribal drumming of “Theories Of Another World,” arguably the heaviest thing they’ve recorded since the death/doom days.
For a band largely known for being a downer, the fact that Paradise Lost manages to simultaneously mope and rock is a large part of the dichotomous brilliance of their gothic metal mastery. At once uplifting and downtrodden, Tragic Idol exhibits that perfect Paradise Lost balance – as such, it’s another success from a band on a roll, with only a slight production woe to bring it down. Now undeniably a metal band once again, markedly heavier than they’ve been since the early 1990s, Paradise Lost offers only that increased aggression in the way of surprises here, and though it’s noticeably harder, in the end, Tragic Idol is mostly just another great gothic metal record from a band that helped create the style. Though they have an equal in Katatonia, no one does beautiful sadness any better than these Brits when they’re on their game, and thankfully they’re in continuing fine form for this one.
Also of note: There are two bonus tracks on a different version of Tragic Idol than on the one I received for review – an original called “Ending Through Changes” and a cover of “Never Take Me Alive,” first released by British post-punk outfit Spear Of Destiny. I cannot comment upon either, but I mention them because the dedicated will likely want to pursue the expanded edition.
Register to post comments.
Faith Divides Us - Death Unites Us
10/6/2009 Paradise Lost
6/5/2007 Paradise Lost