Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Album Review: Paradise Lost - The Plague Within

Music is a business, we often forget, and one of the keys to success is timing. That can come in the way of luck, or it can be a strategy. In either case, an album and a band don't thrive solely on their own. They have to hit at the right time, or else they will fall through the cracks like so many others. We all know the scores of great records that never made an impact, and for a lot of them, the issue was that they just came out when the public wasn't ready for them.

Timing is fickle, and I feel that way about Paradise Lost as I sit down to listen to their new album. They represent both sides of the coin to me. On the one hand, the timing couldn't be any better, because they are coming off the heels of Nick Holmes' appearance on last year's Bloodbath album, which was one of the biggest events in death metal. Releasing a new Paradise Lost album now seems like a no-brainer. On the other hand, Spring is here, and Summer is fast approaching, so the weather and our collective mood isn't exactly in the right place for the band's brand of Gothic, depressive music. I have nothing against Paradise Lost, but there's is not the music I want to be listening to as I feel the sunshine hitting me through the open windows.

Still, I venture forth into the album. "No Hope In Sight" opens things with a suitably gloomy riff, and when the verses kick in, with the slow chugging guitars, there is a palpable sense of misery carrying through the music. Holmes eschews his growl at first for a more pained approach, which makes it sound all the more vicious when it does appear.  There are some beautiful guitar leads and harmonies throughout, and the song manages to be dour without succumbing to all-out misery.

There's a definite shift in tone, with more death metal influences than the band's recent work, one that I think works in their favor. That aggression works well with the mood they're trying to set, giving the songs enough edge and energy to avoid becoming a long slog through droning boredom. A song like "Terminal" is low key for death metal, but it props itself up just enough until the chorus section hits, and that's when it really hits hard.

"An Eternity Of Lies" is more of a continuation of the band's recent work, with heavy Gothic overtones, a piano used to great effect, and some truly depressive melodies. I say that in a good way. It's one of those songs that when you hear it the first time, you know it has the potential to far outlive the album it appears on. Every record has a couple of songs like that, ones that are going to find their way on to compilations. That is what this song is.

The middle of the album gets a bit flabby, with a couple songs carrying on for six minutes that don't need quite that much time, but even those have quality moments in them. A band that's been around this long rarely writes songs that aren't at least well put together. I actually like the use of black metal riffs in the very much not black metal "Victim Of The Past". That kind of subversion is usually interesting. Likewise, I love the rollicking rock and roll riff that carries "Cry Out". It's the only moment of the record that feels 'fun', and it comes at just the right time.

Ultimately, I don't know if I can assess this album. Listening to it, I can tell it's a good album that has well-written songs on it, but I struggle to judge exactly how good it is. The album exists in such a different place than my mind is right now that I feel like we are those proverbial ships passing in the night. I'm headed in one direction, Paradise Lost in the other, and this album is going to get lost in the crossing. Maybe I'll feel differently come the fall, but for now, my recommendation comes with a caveat.

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