Snakes from the Divine
Paradise Lost’s unparalleled career trajectory comes full circle on their Nuclear Blast debut
Release Date: September 1, 2017
Label: Nuclear Blast
Like locust swarms, classic bands claim to return to their roots in cycles. Almost every veteran act self-consciously makes a stab at recapturing the vibes of their first records at least once, sometimes twice (Metallica). The results tend to disappoint. Nostalgia’s hold is too strong to allow new records to intrude on its myopia.
U.K. gothic doom trailblazers Paradise Lost buck the trend on their latest long-player, Medusa. It’s a self-conscious effort to reclaim the early glories of their amazing run of albums from the early ’90s. Against common wisdom, the old English dogs have crafted a catchy, vital and dismal suite of slow death metal songs peppered with goth rock hooks.
Medusa comes as no surprise; Paradise Lost have been half-making this record for over a decade. Every album since 2005’s self-titled LP can be described as death metal in all but vocals, and singer Nick Holmes brought a grimmer, more blackened version of his growl back to the fore on 2015’s The Plague Within. That album, though, reveled in digital production touches, and mostly employed harsh singing as an equal counterweight to Holmes’ melodic crooning. On Medusa, death vocals take a slight lead while the rest of the band leans in to a dirtier, more retro sound. Vintage synth tones, dulled to perfection by former Ghost producer Jaime Gomez Arellano, re-imagine the band as soundtrack composers for Hammer studios. A little of that Opus Eponymous magic has carried over, as well.
Paradise Lost haven’t sounded this loose in years. Huge, flat drums flop like titanic rubber mallets, courtesy of Vallenfyre/Abhorrence drummer Waltteri Väyrynen. Greg Mackintosh brings a few Vallenfyre touches into his main gig, as well: His lead guitar sits deep in the mix, still cycling through melodic licks. Mackintosh used to let his leads surf on top of the riffs, but on these compositions, he relies on the rest of the band to give him enough room, resulting in simpler, more memorable songs.
These constraints bring out the best in the band. Opener “Fearless Sky” hints at the gurgling doom of 2015’s “Between Broken Earth” until Holmes pulls an earworm chorus out of nowhere. He repeats this trick on every song. The second half of the record in particular delivers anthem upon anthem. “Blood and Chaos” scans as an improved second draft of “Shadow Kings” from Draconian Times. Twenty years of imitators haven’t captured that sound, but Paradise Lost may have improved upon it.
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