The Electric Ballroom is a great venue. Too long since my last visit. And too long since I last caught live these esteemed architects of gothic metal, Paradise Lost. What a splendid night of re-acquaintance all round.
But first, American doomsters Pallbearer were onstage, grinding out an unholy soundscape with an amped-up funereal dirge. That’s meant as a complement.
Material from ‘Heartless’, the band’s latest album, featured heavily. The title track showcased a riveting extended guitar solo on the intro. The twin lead guitar swirl was magnetic and the rhythm unit managed to crank out a floorboard-shaking rumble at no more than a snail’s pace.
Later, ‘Dancing in Madness’ developed the twin-guitar signature sound further, sliding over and under each other in squealing harmony. The material generally went down well with the good-sized crowd, who were far more familiar with the music than me.
Bassist Joseph D Rowland was the chief cheerleader amongst a pretty static bunch. He was often out front cajoling the crowd into animation, whilst conducting the band’s lumbering tempo.
I felt a bit sorry for Devin Holt, the lead guitarist parked out stage left. In keeping with the gothic feel of the night, he was left to pick out his solos in virtual darkness as the spotlights evaded him completely throughout the set. It’s not as if Devin was charging around the stage like a demented thrasher. The band suffered poor lighting all round, which is a criticism I don’t think I’ve ever levelled at a gig before. They battled through though and won plenty of new fans tonight. Myself included.
The Ballroom was rammed for Paradise Lost. A good sign. Though maybe opener, ‘From the Gallows’ was a shade underwhelming. I’m not entirely sure that the death growl that Nick Holmes has re-introduced on the last couple of albums quite suits where the band are right now.
The vocal effects used on this and later on ‘Gods of Ancient’ don’t fit the live sound too well. However, I was relieved to hear that the muddy drum sound on last year’s ‘Medusa’ album was totally absent in the flesh.
This band are all about slow burn though and I was not worried. The opening keyboards to ‘One Second’ were met with a huge cheer and had everyone joining in with both verse and chorus. The band’s synth period has met with mixed views over their near-30 year career, but tonight this sounded fresh, insistent, tight and very heavy. A thrilling combination. There are no pyrotechnics with Paradise Lost. It’s all about the delivery.
A mid-set highlight was the utterly brilliant ‘Enchantment’ from 1995’s ‘Draconian Times’, for my money the band’s most complete album. This track is a monster of gothic bombast, hallmarked by a dark riff, brooding lyrics and rising musical tension. Nick Holmes was in commanding form and led the crowd through the track’s vocal climax in a rousing group sing-a-long.
‘One Second’ was plundered again for another slice of taut metal in the shape of ‘Say Just Words’ with a riff so sharp you could shave off your goatee.
By contrast, and to underline the diversity of the Yorkshire metalists’ output, ‘Medusa’ crashed in with the dirtiest, ugliest riff heard all night, underpinned by a dense, downtuned bottom line where every quiver on Steve Edmondson’s bass strings could be felt.
And then the track unwound with some poignant, enthralling lead work from Mackintosh. There were elements of everything in the band’s convoluted career to date in this piece.
‘An Eternity of Lies’ continued the theme with a distorted riff and a delivery as aggressive as anything in the set. Not for the faint hearted.
The setlist is well constructed because the furious ‘Blood and Chaos’, again from the latest album, picked up the mood of ‘An Eternity…’ and flogged it around the venue with wild abandon. The fastest tune all night provoked a mild mosh-pit down the front.
Crowd favourite and early classic, ‘As I Die’ from 1992’s ‘Shades of God’ kept everyone bouncing.
And then a radical change of mood. ‘Beneath Broken Earth’ is a crushing, remorseless, death-doom beast harvested from the seeds sown by Sabbath’s dark and dry ‘Masters of Reality’ all those years ago. Compelling. “Bet you can’t keep the mosh pit going during this one” quipped Holmes, introducing the track. Actually he also said it before ‘As I Die’ but got the running order wrong, so repeated the joke here.
‘Embers Fire’ seemed a little shallow after that epic and an odd note on which to depart the stage. Normal service was resumed, however, with ‘No Hope in Sight’ which kicked off the encore with another brutal Mackintosh chug in between a simple descending riff, with hints of spiralling psychedelic guitar on the chorus.
The final brace of tracks were ‘The Longest Winter’ fuelled by discordant keyboards and another great vocal from Holmes, coupled with the triumphant ‘The Last Time’ played with freedom and relative abandon to wrap up a tour de force performance.
This leg of the tour had only two UK dates: London and Leeds. However, they return next year with a more extensive British schedule. Be sure to catch them then. Stirring stuff from bona-fide genre-defining legends.
Review by Dave Atkinson
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Power Plays w/c 7 January 2019
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14:00-16:00 MICHAEL ARMSTRONG #LookingForTheWorld (indie)
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ELEKTRADRIVE Living 4 (2008)
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