Nuclear Blast Records [Release date 15.05.20]
Creating an album whose compositions are fresh-sounding, well-balanced, expertly-performed and capable of causing high levels of excitement with every new spin is a pretty hard task for any band to achieve in the year 2020.
I cannot claim to know whether or to what extent such considerations were indeed troubling the minds of the members of Paradise Lost when they started putting together material for their sixteenth (!) studio album “Obsidian”, but what I can state with real confidence is that the nine compositions on offer here certainly meet all of the above criteria.
It only really requires one good spin for a Paradise Lost afficionado to realize that, contrary to its direct predecessors “The Plague Withing” (2015) and “Medusa” (2017), “Obsidian” is an album whose main aim is to become attractive to a much wider musical audience – not simply the diehard fans of Death/Doom Metal as has been the case these last few years.
By adorning half of the compositions on offer with the type of electronic/Goth themes that made albums like “One Second” (1997) and “Symbol Of Life” (2002) such big sellers and have them ‘inhabit’ the same ‘musical environment’ with guitar-driven material of “Icon” (1993) pedigree, Paradise Lost have managed to kill two birds with one stone – both widen their musical direction and keep their loyal fan-base (all of it) happy.
Recognizing Nick Holmes’ clean vocal lines which accompany the opening moody/acoustic guitar passage of “Darker Thoughts” may not be as easy as one might expect but the same cannot be said for the heavy/guttural growl which the Halifax-born and raised singer unleashes two minutes into the song – a growl which, from the off, helps showcase the album’s musical diversity.
Having been drenched in Gregor Mackintosh’s emotional lead guitars and survived to tell the tale, the listener will be exposed in another fine example early 90s intricate Metal in the shape of “Fall From Grace” while the follow-up “Ghosts” clearly moves in Goth territory, paying clear tribute to the works of Sisters Of Mercy.
It is at this moment in time that Paradise Lost present us with the album’s ‘magnum opus’ – a six-minute compositions entitled “The Devil Embraced”. Based on a brilliant combination of an atmospheric organ theme and a simple-sounding but beautifully-crafted lead guitar harmony, the song enables Holmes to showcase the mellower side of his voice – that is until the time of the refrain when the Yorkshire front man parts with a truly majestic and massively captivating growl.
In remaining four or so minutes, the listener experiences a struggle for domination between these very diverse musical elements – a struggle which, for the record, ends in a draw.
Simple in its structure but featuring some exquisite lead guitar work, especially towards the end, “Forsaken” finds the members of the band once more heavily flirting with Goth elements while the follow-up composition “Serenity” is more Metal in its outlook, courtesy of Mackintosh’s massive low-chorded main riff and catchy lead guitar melody featured in the refrain.
The second highlight of the album is the four and a half minute “Ending Days”, a harmony-driven composition whose main strength lies in the collaboration between some cleverly-arranged violin parts & Nick Holmes’ emotional clean vocal delivery during the song’s refrain.
The album concludes with another diverse duet in the shape of “Hope Dies Young” / “Ravenghast” – the former being a guitar-driven mid-tempo composition with strong Goth affiliations while the latter a slow belter filled with eerie/haunting keyboard parts, doom-laden riffs and vocals of a truly harsh nature.
Being a fan of Paradise Lost since the early 90s, I thoroughly enjoyed the band’s decision to reinvest in the style and sound of the glorious early 90s a few years back. While this was happening, however, I did find myself really missing the electronic/Goth elements that sent the band’s career to the stratosphere from 1997 onwards.
It is these two diverse musical universes that “Obsidian” is tasked to bring closer to each other – a mission which it has managed to achieve with both style and gusto. Paradise Lost are not re-inventing the wheel with their sixteenth studio album; what they do, however, is prove that thirty-two years since their original inception, they remain one of the finest Metal bands Britain has ever produced as well as a force to be reckoned with. Jolly good show lads! ****
Review by Ioannis (John) Stefanis
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