Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Review of Paradise Lost's The Plague Within

Since they returned to a heavy goth metal style nearly a decade ago, Paradise Lost has yielded some quality material though they've run the risk of sounding too complacent at times. Factor in guitarist Gregor Mackintosh's work in Vallenfyre and vocalist Nick Holmes recent involvement with Bloodbath and you get the feeling that the band may have wanted to return to a more extreme approach as much as some of their fans have. Now with the release of their fourteenth full-length album, Paradise Lost aims to recapture some of their most primal sounds with some interesting results.

The stylistic shifts that are demonstrated on The Plague Within are best exemplified by Holmes' mixture of death growls and clean vocals. On one hand, his harsher voice never hits the grimy depths of Gothic or Shades of God and show their age at times. On the other hand, the growls are surprisingly solid for having not been seriously attempted in nearly two decades and their raspy edge has a uniqueness that allows it to work with all the different styles on display.

Going along with that, the album also succeeds for being one of the band's most diverse sounding efforts to date. "No Hope 'In Sight" and "Beneath Broken Earth" bring doom to the album's first half, "An Eternity In Lies" and "Sacrifice the Flame" showcase symphonic touches, "Cry Out" has a rare rocking tempo, and "Flesh From Bone" just might the band's most death metal-oriented track since the days of Lost Paradise. Somehow none of the tracks sound out of place; especially impressive considering how rarely they've fluctuated their tempos in recent years.

Unfortunately, the more adventurous songwriting may have occurred at the expense of their natural catchiness. While most doom bands let the riffs dominate their songs, Paradise Lost's standout trait has always been their ear catching vocal lines. "No Hope In Sight" and "Punishment Through Time" do offer some strong riffs but the scaled back vocals do keep certain songs from being as memorable as they could be. You won't find a less than great song in the bunch but one may long for the toe tapping structures that defined Draconian Times or even Tragic Idol.

While The Plague Within isn't quite as memorable as Paradise Lost's couple albums, it should be a refreshing listen for those who think the band has gotten too comfortable lately. It isn't the most catchy release but the stylistic changes pay off and there are highlights that can be enjoyed by just about any fan. This has the feel of a career retrospective but one can only hope this isn't meant to be their swan song. I get the feeling they still have a lot to work with...

"No Hope In Sight"
"An Eternity Of Lies"
"Punishment Through Time"
"Flesh From Bone"
"Cry Out"

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