Paradise Lost Obsidian

Nuclear Blast Records

Website:

Paradise Lost

The first time I saw Paradise Lost was in early 1990 in a packed, sweaty, now non-existent (weep, sniff, sob) Breehuys in Leiden. That gig took place about two weeks after the release of their debut album, ‘Lost Paradise’ and, thirty years later (holy shit), I still consider that first release to be an absolute apex-predator of doom-death metal, in competition perhaps only with Winter’s significantly more obscure release in the same year, ‘Into Darkness’. Now, now, don’t get your horns in a twist, this is just my humble opinion, an opinion which I know differs to that of many of you. That’s okay though, isn’t it? By the way, the gig was fucking epic... so were the beers, as always.. and that gig flicked a switch in my previously unenlightened spirit... more on that some other time.

Over the next five insanely productive years Paradise Lost immaculately conceived four further albums, ‘Gothic’ in 1991, ‘Shades of God’ in 1992, ‘Icon’ in 1993 and ‘Draconian Times’ in 1995. All great albums. Those five years were their halcyon days, never to be repeated I’m afraid. ‘Gothic’ is an absolute bloody masterpiece of it’s time. It’s heavier than your grandmother’s breasts, more climactic than a kilo of mentos thrown into Angelina Jolie’s coca cola-filled bathtub (with her in it, of course) and as eerily melodic as listening to a romantic-era funeral march, played by Oscar Wilde on a honky-tonk harpsichord, in the velvet-draped drawing room of a large deserted manor house, on Dartmoor, in winter, during a storm, at night, after popping a cocktail of prozac and uppers, washed down with four liters of scrumpy, having been chased by the hound of the Baskervilles for four hours, while wearing nothing but a smoking gown and your secret, tight-fitting Victoria’s Secret crotchless knickers. You get the picture, hopefully. If not, then PM me, I’m happy to explain, for a small fee.

‘Gothic’ is actually more than a masterpiece though, it was defining for the sub-genre now known as gothic metal... all of the bands who now make up that genre of mostly musical spaff and goo actually owe their existence to that album, although many would deny it, shamefully. The next three albums are also brilliant, albeit in different ways, each signaling a gradual move (I would say descent, actually) to a more poppy/chorus-driven, epic approach to songwriting, an approach which continued to develop until there was nearly nothing left of the Paradise Lost I once adored. I won’t now spend paragraphs bemoaning how this masterful band fell into decline... just listen to ‘One Second’, ‘Host’ and ‘Believe in Nothing’. Actually, don’t, you’ll regret it. Thankfully though, 2005’s ‘Paradise Lost’ heralded a return to old values and vibes, a return which in my opinion really started to bear fruit on 2009’s ‘Faith Divides Us...’ got better on 2012’s ‘Tragic Idol’, and reached old, demonic, heights on 2015’s ‘The Plague Within’. Thank the dark ones for the homecoming of our wayward sons!

So, what about “Obsidian?” Well, it’s actually pretty good. ‘Darker Thoughts’ opens up the album gently. In a way the opening reminds me of ‘The Wall’-era Pink Floyd but when the beat kicks in it sounds more like early Within Temptation. Odd how a band can end up sounding like a band they influenced. Not really! Despite Holmes gutteral voice sounding fantastic, I don’t really like the song though, it’s too sameish throughout, too chorusey. ‘Fall From Grace’ opens up like old Paradise Lost... goosebumps... and has a syncopated verse which grooves nicely. Uncharacteristically the chorus doesn’t seem to be the driving force behind this song. At the 3m mark we get the first glimpse of interwoven single-note guitar pieces which so characterised their sound in the early days. This song starts well but seems to get lost along the way. ‘Ghosts’ could easily have been plugged into a Sisters Of Mercy album. I actually really like it’s up-tempo nature and the guitar play, although a few of the melodies and riffs promise more than they actually deliver.

‘The Devil Embraced’... the opening of this song is pure, unadulterated, brilliance... it sucks you in, it builds, it promises and it delivers, and when Holmes opens his voice up you just know this song is going to go to dark, cold places, and it does. I’m not a big fan of Holmes’ clean voice but he nails it on this track. The church organ at 3:40 is simple genius. ‘Forsaken’ exemplifies one of the things that I’ve always loved about PL, namely the way that notes seem to hide in their riffs and then surface unexpectedly. It’s an art and you won’t hear them unless you listen closely. This song is also very mid-80’s goth-sounding. I like it though, for it’s simplicty of structure. ‘Serenity’ is not really my cup of tea although the intermezzo at 3m and subsequent build is typically brilliant. I really like ‘Ending Days’. It starts off very calmly with Heather Mackintosh accompanying Nick Holmes, very atmospheric. ‘Hope Dies Young’ reminds me of The Cult in places. This is a candidate for the best song on the album. ‘Ravenghast’ opens brilliantly and I love it’s vibe, I love the twin guitars. It’s definitely my favourite song and it’s riff is ‘dirty, mean and mighty unclean’, to quote Mr. Scott and the way Holmes growls ‘Dead’ and ‘Die’ just make me shiver. Yeah baby!

There are two bonus tracks on the deluxe edition: ‘Hear The Night’ has everything that’s best about PL... those riffs, heaven! The build up, demonic! Listen at 2:40, brilliant, brilliant, brilliant! It would have been the best song on the album and should have been, but it’s only on the deluxe edition. This is the shit if you’re a fan of the early work. ‘Defiler’ starts off a bit oddly with vox that sound like they don’t really fit the riff. Don’t like this song at all, except for the chorus.

All in all, this album is another pretty good outing from my erstwhile favourite band. It doesn’t reach the heights of their 2015 release (imho, the best since ‘Draconian Times’) but it’s clearly a Paradise Lost album and it delivers what you expect from them, largely, and that is always a good thing. I’m not sure about the production. The drums sound a bit thin to my (fucked up) ears and sometimes I get the impression that they’re not really doing anything for the dynamics of the songs. The guitars may, in places be too forward in the mix too. These are choices though, choices made by the band, and that is their prerogative. This is how they wanted the album to sound. I love the bass sound, slightly distorted in places, buzzing like a saw in others, and Holme’s voice is really very, very good on this album. Greg Mackintosh and Aaron Aedy’s guitar work is, as always, brilliant. It’s so well thought out! Over the years this band has meant so much to me and been a huge influence on my own musical life. I am so happy that they are once more walking the path that they were destined to be on. ‘Obsidian’ was released on May 15th, 2020. (A.J.)

70/100

Tracklist:
01. Darker Thoughts
02. Fall From Grace
03. Ghosts
04. The Devil Embraced
05. Forsaken
06. Serenity
07. Ending Days
08. Hope Dies Young
09. Ravenghast