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Paradise Lost's mid-period is one that has been slandered almost to death, while very few true fans of the band have really taken the time to to dig deep into the albums between Draconian Times and the "return to form album" that is either Paradise Lost or In Requiem depending who you believe (I believe no one). As such, Symbol of Life has become rather lost in all the dismissals of PL's less metal exploits during the late 90s and early 00s. Certainly, it isn't as extreme a departure from the band's more common sound base as Host or Believe in Nothing, but nor did it make any specific steps back towards the gothic and doom territory to which the Yorkshiremen have since returned.
In fact, it's rather difficult to put your finger on exactly what this album is. There have been tentative suggestions in the reviews below that this flirts with industrial and even nu metal as much as it does with gothic rock, though the influence of those genres seems to be merely incidental with the timing of the release and colours a few select parts rather than the majority of the album's sound. What one can say is that there isn't much focus on lead instruments here, with a tendency to push the lyrics to the front of the songs, which themselves are designed to come in and go out snappily, rather like radio rock songs. For fans of PL's other work, the tempo might come as a surprise, since 4 minutes is usually plentiful to get through everything, meaning that there is a definite use of more standard rock pacing than any gothic or doom bands would commonly consider. So with 11 songs of fairly similar construction, Symbol of Life would appear to be a very simple album.
It is a simple album, though that's not to say the music doesn't have some nuance. There are numerous electronic and keyboard elements to the songs that provide more specificity than the other instruments on many occasions and also lend some atmosphere to the compositions. For example, the echoing synths that open 'Perfect Mask' are foreboding and uncertain, while the distorted vocal (?) hook that follows each verse is wonderfully creepy and strange. That whole song sounds just like a great industrial metal effort of the kind that was popular at the time, what with the dominant rhythmic crunch of guitars, low but groovy bass, and unnerving electronic ambience, yet it doesn't particularly feel reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails, Rammstein, or any of their early 00s brethren. A lot of the songs' melodies have been worked in this way too, so that those looking for Gregor Mackintosh's hooks will find them, just often in a different form than expected.
If there's one thing that makes sure this album works, however, it's the catchiness of the songs on offer. When going for a simpler template, memorability must always be a focus and PL deliver on that front, guaranteeing memorable choruses in almost every song. In my opinion, Nick Holmes is one of the best vocalists in metal, since he has shown many strengths in several styles, his voice finding a comfortable middle ground in later years without losing any of its primal power and emotion. Here, he fills a lot of space, mostly sounding strong, even if some of the vocals (especially on the faster songs) lose a bit of the bite that the heavy guitars require. 'Self-Obsessed' and 'Isolate' both suffer in this regard, yet the commanding delivery of the chorus in 'Two Worlds' or the aching melancholy of 'No Celebration' make up for any shortcomings elsewhere. Regarding catchiness, the title track oddly fails to achieve the same level of release or memorability as the others, but dwells deeper on gentler and more reflective concerns. 'Primal' is of the same ilk, but has more in the way of emotion to give it greater resonance.
In all honesty, there isn't a good reason why fans of Paradise Lost's gothic material should dislike Symbol of Life, except for some faster sections and less focus on lead guitar playing. The songwriting is generally good and, although it doesn't sound modern anymore (a listen to the surprisingly decent bonus covers should reveal more about PL's older influences), it still retains its atmsophere and sense of infectiousness. There are links to the band's resurgence on the following few albums, and little for "true" PL fans to worry about.
Apparently for many people there's a huge gap in Paradise Lost history between Draconian Times and In Requiem, and personally I'd heard very little good about the albums from that period. I had had the general image that all albums of that time, this one included, all sound like Host - some kind of completely weird electronic experiment. When I heard some songs from Symbol of Life live, I started to have doubts, and decided to get it - which was a very good choice. I quickly found out that this is different Paradise Lost than the one I had known, but I got to like it very quickly. The idea seems, in general, similar to what had been Believe in Nothing (which is another story entirely) - plenty of electronics, but this time with more guitars, real drums and more straightforward approach. Well, yes.
But that's where the similarities end.
This album is a great example of combining dark, mysterious atmosphere with incredible catchiness, and doing it right. Probably half of the album would work well as singles and have the ability of staying in your head for weeks without the intention of leaving it, but at the same time, it works perfectly for listening in the evening and grabbing you into the darkness. There's plenty of electronics and samples used here, yes; but they work mostly for creating an additional layer to the sound and giving it a more modern feeling. The album is mostly very guitar-driven, with plenty of heavy riffs, there are also very few guitar solos here (Self-Obsessed contains the only longer and more remarkable one); the music is rather rhythm-based and bass is more exposed than usual. As a whole, it could be described as “gothic meets industrial”, and that's kinda how it sounds – I like some good and heavy industrial metal, but can't be called a fan of such; however, this album got me completely addicted for two weeks and some weeks later, I still listen to it quite regularly. Another good thing which lengthens the “lifetime” of the album is that it's extremely easy to get into, but there's also plenty to discover here – the sound is quite deep and multi-layered, and in between all the amazingly catchy choruses and heavy riffs there are many far subtler sounds.
What has also changed significantly is the vocals – the lighter albums allowed Nick Holmes to develop a very good clean singing style, and it's also present here (especially in Mystify and Symbol of Life). However, for the first time after a while, some stronger and harsher vocals appear, adding to the overall heaviness of the music – it's particularly present in Perfect Mask and Channel for the Pain (probably also the heaviest songs musically), giving them a bit of aggressive feeling at moments. Erased, Two Worlds and No Celebration are something else, with very powerful singing in the chorus; while Isolate and Pray Nightfall use more of his lower vocal range, with very low, deep singing. Overall, the vocals here are really good, and show Nick as a very versatile vocalist, with plenty of feeling and emotion in each style.
His singing has plenty of memorable moments on Symbol of Life, but that wouldn't be possible without good songwriting, and this is probably the greatest strength of this record. All songs have some “life” in them, with something that makes them stand out and be remarkable. This time there's plenty of metal and heaviness to be found (even though in a more modernised way – but that's “modern” done right), especially on Two Worlds, the aforementioned Perfect Mask and Channel for the Pain, based mostly on heavy riffs, and electronics more hidden in the background; Perfect Mask particularly shines and is one of the highlights of the album, with an excellent “driving” main riff. Erased has “this is the single” written all over it, and I am absolutely not surprised it's an extremely popular live track, because I would have extremely hard to find a catchier song and with a larger “sing along the chorus” factor – normally I prefer darker, more complex compositions, but it does indeed work great as the kind of song it's meant to be. Speaking of darker, Pray Nightfall is exactly that – not too heavy, with more dreamy vocals, and a mysterious atmosphere. Primal is heavier, but definitely also very atmospheric, particularly the intro, which is one of the best intros to a song I've ever heard (try to listen to it at night and not get chills...). Two songs also belonging to my favourites and particularly remarkable for a more dramatic atmosphere, with some string arrangements as well, are No Celebration and Symbol of Life (the former is actually the song that got me really interested in this album), both containing a really powerful, emotional chorus, and together with Pray Nightfall the least likely candidates for a single here. Finally, a bit different from the rest, are Isolate and Self-Obsessed - the former is the most industrial-feeling song on the album, but working perfectly as the opener, with a very marching style and medium tempo; the latter is the most rocking song on the album, with faster tempo and very dynamic style, like I mentioned before, it's also the only song containing a longer solo. The only track on the album which could have been a bit more is Mystify; apparently it was meant as a kind of softer gothic rock song, with female vocals in the chorus, but it just doesn't stand out that much. It's good for what it is, but something is a bit missing...
The production is very clean and polished, to add to the “modern” feeling of the music – which is pretty much what you would expect, and it works very well here. However, it nicely emphasises the heavy parts, giving the guitars a sharper sound. Also, the bass is more exposed than usual (which is a thing I always appreciate, since I don't like bass drowning in the mix), but the vocals are above everything; it doesn't mean they're too loud – they just stand out when they should, but there are moments when they seem to be quieter on purpose, for example in Perfect Mask they slightly blend in with the riffs, but still remain clearly audible. Overall – no complaints at all here either.
Symbol of Life may seem as something weird from the outside, and just like I had been, you may be unsure of what to expect from this one if you approach the band from the classic metal side; however, this is another successful experiment by Paradise Lost, and the most successful from the ones I've heard this far. This time, it's a band going somewhere else once again, but this time it feels like they perfectly knew what they were doing – after a period of softer, electronic-based rock, the guitars are back with force, soft vocals sometimes leave place for strong emotion or even straightforward anger, and melancholy is often replaced with darkness and mystery. All of this without abandoning the electronics – but they no longer dominate, they just serve to create a certain atmosphere and a different sound. If you shiver at the words “samples”, “industrial” or “electronic”, you may probably leave this one out. In any other case – don't hesitate and give it a try. Maybe it's not an absolute masterpiece, but it's an extremely enjoyable and captivating album, with very few weak points.
This is the album that would have been the official successor to ‘Draconian Times’ had the two following albums been in the ‘One Second, Host, Believe in Nothing’ mold.
This is an odd description at best, this newer version of Paradise Lost, (the last to feature drummer Lee Morris) sounds like Doomy Nu-Metal. The drums instantly remind one of Rammsteins’ mechanical/marching drum beats, while the vocals are a cross between later-period PL crossed with Korn. (That being said, NO, this doesn’t sound like the aforementioned band, but the ‘raspier’ vocals are more than a passing nod).
This is the first ‘Metal’ release from PL since ‘One Second’ and it’s not that bad. It shows the band remembering more of their roots. There are subtle hints of ‘Icon’ and ‘Draconian Times’ peppered throughout.
The guitars sound as though they are still tuned to standard, but they have more distortion and crunch. The bass is puncher and the drums seem to hit harder. There are even a few leads and a cover thrown in for good measure.
This album is very fluid and high energy, typically not what you would expect from a Doom Metal band. This is a total rocker and head-banging just happens while listening to it. The production is fairly good as well, perhaps a notch above BIN.
The downsides of this are: the lack of REAL solos and leads. Another would be that it’s still in the verse, chorus, verse format that’s been so prevalent since DT. It was a breath of fresh air and will certainly make any long time fan of the band happy since they’re METAL again!
Paradise Lost could have been the band to blow doom out to the open market but instead chose to take the path often traveled and slipped into the softer "goth rock" mode that plagues so many bands that wish to reach a larger audience. I for one noticed that with the haircuts went the testicles and what we have hear is a well produced goth-rock CD with occasional metal guitars and a few carefully placed goth-hook choruses to sell the band to a larger worldwide audience/movement. Thankfully for us, sales didn't spike as they hoped and the band has found themselves releasing a record that takes their past glories and dumbs them down to a science of pop-goth-metal that does little to bolster either genre or the credibility of Paradise Lost.
Many of the songs feature a droning mix of keyboards and guitars that lack the mournful feel of the early albums or the vibrant mix of other (still lame) successful goth-metal acts. "Erased" features an infectious chorus bit as do a few others but it does little to show the band as serious artists. The vocals are the same, the guitars/keys play the same melodies...but the writing is of a lighter heart that finds the band reaching out to the gothic danceclubs instead of the sweaty metal underworld. In doing so, the songs lack any form of serious conviction. This is an unfortunate leaning that not even an infectious goth-pomp chorus can erase.
Paradise Lost have sold their souls to the mundane. No longer powerful doom, not good enough at the gothic movement to become celebrities outside of a nation they already ruled...the band is lost in a river without a paddle on this record.
If you love gothic metal or desire every single thing the band has released this will have it's moment for you...but on a whole the record reflects as insincere, cold and without artistic purpose.
Skip it and buy "Gothic" or "Icon".
My first review of this album was a bit biased. My logic years ago was that if it’s not metal, then it’s not good. Well, I still think this album is not metal; it’s more rock oriented and industrial to be metal. However, I don’t think it deserves a crappy review because of this notion.
Paradise Lost used to be considered a classic death metal band with some doom influence, yet after their first few albums they decided to change directions of their style. Today they are regarded as one of those gothic bands, though I think they are a bit industrial sounding as well, loaning some of their sounds from bands like Type O Negative and Rammstein. So if you like these bands, you might like this album.
I digress - let’s get to the meat of the music. This album is very atmospheric – ambient almost, though I guess most gothic music is to a certain extent. This can be seen in the opening to Primal, as an example. The album takes you on a bit of a rollercoaster ride. Some songs make you want to head bang like Erased while other songs make you want to sit back and mellow out, like Pray Nightfall.
There are a lot of heavy guitar riffs, but as I mentioned in my old review there are no solos. The symphonics are pretty well mixed with the rest of the tracks, which of course makes the album flow better. I enjoy the singing quit a bit. The singer offers a mid-ranged octave, but puts a lot of edge into his performance. The songs carry a lot of feelings in them (both musically and lyrically), and I think the vocals portray these feelings well. If it weren’t for this, the album would just be another cookie cutter gothic album.
Some of the highlights off this album are Symbol of Life, Perfect Mask, and Erased. Like I mentioned before, the band closely resembles bands like Rammstein or even a heavier Lacuna Coil, so you can kind of get the direction in which the new Paradise Lost sounds. For me the album isn’t gold because it is inconsistent. It’s not a bad album, but I would only get it if you are a fan of the genre.