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There is no need to retell the story of Paradise Lost in this column: let’s just say these originators of melancholic, gothic-tinged doom/death metal went through a bad and prolonged drought following the release of “Draconian Times” (or “One Second”, depending on who you ask) before slowly but steadily clawing their way back to respectability and finally reconquering their vacant throne with their last album “Faith Divides Us – Death Unites Us”. So, did these stubborn Brits defend their throne with their most recent album ”Tragic Idol”, continuing the staggering upward trajectory that began with the already quite splendid “In Requiem”? In this humble reviewer’s opinion, the answer is a resounding yes. Whether “Tragic Idol” is in fact better than its direct predecessor is a matter of personal taste – it says here that the band’s latest studio output and “Faith Divides Us...” are pretty much on the same, very high level, but you would be hard-pressed to say that “Tragic Idol” is not at least up to par with the album that came before it.
A central trait that should endear “Tragic Idol” to most of Paradise Lost’s fanbase is that it contains elements from most of the band’s classic albums: “Draconian Times” (e. g. in “Solitary One” or “Fear of Impending Hell”), “Icon” (e. g. in “Crucify” or “Honesty in Death”) and even “Shades of God” (“Theories From Another World” or “To the Darkness”). The only thing that’s missing – apart from all the electronic elements the band exhaustively tinkered with during their middle phase, and that’s not much of a loss – are obvious nods to the band’s first two albums, the ones that played a vital role in shaping the entire doom/death genre. Then again, that was hardly to be expected as Nick Holmes has matured a lot since those early days: the man has developed a distinct and varied singing voice, switching seamlessly from gothic crooning to harsh bellowing and even incorporating the occasional semi-death growl without ever sounding as harsh or guttural as on “Lost Paradise” or “Gothic”. It’s a bit of a pity in that the music on “Tragic Idol” is certainly heavy enough to warrant some full-fledged guttural death metal vocals, but it’s not something that drags the album down or is sorely missed. It simply could have enhanced the overall soundscape even more, but Nick Holmes probably feels he has matured beyond that and is too good a singer now to go back to using death growls.
Since song-by-song breakdowns can get tedious (and are frowned upon by the moderators of this site), suffice it to say that “Tragic Idol” is a consistently splendid, supremely well-produced effort containing no duds – “Worth Fighting For” may be a tad unremarkable but still passes as a very decent track – and more than its share of truly magnificent songs, first and foremost the amazing (and surprisingly fast-paced, at least for Paradise Lost standards) “In This We Dwell” and the monolithic closing track “The Glorious End”. The latter starts out in a somewhat somber and subdued way before getting more and more intense and finally unleashing all its majestic doom-laden fury upon the unsuspecting listener. In that respect, it’s much like “In Truth” from “Faith Divides Us...”, only even better. “Tragic Idol” is up there with Paradise Lost’s best work and an album very highly recommended to all metal fans. It wouldn’t even be preposterous to say it’s better than the much-revered “Draconian Times”; at the very least, it’s definitely heavier. Honestly, who would have thought that possible a mere seven or eight years ago?
Choicest cuts: “Fear of Impending Hell”, “Honesty in Death”, “Theories From Another World”, “In This We Dwell”, “The Glorious End”