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A welcome addition to their legacy - 87%

Absinthe1979, June 28th, 2020
Written based on this version: 2020, CD, Nuclear Blast (Digipak)

While familiarity may breed contempt in broader society, it’s an adage that tends not to hold true in the world of metal. Legacy bands are held in high esteem, whether warranted or not.

For instance, Iron Maiden’s bloated grandpa-rock album ‘The Book of Souls’ is bemusedly heaped with gushing praise, while Cradle of Filth’s return to form with ‘Hammer of the Witches’ is rightly viewed as a work of high excellence. The former demonstrates that, in metal, sometimes comfort-blanket bands can do no wrong and that their mere existence is worthy of adulation, while the latter reveals that a genuinely good album will (usually) be received as such. Maiden and Cradle are all too familiar, yet they continue to provide what the fans want. So where sits Paradise Lost in 2020, a band that has now been a regular part of my life for 25 of my 40 all too fleeting years on this earth? With two thirds of the Peaceville Three now on Nuclear Blast (the Nuclear Two?), legacy bands have never been more popular.

I was one of the few who panned the cheap-doom drudgery of ‘Medusa’ in my review here, and lamented what I saw as a deliberate and concerning pathway into blandness and mediocrity. I wailed and gnashed my teeth at the lack of variety, the preponderance of squalid and unexciting riffage and the eschewing of emotive choruses – even of emotive musical passages. I saw a resource-rich band squander its commodities. So it gives me great pleasure to receive ‘Obsidian’, an album that provides melody, emotion and maturity once more, and to proclaim it a raging success. It’s Paradise Lost back to their best... almost.

Despite being in receipt of ‘Obsidian’ since the May release date, I’ve been reluctant to review the album prematurely. I wanted to really live with it and do it justice. I can say now with confidence that the meaty and masculine production by Jaime Arellano, with its retention of earthy heaviness, also has the breathing space that allows the melodic songs to elevate and shine. The achingly excellent guitar melodies of the great Greg Mackintosh, who simply stars on this release, are some of their most effective since their 90s heyday. It's as if the band has pulled right back from the doom of 'Medusa' and re-entered the realm of melodic gothicism, and I, for one, applaud them. The keyboards and piano sections are layered in atmosphere. It’s a beautifully mixed album that, while lacking the sophistication of ‘Draconian Times’, sounds ruggedly handsome nonetheless.

Nick Holmes’s vocals are particularly worthy of comment. With a plethora of cleans, the gothic element is much more present in ‘Obsidian’, and it seems like an especial effort has been made to ensure that his voice is clear, precise and well-articulated: elements that an honest assessment might conclude are not always permanent features of his musical oratory. The growls remain, and they’re good, but I’ve never found his growling to be particularly as emotive or chilling as say Jensen’s from Saturnus. They’re in the pocket here, but admittedly a little workmanlike. Overall, however, Holmes must be respected for his compelling efforts here.

The drumming from Waltteri Vayrynen (strange to think that this band of knockabout Northern Brits now consists of Nick, Greg, Aaron, Steve and er… Waltteri) is unquestionably fantastic. In fact, you can just listen to this whole album from the perspective of the drums, and it’s an enjoyable 50 minutes of your time. While he's young enough to look like Greg's grandson in the promo shots, he really is talented and so profoundly tasteful in his fills and cymbal work. I do find his snare sound to be a touch hollow for my ears, and I would have loved a little bit of smack and crack to it, but everything else is just so effective.

And what of the songs? The first three are some of the best in Paradise Lost’s career. Opener ‘Darker Thoughts’ has become my favourite on the album, with a beautiful introduction of guitar picking and Nick’s clean laments offering life advice, before the powerfully emotional chorus of “God asks not to kill…” arrives, which is just an amazing moment. Track 2 and first single, ‘Fall from Grace’ underwhelmed me somewhat upon the first few listens, but now it’s a real monument, especially the “We’re all alone” section – again, just powerful and beautiful music.

‘Ghost’ offers a return to the upbeat gothic rock days, albeit with a measure of strength behind it, with its sensible and self-conscious monotone chorus from Holmes that works tastefully well against the melodic guitars. Other highlights include ‘Hope Dies Young’, with a chorus that actually reminds me of a metallised ‘Host’, which is honestly the last thing I expected to hear. It’s a great inclusion and a cheeky nod to their past. Final track ‘Ravenghast’ is decent, although the tone on the rhythm guitars reminds me of Black Sabbath’s ‘13’ album and I find it a little distracting. I wonder if anyone else has noticed this? Special mention must be made to bonus track ‘Hear the Night’, which has a catchy clean chorus and really should have been on the actual album.

My only complaint here might be that some of those middle tracks don’t exactly have me going into withdrawal once they’re over, and I’m not rushing to press play again on the ok-but-not-great ‘Ending Days’ and ‘Forsaken’. There’s nothing essentially wrong with them - they're fine songs - but they just don’t really move me. Perhaps that’s just a personal thing, and it would be churlish of me to expect nothing but a slab of perfect hits.

The album artwork shares a colour scheme with its brother album ‘The Plague Within’, and has an elaborate and pleasingly symmetrical front cover. Nails, flowers, skulls, hearts, even some teeth: it’s an elaborate image and conforms to the current trend of fine-line drawings that are all the rage in metal right now. The booklet is quite beautiful, with further comparable images, lyrics, credits. It’s a very nice package.

‘Obsidian’ isn’t perfect, but it’s as good as could be hoped for – perhaps even exceeding my wishes after the inglorious bastard of ‘Medusa’. Familiarity breeds admiration, Paradise Lost are back, and the legacy continues.