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Diverse, interesting, yet flawed - 70%

colin040, May 26th, 2019

I’ll admit: for once Paradise Lost really caught me really off guard. Tragic Idol felt like a safe and predictable effort that even Nick Holmes described as something of an ordinary metal album if I remember correctly. The Plague Within is definitely a more interesting effort as the band really expanded their musical horizons this time, resulting in the most versatile effort the band has ever (and most likely will) come up with. I also like the elaborated cover artwork and the song titles are promising. You know you’re in for yet another dark album based on such titles.

The Plague Within has plenty of variety to offer as it basically blends the gothic elegance of Paradise Lost’s recent works with a more subtle doom/death metal flavor that despite not recalling the band’s early works (as the band claimed it would) is definitely something new. Both Nick Holmes and Greg Macintosh get put out of their comfort zones here. Holmes’ death metal shrieks are a breath of fresh air, even if the growls are a far cry from the barbaric belly gutturals of the first two Paradise Lost albums. Greg Macintosh occasionally picks up the pacing as he manages to combine unusual tremolo picked riffs with his trademark style, resulting into an interesting contrast between tenderness and controlled aggression.

The Plague Within is definitely a head scratcher of an album and some vocal lines themselves feel occasionally misplaced though. ‘’No Hope in Sight’’ sounds more like a grumpy variant of Iron Maiden with even the stronger cleans getting backed up by a lazy chugging riff. Greg Macintosh wastes his talent here and one can only wonder whether he was writing something a bit too much outside of the box. ‘’Terminal’’ is slightly better as it picks up the death metal vibes with a serious swaggering tremolo riffs but sadly ends up goofy once that harsh-vocal-y sing along chorus appears. The doom rocker ''Cry Out’’ would have ended up better if Holmes would still channel his inner Hetfield and ‘’Return to the Sun’’ sounds like a missed opportunity on being an epic closer where the vulnerable Holmes lines pop up without any real effect.

Having that said, at times the harsh vocals do wonders and definitely allow the band to revisit darker times, even if a serious return to their roots is still out of sight. Showing versatility like never before, the vigorous ‘’Flesh from Bone’’ allows Aadrian Erlandsson to have some fun on the double bass as the track seriously picks up the pace after the first minute where Greg and Aaron demonstrate their most oppressive riffwork ever crafted while Holmes spits out his lines with fury. ‘’Beneath Broken Earth’’ is both massive and nihilistic monolith-like yet much more simplistic compared to the lively doom/death approach on Gothic. Meanwhile ‘’Sacrifice the Flame’’ takes a more elegant doom direction, even if it relies on a flowing main riff perhaps closer to that of Fredrik Norrman in his early October Tide years than that Greg Macintosh while ‘’Victim of the Past’’ dramatically builds up to a chaotic and terrifying chorus where all hell breaks loose.

Overall, The Plague Within is yet another decent effort of this band, even if it feels like a missed opportunity somewhat. Its highlights are great and the production helps a lot; finally the guitars sound massive yet breath much more so than on the previous two albums. However, Paradise Lost's identity might be hard to recognize here which is rather a doubled-edged sword.

Beneath Broken Earth - 82%

grimdoom, April 16th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2015, 2CD + 2 12" vinyls, Century Media Records (Boxed set, Artbook, Limited edition)

Solemn obfuscation emanates from the musical chameleons known as Paradise Lost. Once again they've decided to hit their fans with yet another curve ball in their never ending quest for an identity, and this time most would agree is the closest to their roots in decades.

From the start to the finish this guitar driven behemoth rarely disappoints. Lumbering guitars akin to what was heard on Tragic Idol, continually chug and drone their way through a new batch of riffs. There are several wholesale changes that distinguish this from its predecessor however. Modernity is still a new toy, with which Paradise Lost are seemingly still fascinated with for some reason, as there are no significant nods to their past.

The only real let down with the guitars is Greg. He's gotten very lazy in his old age in regards to his solo work. Too often we're given something Nirvana-esq instead of something brilliant. Some of his leads are pretty decent however, and he doesn't have as many needless effects on his rig. Still he could've done more.

Nick's new blackish growls work well enough with the music. At times they do sound a bit forced. One can't help but wonder how his Shades of God era voice would've fit these songs. As far as his clean singing goes this is probably his best work. The extreme vocals are, more or less, what they should've been on the last four albums.

Aedy, Edmondson and Erlandsson keep the rhythms tight through out as both guitars more or less do their own thing. This album is very organic sounding. Things don't sound as compressed and there aren't any synthetic elements either.

Aside from Tragic Idol as a reference point there are a couple of places that a decidedly heavier Draconian Times can be heard. In reality, this is a fairly original sounding album. The darkness, heaviness and generally sinister sounding songs aren't as forced as they were on the last few albums. Doom and the turmoil that creates it are all you'll get.

Is this a return to form? Perhaps, but not a complete return to form. Having never really been an up tempo band judging which of their albums is darkest can be a bit of a chore. Lost Paradise, Icon and Faith Divides Us - Death Unites Us would be the best choices as they do have the darkest and bleakest music of the bands discography. This album is a mix of subdued aggression and somber hatred. There's melody but over all this is a pretty heavy album which is nice to have from these guys after all these years.

In summation, this is a pretty good album. It's no Icon but it's a solid doom/death album with killer artwork and some great songs. The only really bad song on here is 'Cry Out'. It's too rock based and really doesn't fit the rest of the album. Hopefully the guys continue down this path.

Subtle concrete - 86%

gasmask_colostomy, January 26th, 2016

Paradise Lost are like the best friend who always looks as though they are completely out of the picture and will never make it to the party/do you a favour/plan your wedding, but then they defy all the odds and still manage to do everything you hoped and more - perhaps they do something that you didn't hope for too, something you didn't even know you wanted. Basically, whoever took bets on the band's career back in the late 90s and predicted anything like what has happened since must have been given some pretty amazing odds. To wind down from hoary doom death to melodic/gothic metal to electronic/gothic rock, then begin to ratchet things up in the opposite direction without repeating any particular steps is a sensational achivement, and that would remain the case even if all of PL's post-2005 albums had completely sucked.

The arrival of 'The Plague Within' was unquestionably coloured by the reputation that proceeded it, which dubbed this a return to the band's doom death roots and a concrete-heavy album like none for the last 20 years of PL's career. I must say that this is quite far from the case, since there is probably as much truth in saying that this album takes a greater influence from the mid/late-period gothic wanderings than either of its predecessors, the startlingly crushing and melodic 'Faith Divides Us - Death Unites Us' and the modern and boisterous 'Tragic Idol'. There are songs on 'The Plague Within' that do turn back the years, but notably only to the self-titled album, such as the aching clean-sung refrains of 'An Eternity of Lies' or the slightly more classic gothic poignance of 'Sacrifice the Flame'. The reason why the emergence of this album was met by such a fervour of cries about doom death was largely because of the track chosen for promotion - 'Beneath Broken Earth' - the six minute sloth of which is a mildly compelling argument that the band have come full circle and ended up back at 'Gothic' minus only 60cm of hair. However, I think 'The Plague Within' is a more interesting statement than that, since Paradise Lost have not only remained unpredictable throughout their career (90s doom death bands are well versed in this trait) but because they have managed to remain practically peerless for all those years as well. They have never copied other bands and they have never imitated themselves either.

The main change that this album brought about was that it has a stone-cold set of riffs. Big, bulldozing, slow riffs. Yet this album bears little in common with 'Shades of God', which was the last PL album to feature so many stand-alone doom riffs as this. The heft of 7-string guitars means that the heaviness on this album never comes close to the grinding heaviness and twisting fills that marked the 1992 effort, nor does it have the death metal grumpiness of 1991's 'Gothic'. This is fat and modern, make no mistake. The listener is repeatedly mown down by an immense width of guitar that harks back to Cathedral's legendary debut and at times echoes that band's final statement 'The Last Spire'. However, what makes it 'The Plague Within' markedly different to the albums already mentioned is its sense of confidence at starting over completely as soon as a new song rolls round. Starting from 'Tragic Idol', PL has been broadening their sound, using both modern and classic influences, so that they can make the thuggishly groovy 'Punishment Through Time' (which reminds one of Crowbar in both title and syrupy riffs) sit comfortably alongside the razor-sharp blast and trudge of 'Flesh from Bone', and neither feel out of place with 'Beneath Broken Earth' in the ranks.

I was initially rather sceptical about the quality of this album, since it seemed that some marks of PL's subtlety had waned, but it has grown strongly on me since first listen. I believe that the bare bones approach to songwriting, which sees the band including only a select few riffs and vocal sections per song, has given a great focus that would be wrecked by any of the more delicate experimental touches that went into albums like 'Icon'. It's also a relief to hear Gregor Mackintosh returning to his signature position at the fore of the songs on lead guitar, following his rather bland performance on the preceding album. He waters the cracked soil of the heavy tracks with flowing leads and, despite having few truly attention-grabbing solos, his role is vital in shaping the songs and aiding the cumbersome riffs to always hit the target. That means that the meanness of the riffs in opener 'No Hope in Sight' or the enormous doom of closer 'Return to the Sun' are mediated by melody and remain light and airy, not oppressive. There are also many sections of songs that have a spacious feeling about them, as if allowing the music to float and carry itself, which was the initial reason that I was suspicious about a lack of content. However, this is a very clever and subtle ploy (indeed so subtle it escaped me at first) that does hark back to the feedback-soaked masterclass of 'True Belief', causing the dynamics of the songs to be built from the most natural pieces, instead of forcing more notes into them as sometimes seemed the case with the last album. The greatest examples of this technique are 'Beneath Broken Earth', which is a fantastic exercise in minimalism, and 'Sacrifice the Flame', which at first appears to only possess a chorus and a two note verse melody, though is one of the most affecting listens of the album.

I take something positive away from every song on 'The Plague Within' and register only minor grumbles with the physical and repetitive 'Punishment Through Time' and the sprawling surrender of 'Return to the Sun', while I must say that the two aforementioned highlights ('Beneath Broken Earth' and 'Sacrifice the Flame'), in addition to 'No Hope in Sight', stand as tall as any songs the band has written. There are also some worthwhile bonus tracks knocking around if you feel like getting a little more from the experience. If Paradise Lost continue going down this road, it seems as though there is still a wealth of captivating music left in the band, as well as the promise of more unpredictability to come. We can only hope that they don't call it a day too soon.

The band's most impactful & ambitious in 20 years - 90%

bkuettel, January 7th, 2016

Paradise Lost are not comfortable playing only one style of music. Every few albums result in some form of transition, usually gravitating towards gothic and doom metal. Being hailed for starting gothic metal during their early years never even seemed very significant to them. The takeaway is that Paradise Lost are giants in heavy metal, with a true penchant for progressing and reinventing themselves as a band throughout the thirty years of their existence. This brings us to The Plague Within, a new transformation for Paradise Lost, as well as their most ambitious and diverse album since Draconian Times in 1995.

Previous release Tragic Idol from 2012 was a largely enjoyable and straightforward affair, mainly relying on catchy doom metal riffs. The albums leading up to it were seen by most as a welcome return to their roots. The Plague Within takes a complete left turn, widely expanding their musical dynamics and songwriting choices, while continuing to hearken back to their original sound. Most songs feature melancholic guitar leads, slow or fast heavy riffs, but for the most part, consist of crushing heaviness. Momentous lead single “No Hope In Sight” opens the album with a desolate arpeggiated guitar line. It transitions into heavy chugging and doomy guitar leads alternating with the strong, lumbering chorus. Holmes alternates his powerful singing voice with death growling, which is the first indication that this is a very different Paradise Lost once again. The return of harsh singing instantly fits with the gritty, thick production and apocalyptic guitar sound. The very apparent changes could not come at a better time, and sounds more inspired and fresh than most modern metal bands do in their infancy.

“An Eternity of Lies” and “Sacrifice The Flame” feature slow, brooding intros with diverse instrumentation and haunting atmospheres, foreboding what is to come. Keyboards, violins, acoustic guitar, and female vocals all embody themselves throughout the album, melding perfectly with the harsher and more hopeless soundscapes that make up its main style. The Plague Within has tempo changes rarely explored by Paradise Lost, ranging from the slow, lumbering pace of “Beneath Broken Earth” and album closer “Return to the Sun” to the speed demons “Terminal” and “Flesh From Bone.” The faster numbers demand sticksman Adrian Erlandsson to give some of his most impressive drumming performances of his career. Greg Mackintosh and Aaron Aedy’s guitar playing styles impressively suit their foray into more aggressive territory, particularly in the apocalyptic chorus of “Victim of the Past,” with some of the fastest guitar tapping and furious vocals of Nick Holmes’s singing career. Every song has a distinct identity, and each could have its own album written around its ideas.

The Plague Within ranks as being among the most diverse albums Paradise Lost has ever recorded; an impressive feat when you consider it's the latest of fourteen releases. It molds the best qualities of a seasoned group, bearing decades of songwriting experience and resulting in a mature, focused, and rigidly effective outcome. It would have been easy for the metal veterans to comfortably return to their roots after their fair share of experimentation. While their latest releases have all shown similarities to earlier albums, they’ve done much more than "plagiarize" their strongest material. This latest endeavor continues the trend of broadening their influences, thus expanding their compositional capabilities; it showcases Paradise Lost's penchant for constant evolution, leading them into the most mature and progressive stage of their career.

Return of Darkness and Evil - 93%

lonerider, November 24th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, Century Media Records (Mediabook, Limited edition)

Minor-key guitar chords set in. Pounding drums begin marching along at the solemn speed of a funeral procession. Then, a crushing doom riff adorned by one of Greg Mackintosh's deliciously mournful guitar leads. Finally, Nick Holmes' throat spews forth brutal unabashed death growls, never letting up until this six-minute behemoth of a song is over. Thus begins "Beneath Broken Earth", track number six on Paradise Lost's latest album, aptly titled The Plague Within. Yes, Paradise Lost have finally done it: they have dared to venture far back in time, recapturing the doom/death sound that first put them on the map in the very early 1990s and helped spawn an entire genre.

However, it's not all doom on The Plague Within, though there's certainly an excessive amount of gloom, maybe even more than we're used to from these British masters of melancholy, and that's saying something. This time, the picture painted by the music and lyrics is one of hopelessness and despair, a darkness so impenetrable that not even the brightest ray of sunshine could pierce it, or so it seems. (Don't let a somewhat misleading song title like "Return to the Sun" fool you.) Needless to say that when it comes to their music, these Yorkshiremen don't have a reputation as a particularly merry, life-affirming bunch. Even so, on most of their previous work they still seemed to derive a certain pleasure from the self-pity they wallowed in. Not so on The Plague Within, which is all bleak despair and hopeless depression.

Musically, The Plague Within is the equivalent to a raw, bloody lump of meat, with even Greg Mackintosh's majestic guitar harmonies taking a backseat to bone-crunching, down-tuned riffs and fierce death growls. It bears noting, however, that this album is not a complete return to the band's doom/death metal roots. Paradise Lost are known for progression rather than stagnation, so The Plague Within is not a rehash of Lost Paradise or Gothic, just as it's noticeably different from Faith Divides Us... and Tragic Idol. The Plague Within uses many elements of the band's remote past but also retains some of their more recent staples, including Nick Holmes' gothic crooning, which he turns to whenever he's not using death growls (which isn't very often). By the way, those longing for his "Hetfieldesque" vocal style, which he fully introduced on Icon, will be left disappointed, as Holmes has decided to shelve it for this release.

As mentioned before, The Plague Within is definitely a nod to the band's distant past, but neither is it all death nor is it all doom. With the brutal "Flesh From Bone", which is more Bloodbath than Paradise Lost, it even contains what might be the fastest track the band has ever written. Another very interesting track is "Cry Out", which starts out as what some would call death 'n' roll before Greg Mackintosh's sorrowful leads take us right back to the good old days of Shades of God. We also get treated to some subtle orchestral touches, which are used to great effect in the solemn "Victim of the Past" or the triumphantly melodramatic "Return to the Sun", as well as some female backing vocals in the splendid "An Eternity of Lies", reminiscent of some of the finest moments on the band's seminal breakthrough album Gothic.

Make no mistake: The Plague Within is far from a collection of catchy gothic hit singles, very far indeed. Instead, it is a stellar blend of doom, death and gothic metal that most casual listeners might have a hard time getting instant access to. This is a very consistent yet much darker, grittier and rawer effort than, say, "Tragic Idol". But as we all know, in metal, less instantly accessible by no means equals less enjoyable. On the contrary: though it's not meant to please the masses, The Plague Within will reward the patient listener with plenty of memorable moments and is exactly the kind of album Paradise Lost should have made and could afford to make at this stage of their career. It is a surprisingly uncompromising return to the past, yet it refuses to go full retro, hence opening up a whole new playing field for the band while keeping their eyes firmly fixed upon the future. Well done, lads!

Choicest cuts: No Hope in Sight, An Eternity of Lies, Beneath Broken Earth, Cry Out, Return to the Sun; oh, and by the way, the album’s artwork may be the best the band has ever had!

It's a battle as the years start to fade - 90%

Twisted_Psychology, July 15th, 2015

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" showcases 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...

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

Originally published at http://psychicshorts.blogspot.com

the circle is done.... - 97%

Sigillum_Dei_Ameth, June 17th, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, Century Media Records

Halifax's lords of doom and gloom return with their non-arguably best album, "The Plague Within", to date. Plain and simple. With their 14th album, PL go back to the darkness that spawned them and come out almost re-vitalized and rejuvenated in their morose and drab ways. I could sit here and bullshit you saying "Oh they sound like they did with their 'Gothic' album."...."Gothic" this is not. Nor is it "Draconian Times." Actually "The Plague Within" seems to be that album that could easily sit in that time period with the rest of the classic era. What it does is an album that goes backwards and brings back ALL of the good parts and polishes them up for a more up-dated sound. Lame this is not.

The most stunning and striking thing about this album is Nick Holmes' vocals. He brought back that growl that gained him acclaim back when PL was a demo band. He also uses his somber/melodic style that he is also known for and combines the 2 to make a fusion of absolute death and decay and a ghostly mourning wail. Thank Cthulhu that he did that one album with Bloodbath because I think that had a total knock-off effect and add in the fact that guitarist Greg Mackintosh doing his side project with Vallenfyre which is obviously more death metal-oriented. In a way, those said projects helped both Nick and Greg realize why they started PL together and gave them a second wind to lurch PL back into the darkness they have created and spread over the course of how many years? 25? 30? That's ancient for a band that helped create the death/doom sub-genre. Alongside My Dying Bride and Anathema, PL were the first when you take into consideration that Cathedral planted the proto-death doom seed with their first album, but PL helped germinate it under grey skies and took it to the next level. History lesson aside, PL of all bands knows how to bring the clouds of cheerless joy.

Let me say that "Beneath Broken Earth" just MIGHT be the best goddamn song they have done since "Forever Failure" off "Draconian Times". Period. Remember that feeling of absolute dread when you first heard "Forever Failure"? Well...take that feeling and multiply it by a hundred. In fact when I first heard those crawling riffs and Nick Holmes literally making you feel your wretched mortality with the words "Hail to nothingness. You wish to DDDDIIIIEEEE!!", my jaw was on the ground. Jesus fucking Christ, lay it on thick why don't you Nick? Where as "Forever Failure" made you want to close the drapes to your bedroom, letting no light in, "Beneath Broken Earth" makes you want light a candle and commit suicide. This song could have EASILY came from their first 2 albums. In fact they go for broke with the song "Flesh from Bone" which is their fastest up-tempo song and is a return of their death metal sound. These two songs are proof that the old chaps still have the ability to write solid death-doom metal standouts and hang with the younger crowd letting them know who did it first with "Lost Paradise" and "Gothic". Those two songs aside there are other very choice cuts such as the first single "No Hope In Sight" where it's lyrics paint a very somber/depressing view of life through the lenses of someone getting older as their seasons of life start to become colder by the minute. "Punishment Through Time" has a very GOOD Crowbar swagger to it. Sludge this isn't, but it has the swing and bounce with their own UK touch to it. "Cry Out" is the little brother of "Punishment Through Time" where the influence of Trouble/Pentagram/Witchfinder General is present. The best riff part comes in around 1:51 where Nick takes a break and uses his lower baritone goth vocals. "Sacrifice The Flame" harks back to somewhere in between "Icon" and "Draconian Times". "Return To The Sun" is the epic finale where the intro again proves why PL were the forefather of doom/goth metal. If the sounds of choirs and thunder and rain doesn't send chills up and down your spine, you might as well be digging your own grave.

All in all, it's their finest album since "Draconian Times." May be there is one or two songs that doesn't roll right off the cuff, but that's hair-splitting at this point when you look at the entire album and see that it's one filled with twists and turns. And it's also a welcome back to their fans to let them know that even though they went through a bit of a time period where it was somewhere between controversial and questioning, Paradise Lost knows just how to bring upon the grey clouds over the fields of joy and turn the landscape into a wasteland of despair and rotting sickness. With the greatest of ease. Hails to Paradise Lost, ungodliest ones...the circle is done.

Highlights:
- "Beneath Broken Earth". The entire goddamn song.
- "No Hope In Sight". Very strong first choice for a single.
- Nick Holmes bringing back his trademark growl that he used in the early PL years.
- Greg Mackintosh's riffs. Some of his best he's done in forever.
- Other songs such as "Return To The Sun", "Cry Out", and "Sacrifice The Flame."

Low points:
- None.

Hope in sight - 86%

Slynt, June 3rd, 2015
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, Century Media Records

So here it is, the eagerly anticipated return to Paradise Lost's death metal roots. As I expected, 'The Plague Within' does indeed scratch the surface of the band's dark and murky past, but not to the extent that I would have wished for - but I really wanted an album totally steeped in the atmosphere and style of the first two Paradise Lost albums; in fact, any fan of the band's old material should be more than pleased with this outing. In general, 'The Plague Within' sees a more stripped-down band in terms of sound; if 'Tragic Idol' emulated the soaring 'Draconian Times' in places, 'The Plague Within' sounds like a blend of 'In Requiem' and 'Shades of God'. The band does sound more metal than they have done in a long time, with the guitars being at the forefront, and Nick Holmes at times employing growls, old school style - and delivering better than he did on Bloodbath's 'Grand Morbid Funeral' - here, his growl seems throatier, deeper if you will, more menacing than the croaks - the best example of this is found in stand-out track "Beneath Broken Earth", where his growls are as good as they were all the way back on 'Lost Paradise'.

"Beneath Broken Earth" is, at least for the first three minutes of its life, the track that best evokes the early music of Paradise Lost. Slow and deadly, we hear for the first time in decades the combination of death and doom metal that made Paradise Lost (and brethren Anathema and My Dying Bride) so big in the first place. The melodies employed by Gregor Mackintosh fit perfectly here, creating that melancholy aura of sorrow. I've always loved his guitar lines, it was one part of Paradise Lost that made the band stand out, particularly on 'Shades of God' and 'Icon'. If only the rest of the album was more like "Beneath Broken Earth": A mesmerizing track of pure death/doom, close in style and scope to My Dying Bride's early material in terms of pace and melody, this is, for me at least, the best Paradise Lost I have heard since 1993, the last time the band released an album I loved. While this song does not represent the overall quality of the album, I'd dare say that in general, the music here could easily have been released somewhere between 'Shades of God' and 'Icon'.

There are definitely other good tunes on here, but also some filler, and in the case of "Punishment Through Time", some blatant recycling of old material. When I first heard "Punishment..." on the 'Maximum Plague' sampler, for a few seconds I thought I was hearing a weak live rendition of classic "Pity the Sadness." For new fans coming to the band, this might not be as big a deal as it became for me. Each track does have some part that is excellent, but most of them also have elements that I feel are less interesting - the riffs, in particular, aren't as memorable as they often can be when they come from Gregor's hands and mind.

Most of the songs vary between slow and lethal doom and more upbeat, uptempo parts, which is the main reason why I think the album musically fits well between their third and fourth outputs. While these back-and-forths between slow, midtempo, and fast create enough dynamics within each song separately, it becomes predictable when you realize that the patterns are repeated - but Paradise Lost have always had relatively rigid song structures, one of the reasons why they have always been more accessible than most, if not all, other bands mixing doom and death metal.

Less gloomy songs do also retain a dark edge,and when synthesizers are employed to create that sacral atmosphere that suits the band so well, the melodies remain on the morbid side of things, which I enjoy. The album is quite punishing in its gloom compared to the last ten albums, making even albums like 'Icon' sound positively jolly in comparison. Nick uses his clean vocals in most songs, but to my delight the majority of his output here consists of growls and barks and croaks. This makes for a very stark contrast, and in my humble opinion, the clean and less menacing parts take away from the darker and heavier moments - they are so good when they crush, and the gentler parts sound weaker because of it. However, these are first impressions, and I believe that with time, these two separate identities of the record will merge into a cohesive whole - sometimes you just have to get used to it.

I do happen to feel that the album's gentler parts sound bland and perhaps less inspired than the grittier elements. The heavy parts sound genuinely inspired, fresh, and hungry - and do not evoke particular earlier songs. Also, Nick growling is so much better than his crooning. He never convinces me in those parts - I prefer it when he just has a few single lines, the way he did it on, say, 'Icon'.

The most surprising track, perhaps, would be number eight, "Flesh from Bone". Not only is it another death metal track, it might just be the fastest Paradise Lost song in existence. Not blast-fast in any sense, but the verses are pretty fast for this band. The speed is contrasted with slower parts, but here double bass drums are employed to preserve the energy of the song. I'd say this is the second best song on the album, and as a fan of old school Paradise Lost I can only dance around my dank foul chambers in joy. A guaranteed sure-fire hit on the setlist for the tour to come.

I have to say, it's been a while since a Paradise Lost album made me want to spin it again right after the first listen; this one is more than good enough for that. While I did like and appreciate the output from 'In Requiem' and onward, it is 'The Plague Within' that seals the deal in terms of Paradise Lost coming full circle. The preceding albums all hinted at the band changing direction, but here they've gone back full stop in a few songs, and in parts of most other songs on the album. If they continue down this path, I can only imagine what an epic the next album will be.

One element of Paradise Lost's many sounds that is missing almost completely this time, is Nick Holmes' "Hetfield"-vocals (for lack of a better term) - the somewhat gritty, almost shout-like style of vocals that are most prominent on 'Icon' and 'Draconian Times'. Almost all of his output here is either closer to 'Gothic' and 'Shades of God', or entirely gentle like the work he did during the band's "pop phase" (again, for lack of a better term). I really like his "Hetfield"-vocals so I admit I missed those - but just a little, as I am happy to trade them for his growls. Of course, I would trade the clean vocals for the "Hetfield-" vocals - now, that would have catapulted this album into the 90-100% stratosphere.

What made Paradise Lost great early in their career was the unique combination of Nick Holmes' at times excellent lyrics, Greg Mackintosh's affinity for memorable guitar leads, and the rhythm section's pounding heaviness. All of these elements are prominently on display on 'The Plague Within', I'm happy to report . Once you get over the awesome fact that Nick is growling again, you'll probably agree that the tunes aren't all that surprising in terms of structure. With "Beneath Broken Earth" they have crafted one genuinely astounding song that should already be jostling for a place in the band's live set - it has to be said that this song in particular also comes right out of the gate to hit you between the eyes, and as such, is the easiest song to digest on the first spins. It might just end up becoming a classic, to take a place among such hallowed songs as "Eternal", "As I Die", or "Pity the Sadness".

I'm spinning the album again now, and "No Hope in Sight" is making its presence more known; it blends old school and new school Paradise Lost. Somehow it simultaneously sounds as if the track has existed as part of the band's catalogue for decades, and as the new shiny pearl it is.

In conclusion, I am more than happy with Paradise Lost's direction here. They don't let go entirely off the last couple of decades, but when they do they are fantastic. To me, this is the best Paradise Lost album since 'Icon'. Each track has some elements that I don't find particularly interesting, but each track also has something really good going on. "No Hope in Sight" and "Terminal" will work very well as show openers (as they do on the album), the melodies are in place (although not as catchy as they often are, which suits the album's atmosphere), the individual musicianship is as expected from the band, and on top of it all we get Nick Holmes' growls.

If, like me, you lost them when they went to do their poppy things from 'One Second' and onward, you could do worse than give 'The Plague Within' a chance. You will have to deal with some cutesy parts that don't quite fit with the old school material, but the old school material is so good you owe it to yourself to at least give the band another shot with this one.