Paradise Lost – Obsidian (Album Review)

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Paradise Lost have made a musical career out of doing the unforeseen, while at the same time fronting the British death/doom/gothic metal scene since 1988. Now – after a 3 years’ studio hiatus – they have returned with the 16th album of an already celebrated trajectory. With over 30 years of hard work and a back catalog spanning a myriad of records – each one encompassing diverse music paths and evolving in leaps and bounds without losing their depressive bent -, their music has contributed immensely to raise the quite varied Gothic metal sub-genre to new heights.

Nonetheless, while most bands get softer and gentler with age, Paradise Lost was at their softest over 20 years ago. Since then, they’ve been progressively marching back down the ever-darkening road to despair. Their last two albums, 2015’s “The Plague Within” and 2017’s “Medusa”, were a full-on return to the crushing depths of their death/doom days from decades past.  With “Obsidian,” the band says fuck to trajectories and to hell with trends. Paradise Lost doesn’t care which of their varied sounds or genres you like the best; they’re going to put every single bit of it on one album and blow your damn mind.

Mackintosh and Co. have always had a knack for impactful opening tracks (“Enchantment,” “Fearless Sky,” or “Never for the Damned” come to mind) and “Darker Thoughts” does not buck the trend. It opens the album with a clear demonstration of the album’s intention to show all facets of the band’s myriad sounds. The song begins with an introduction featuring vocalist Nick Holmes’ wistful whispers over piano and strings until the rest of the band comes smashing in and the vocals turn to grim gutturals. Then things lighten up a bit as layers of clean vocals chant about our darker thoughts. Another brutal chorus, and then we’re treated to a wah-heavy solo from Gregor Mackintosh that’s somehow the melancholiest melody in the entire song.  It’s an elegant and eclectic opener that showcases over 30 years of varying styles in just under six minutes.

If you’re a goth fan and have been feeling left out the last couple albums, don’t worry. Paradise Lost has you covered this time around, as this is the most prevalent style on “Obsidian.”  “Fall from Grace” features growled verses over mid-tempo instrumentals, with a sorrowful singalong chorus that the goth crowd will greedily devour, definitely channeling “Draconian Times” vibes. “Ghosts” starts off with an ever danceable four-on-the-floor that wouldn’t be odd to hear at the club or on the band’s hated-by-metal-elitists ’99 album “Host.”  To the joy of those cringing right now, a screaming lead guitar part comes in over a crushingly heavy rhythm section to turn the dance floor into a bloody circle pit for the chorus.  If it’s dance music, then it’s at least made for a vampire nightclub.

“The Devil Embraced” is the inverse of that formula heavy-verse, soft-chorus formula. It begins with a creepy introduction as mournful verses drift over a slow build that’s mostly due to thunderous drumming from Waltteri Väyrynen. The build culminates in a chorus guaranteed to cause many sore necks live. Up next is “Forsaken,” which begins with an angelic church keyboard laden intro, and quickly turns into one of the most straight forward tracks on the album, with mid-tempo meandering mournful melodies, and a chorus that bring us back to those “One Second” ear-worm moments. It’s a direct tune, and I can picture being played live and sparkling frenzy in the front rows.

However, the death/doom crowd should not despair! Paradise Lost has not abandoned you yet again. If the darkest moments in the above-mentioned tracks aren’t enough, you will still be taken care of.  “Serenity,” is anything but its name, aside from a short atmospheric break in the middle. It sports Holmes gloomy signing, that soars over a towering combination of rhythm and melody by Mackintosh and Aedy, and just the right dosage of mournful atmosphere, ending in a shroud of haze and murkiness.

“Obsidian” Album Artwork

“Ending Days” begins with a lighter tone, and Holmes clean singing elevates over a repeating pattern of guitar arpeggios, further adorned with some violin touches. By the time the rhythm guitars made presence the track has evolved into a colossal melodic maelstrom, accentuated by a highly melodic and feeling infused instrumental section, punctuated occasionally by a chorus that finds the sweet spot between rock and a dark place, better than anything on “Believe in Nothing” ever did. “Hope Dies Young” is another genre bender, with its deep, misty sound refusing to be classified as one genre or the other. It employs the combination of harmonies and singing that made “Icon” such a tremendous musical manifesto.

The rest is pure aggression (for doom metal standards) with nary a clean vocal in sight. The album closer “Ravenghast” is one of the absolute highlights of the album and pure death/doomy brilliance. The gentle and slow piano intro perfectly complimented with the plodding riffage and bleak vocals that follow. The bottomless guitar melodies offer a sense of impending ruin, and Holmes shifts from his baritone intonation to intense death growls, immersing the listener into a sludgy aura. The disaster finally strikes when the rhythm section kicks everything into overdrive for a face melting and soul crushing exit. While the piano keys languish in the outro, your musical soul has finally reached the kingdom of sorrow’s deepest abyss.

There are a couple of excellent bonus tracks, which honestly would have been faultless album tracks as well. “Hear the Night” is absolutely brutal, it walks the universe where the growling vocals of “Medusa” and the unique harmonies of “Requiem” inhabit, a maze of mysterious despair where there seems to be no escape from. “Defiler” brings another 5 minutes of misery and heaviness weighted down with oppressive negativity, and sparkled with the band’s unique sense of atmosphere and melody.

Despite all its massive variety, “Obsidian” never loses focus; it never feels schizophrenic.  The broad, hefty guitar tones and monstrously heavy riffs by Aedy and Mackintosh are carefully interspersed with beautiful guitar work, and demonstrate the absolute chemistry of both players. Stephen Edmondson punishing bass lines crush down at slow pace, intertwined with convulsive heavy drumming from Waltteri Väyrynen, thus creating a tailored and precise backbone for the band’s morose, melodic passages, and devastating doomy guitars. And Holmes versatility in switching between his growls and clean vocals gives off a flowing, near-effortless pace, allowing his voice to layer with the instruments in both vocal styles to a degree rarely accomplished in modern metal.

One could make the case that “Obsidian” is the penultimate Paradise Lost album. Even though your mileage might vary in this particular subject, this album definitely depicts the British quintet delivering a well-oiled collection of songs that revisits almost every avenue they ever crossed with a self-confident approach. Chock full of Paradise Lost‘s DNA, “Obsidian” is a splendid oeuvre from a musical collective sounding relevant and forward-looking and refusing to stale. It will probably be the record I’ll be playing to newcomers going forward.

Released by: Nuclear Blast Records
Release Date: May 15th, 2020
Genre: Gothic/Death/Doom Metal

Musicians:

  •  Gregor Mackintosh / guitars, keyboards
  • Aaron Aedy / guitars
  • Stephen Edmondson / bass
  • Nick Holmes / vocals
  • Waltteri Väyrynen / drums

“Obsidian” tracklisting:

  1. Darker Thoughts
  2. Fall From Grace
  3. Ghosts
  4. The Devil Embraced
  5. Forsaken
  6. Serenity
  7. Ending Days
  8. Hope Dies Young
  9. Ravenghast
  10. Hear The Night (Bonus Track)
  11. Defiler (Bonus Track)

9.4 Excellent

Paradise Lost have created a masterpiece of an album with “Obsidian”. The gothic metal sound is back, but this time the death/doom is all swirled throughout instead of abandoned. The result is absolutely brilliant and for many will stand as the career pinnacle of one of metal’s most storied acts

  • Songwriting 9.5
  • Musicianship 9.5
  • Originality 8.5
  • Production 10
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