Whatever your feelings about Paradise Lost, nobody can argue with the monumental impact they’ve had on the development of heavy metal. Few bands that sat at the crossroads of the genre’s journey and had a hand in steering the movement in a new direction have remained as vital and relevant as Yorkshire’s perennial masters of melancholy, and even if the increasingly intimate embrace of the Gothic elements of their sound heralded an ongoing departure from their metal roots, the band always maintained a special place for fans across the spectrum.
With their fourteenth full-length, The Plague Within, however, Paradise Lost have delivered their most powerful, evocative, and captivating album in years, that with its classic death/doom misery sitting alongside those inimitably Paradise Lost passages of Gothic metal, is guaranteed to bridge the divide of their fan base. From the merging of stripped-back, solemn and doom-focused guitar work of Beneath Broken Earth, to Terminal and its thunderously rhythm-driven, windmill-inducing charge, the decidedly metal character of The Plague Within proves an invigorative force in Paradise Lost’s sound, and a thoroughly fulfilling listen reminiscent of the youthful vigour and energy of Gothic. A key connection between the Paradise Lost of 1991 and 2015 is Nick Holmes’ titanic performance throughout The Plague Within, with the frontman’s signature croon taking something of a back seat, and the throat-wrenching, cavernous rasp of his early years leading the charge in its stead. This nostalgic stylistic shift proves a truly transformative element of the album, giving the chorus of No Hope in Sight an extra grisly punch and perfectly suiting the ominous, imposing gloom of Flesh from Bone.
Despite Holmes’ voice and other elements of the record showing Paradise Lost rekindling their extreme metal flame with The Plague Within, the album still retains the band’s intrinsically Gothic identity, as well as throws a few curve balls in to the mix. This not only demonstrates the band’s confidence in being able to dip at will into a musical palette they’ve built up over thirteen albums, but their ability to blend some of the more disparate elements of their discography so cohesively. While each of the album’s tracks offers a different view of Paradise Lost’s sound, from the previously mentioned death/doom masterpiece Beneath Broken Earth, to the almost Southern Rock-tinged swagger of Cry Out, the album as a whole feels so focused and deliberate that it could only have been written by a band with almost thirty years under their belts. The band’s signature penchant for the macabre only further accentuates the plethora of dark atmospheres to be found on the album, with the sorrowful strings introduction of Sacrifice the Flame and Return to the Sun’s ominously monastic choirs perfectly setting the scene for the track’s apocalyptic tone.
The latter track proves a suitably emphatic and triumphant way to close the resounding display of intent that is The Plague Within, and as the final crush of McKintosh and Aedy’s guitars fade out along with Nick’s grating roar, a void of almost self-assured dignity is left in the album’s wake. Lingering along with it is the sense that Paradise Lost have delivered the most vital and accomplished work of their careers, as well as admiration for a band that are still this fucking good almost three decades after forming. An essential album that will reinvigorate the passion of many for this band, and vindicate the dedicated appreciation of others, The Plague Within proves that old dogs don’t need to learn new tricks – especially when they invented the tricks.