Artist: Paradise Lost
Album Title: Medusa
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Date Of Release: 1 September 2017
I have been a fan of Paradise Lost for over 20 years since, as a teenager, I took a chance on ‘Draconian Times’. It was love at first listen and it served as the soundtrack to some very important moments in my life, most notably, my GCSE art exam. I got an excellent grade, but how could I not with this album inspiring me throughout?
Naturally, I delved into the back catalogue at my earliest opportunity and was blown away by ‘Icon’ and ‘Shades Of God’. In fact, the latter remains my all-time favourite Paradise Lost album. I was less enamoured with ‘Lost Paradise’ and ‘Gothic’ initially, although both were littered with moments of excellence. Today, I listen to the latter a lot more and the former almost never to be honest.
At the time, I hated ‘One Second’ and ‘Host’ with their strong electropop/Goth overtones and apparent abandonment of their heavier roots. I still don’t enjoy them as much as many others, although my hatred has certainly softened to grudging respect, with an admission that there are a few songs that are rather enjoyable.
Nevertheless, it took me until the release of ‘Faith Divides Us, Death Unites Us’ in 2009, some four albums and an entire decade later, to rediscover the magic. I had casually listened to the intervening albums, pleased to note that there was a gradual reintroduction of heavier material, but it was with ‘Faith…’ that I was truly knocked for six. Successive albums have seen a further increase in heaviness, but have also maintained a consistent level of quality along the way. So much so that ‘Tragic Idol’ (2012) and ‘The Plague Within’ (2015) rank as two of my favourites by the gloomy Yorkshiremen.
‘That’s all very well’, I hear you cry, ‘but what about this new album?’
It’s a fair question, but the preceding history lesson is designed to add context to the review because in order to understand my views on ‘Medusa’, you need to be familiar with the back story. So, with that sorted, I can now turn my attention to Paradise Lost’s 15th album and their first on their new label, Nuclear Blast.
It doesn’t take genius to fathom, almost immediately, that the veterans have gone for yet another slightly different approach with this record. And this approach effectively turns back the clock a quarter of a century as the quintet delve back into their murky past to dredge up their dark and gloomy doom roots, with a hint of death for good measure, principally via the vocals of Nick Holmes. On this record, he lets his gravelly and sinister gruff tones take the lead and, aside for a few notable exceptions, keeps his more melodious clean tones under lock and key.
The parallels to their very early material is striking. For one, the whole record sounds dirty, raw and organic, the perfect foil for the unashamed doom metal output that ‘Medusa’ provides. The music here is ugly and oppressive, claustrophobic and unsettling. Initially, given by predisposition against the band’s very early material and my general apathy to doom in general, I didn’t warm to ‘Medusa’. I found the generally plodding pace and slow-moving material quite dull and unedifying, even though it was markedly less naïve-sounding than those first couple of records.
But yet, after a few listens, there is a subtle, warm beauty that starts to become apparent, like the occasional stubborn ray of sunshine that refuses to be entirely expunged by a sky thick with dark clouds. And those self-same foreboding clouds slowly begin to offer a rugged beauty themselves at times. The slow, lumbering heavy riffs, the low bass rumble from Steve Edmondson and the simple, uncomplicated bruising beat of Wallteri Väyrynen’s drums; they all come together to create something strangely compelling, almost hypnotic at times.
Take the gargantuan opening piece, ‘Fearless Sky’ as the perfect example of all that I have just said. The first half is all-out doom worship, slowly and inexorably crushing everything it its path. The riffs of Gregor Mackintosh and Aaron Aedy churn and Holmes growls spitefully as the song slithers along at its own stubborn pace. But around the half-way mark, things change. A subtle melody is introduced, those recognisable guitar tones and distinctive leads of Mackintosh’s guitar break through the gloom and Holmes reverts to a clean approach. Suddenly, what was oppressive, becomes far more epic and, for me, enjoyable. There’s even space for a segment where the spirit of the late 90s briefly emerges, albeit cloaked in something far heavier.
Frustratingly, I don’t find the follow-up, ‘Gods of Ancient’ quite so positive and indeed I’d still go as far as to say that it’s a fairly unremarkable doom metal track. ‘From The Gallows’ on the other hand, delivers some great drumming and more of those archetypal mournful leads that Mackintosh pens so well. The guitar solo is a brief, twisted affair and overall, its shorter life also aids it, preventing it from outstaying its welcome.
‘The Longest Winter’ perks me right up, as it is an absolute belter. The effect-laden guitar work that acts as the opening centrepiece is marvellous, as is the slow groove that accompanies it. And as much as I like Holme’s gruff delivery, I’m a sucker for his clean croons and here he obliges, even soaring over the more melodious chorus to stunning effect. If there’s such a thing as a catchy track on ‘Medusa’, this is it, right here.
The title track has a lot to live up to then, but it manages it. Rather deftly actually. Again, the mournful doom metal overtones are present, as are Holmes’ clean vocals – it really does make all the difference for me. The added injection of melody that his voice provides is, for me, the difference between a good song and an excellent one. Not always, but on the whole. I really like the brief quiet interlude which introduces a simple piano embellishment, which seems to dial up the misery to another level. Again, Mackintosh delights with his expressive leads whilst the rhythm section does its best to bulldoze its way through everything.
There’s then another disappointing dip, as ‘No Passage For The Dead’ fails to make the same impact as its couple of predecessors. It’s a perfectly adequate song, but doesn’t get my juices flowing. ‘Blood and Chaos’ on the other hand catches my attention as it ups the pace a little, entering the fray in an uncharacteristic up-tempo manner. The pace continues throughout, acting as light relief to the more sedate meanderings elsewhere.
Pleasingly, ‘Medusa’ is brought to a close in positive fashion, courtesy of ‘Until The Grave’. The sombre and menacing tone is accented by a magnificent chorus that is beautiful but conveys forlorn and desperate emotions. There’s a wailing and gnashing, swirling lead solo and even a hint of synths at one point if I’m not mistaken.
‘Medusa’ has really pulled me back and forth, toying with my thoughts and feelings on a frequent basis. As such, this has been a difficult record to review. Those that prefer the more raw and extreme metal output of the early days will probably be in raptures about this release. Indeed, there is a lot to like about the material here; it is without doubt created with care and passion, and executed in the ultra-professional manner you expect from a band of the calibre and long-standing of Paradise Lost. There are some excellent tracks here, with some strong melodies to be heard which, in turn, pull me back for repeated listens. And I do like ‘Medusa’ more after each run through. But, I’m just not sure that this is the incarnation and direction of Paradise Lost that I like most. And, in addition, there are just a couple too many less-than-stellar tracks lurking within the record. So, in conclusion, ‘Medusa’ is very good. But in my opinion, it is not quite their best.
The Score Of Much Metal: 8.5
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:
The Haunted – Strength In Numbers
Serious Black – Magic
Leprous – Malina
The Lurking Fear – Out of the Voiceless Grave
Prospekt – The Illuminated Sky
Wintersun – The Forest Seasons
Witherfall – Nocturnes And Requiems
Tuesday The Sky – Drift
Anthriel – Transcendence
Decapitated – Anticult
Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams
Orden Ogan – Gunmen
Iced Earth – Incorruptible
Anathema – The Optimist
Solstafir – Berdreyminn
Dream Evil – Six
Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos
Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day