Artist: Paradise Lost
Album Title: Obsidian
Label: Nuclear Blast
Date of Release: 15 May 2020
Upon hearing the opening strains of ‘Darker Thoughts’, the first song on ‘Obsidian’, I will admit to checking out the information on my laptop as I wasn’t convinced that this was Paradise Lost initially. The gentle, serene acoustic guitar notes from Gregor Mackintosh, the soft, introspective clean vocals from Nick Holmes that didn’t immediately sound like him, and the steadily-increasing amount of orchestration around these two entities mainly in the form of sorrowful and lamenting strings; it just felt…different. And different is exactly the way to describe this entire song. Ultimately, it still sounds unequivocally Paradise Lost, but it is a song that has to be one of the most varied, multi-faceted, and accomplished of the band’s illustrious career to date.
Mind you, if we take a step back for a moment and consider the entire history of this band, then perhaps none of us should be surprised when Paradise Lost attempt to try something a little different. Setting out as an underground extreme metal band with death metal overtones, they then build on the Gothic elements of their sound, increasing the sophistication with ‘Shades Of God’ (my personal favourite), before taking a turn for the more mainstream, a journey begun with ‘Icon’ continuing apace with the album that started it all for me, ‘Draconian Times’. Then came my least enjoyable period where the hair was cut and the Yorkshiremen, originally from Halifax, decided to dabble with Gothic rock and more electronic-heavy music. Over the past decade or so however, Paradise Lost have got steadily heavier again, with ‘Faith Divides Us, Death Unites Us’ becoming a personal favourite along the way. The gruff vocals from Holmes have even returned of late.
So, being presented with a rich and varied opening song from the quintet of Holmes and Mackinstosh alongside guitarist Aaron Aedy, bassist Stephen Edmondson and relatively new drummer Waltteri Väyrynen, should be something long-term fans should be able to take within their stride. And, to be honest, after the initial, temporary, mild discombobulation, so have I. And, after a couple of listens where I clearly had cotton wool for ears and as such wasn’t listening carefully enough, early feelings of ‘it’s ok’ have grown to a point where I’m fully revelling in listening to an album that shows demonstrably that the UK doom and gloom stalwarts are at the very top of their game.
Back to that opening salvo, ‘Darker Thoughts’ and the intro is truly a thing of ethereal beauty; the guitars are crisp, clear and carry a poignancy that’s almost oppressive. Nick Holmes’ delivery is almost brittle, like the singing of a tired and forlorn human, simply putting one foot in front of the other, refusing to give up. The orchestration that initially acts as a subtle backdrop steadily becomes more pronounced, lending the composition an urgency and sense of drama as it reaches the inevitable next step: heaviness. The riffs that explode are meaty and weighty, as is the rumbling rhythm section. And in steps Holmes’ gravelly, venomous gruff vocals, pronounced orchestration and then those classic Mackintosh solemn, pleading leads over a chorus that gets stronger with each passing listen. There’s a bass and drum section that’s really nice, before Holmes reverts to the vocal approach so memorable from the ‘Draconian Times’ days, that rich, mellifluous croon that’s instantly recognisable. Within it’s sub-six-minute length, there’s also room for a gorgeous lead solo from Mackintosh, as well as an outro that’s led by the bass of Edmondson, but seen to a quiet conclusion by those orchestrated strings. It’s a rich, elegant and majestic way to begin and, one hopes, not a false dawn for the rest of album number sixteen.
The now-familiar lead guitar sound of Mackintosh ushers in the follow-up, ‘Fall From Grace’ and drives it forward, featuring frequently throughout. It reminds me a little more of the ‘Icon’ era in that it is a monstrous song, full of chunky riffs, that plod and lurch along with a crushing solemnity that can only come from the minds of Paradise Lost. Again, the vocals flit between clean croon and gruff spite. And when he sings ‘We’re All Alone’ in the melodic chorus, you really feel it. But doom and gloom rarely sounds this sweet.
‘Ghosts’ begins with an up-tempo pulse, led by the drums and the bass guitar. It creates a distinctly 80s Goth flavour, but this shorter, faster track soon returns to familiar territory, with the stop-start churning riffs that emerge at points being a definite highlight, alongside a memorable chorus, and the deliciously unsettling way that Holmes is able to chant the name ‘Jesus Christ’.
‘Obsidian’ is clearly much more heavily influenced by Gothic trappings, particularly those from the 80s and the intro to ‘The Devil Embraced’ draws from this well of inspiration too. It’s also utterly stunning. There’s the sound of an organ and light guitar playing which are both replaced by some piano notes that sit atop some incredibly spine-tingling bass notes that shake the very foundations; simple and effective. The slow, ponderous riff that then joins the party continues the heavy theme, making me grin wickedly every time I hear it. It’s a dark but dramatic opening, setting the tone for one of my favourite tracks on the album. The chorus is equal parts beautiful, mournful and aggressive in its intent. Holmes’ clean vocals add to the already strong melodies that run through the song, making the whole thing resonate even more powerfully. I never tire of those elegant, sombre lead lines of Mackintosh; they are synonymous with the band and yet more emerge here. Like the opener, it is an ambitious piece, but it delivers in spades, with plenty of shifts in dynamics and the atmosphere which it conveys, eloquently evoking everything from mid-grey to the blackest of black.
If it’s drama you’re after, then the first thirty seconds of ‘Forsaken’, with it’s choral beginning, atmospheric synths, lingering heavy guitar notes and overall dark majesty will find immediate favour. The chugging riffs are an utter delight but it is the clandestine atmosphere and lashings of theatrics that wins the day for me.
Initially, I feared that the mid-latter stages of ‘Obsidian’ might suffer a little and the quality may dip slightly. But with the gift of time, the likes of ‘Serenity’ with its more upbeat central riff, the explosive chorus that hits from nowhere within a generally more introspective, bass-heavy ‘Ending Days’, and the intriguing vocal embellishments during the chorus of ‘Hope Dies Young’, I can honestly say that there’s an incredible consistency at play on ‘Obsidian’.
On an album like this, it should come as no surprise that the final song is every bit as bold and engaging as its opening counterpart. Entitled ‘Ravenghast’, it begins more like a black metal song given the synths and the undeniably evil and dramatic atmospheres. But from there, Holmes growls over an initial riff that is slow, deliberate and full of doom-laden drama. It ratchets up the heaviness whilst retaining that cloying and suffocating dark atmosphere throughout. The riffs churn, Väyrynen offers some of his most flamboyant work, including a brief foray into double-pedal territory and the behemoth of a composition twists and turns uncomfortably to a fulfilling and satisfying conclusion, the final notes left to a haunting, echoey piano.
What else can one really say except ‘well played Paradise Lost, well played indeed’, whilst doffing one’s cap in their direction. I have enjoyed the heavier material that Paradise Lost have been plundering over the last few years, but when blended with those rich Gothic overtones, and sense of morose, dark drama, this is the band at their best. And ‘Obsidian’ is undoubtedly the product of a special band at the peak of their morose powers.
The Score of Much Metal: 93%
Check out my reviews from 2020 right here:
Naglfar – Cerecloth
Forgotten Tomb – Nihilistic Estrangement
Winterfylleth – The Reckoning Dawn
Firewind – Firewind
An Autumn For Crippled Children – All Fell Silent, Everything Went Quiet
Havok – V
Helfró – Helfró
Victoria K – Essentia
Cryptex – Once Upon A Time
Thy Despair – The Song Of Desolation
Cirith Ungol – Forever Black
Igorrr – Spirituality and Distortion
Nightwish – Human. II: Nature.
Katatonia – City Burials
Wolfheart – Wolves Of Karelia
Asenblut – Die Wilde Jagd
Nicumo – Inertia
The Black Dahlia Murder – Verminous
Omega Infinity – Solar Spectre
Symbolik – Emergence
Pure Reason Revolution – Eupnea
Irist – Order Of The Mind
Testament – Titans Of Creation
Ilium – Carcinogeist
Dawn Of Ouroboros – The Art Of Morphology
Torchia – The Coven
Novena – Eleventh Hour
Ashes Of Life – Seasons Within
Dynazty – The Dark Delight
Sutrah – Aletheia EP
Welicoruss – Siberian Heathen Horde
Myth Of I – Myth Of I
My Dying Bride – The Ghost Of Orion
Infirmum – Walls Of Sorrow
Inno – The Rain Under
Kvaen – The Funeral Pyre
Mindtech – Omnipresence
Dark Fortress – Spectres From The Old World
The Oneira – Injection
Night Crowned – Impius Viam
Dead Serenity – Beginnings EP
The Night Flight Orchestra – Aeromantic
Deadrisen – Deadrisen
Blaze Of Perdition – The Harrowing Of Hearts
Godsticks – Inescapable
Isle Of The Cross – Excelsis
Demons & Wizards – III
Vredehammer – Viperous
H.E.A.T – H.E.A.T II
Psychotic Waltz – The God-Shaped Void
Into The Open – Destination Eternity
Lunarsea – Earthling/Terrestre
Pure Wrath – The Forlorn Soldier EP
Sylosis – Cycle of Suffering
Sepultura – Quadra
Dyscordia – Delete / Rewrite
Godthrymm – Reflections
On Thorns I Lay – Threnos
God Dethroned – Illuminati
Fragment Soul – A Soul Inhabiting Two Bodies
Mariana Semkina – Sleepwalking
Mini Album Reviews: Moloken, The Driftwood Sign & Midnight
Serenity – The Last Knight
Ihsahn – Telemark EP
Temperance – Viridian
Blasphemer – The Sixth Hour
Deathwhite – Grave Image
Marko Hietala – Pyre Of The Black Heart
SWMM – Trail Of The Fallen
Into Pandemonium – Darkest Rise EP
Bonded – Rest In Violence
Serious Black – Suite 226
Darktribe – Voici L’Homme
Brothers Of Metal – Emblas Saga
A Life Divided – Echoes
Thoughts Factory – Elements
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: