Just over 2 years ago, I wrote a review of Paradise Lost’s then-current album and it closed with the following:
“I’m absolutely gobsmacked with The Plague Within. If you’d asked me before tonight what my favourite PL album was then the answer would have immediately been Draconian Times.
But ask me again tomorrow and it might take a little longer to give you an answer.”
A few months later I changed my bio on this very site to make the necessary modification and strike-through Draconian Times to replace it in my list of favourite albums. I still get quite a massive buzz from The Plague Within now and it still gets listened to at least once a day. That was until I received the review copy of Medusa recently; and I’ve listened to almost nothing else since.
And, as with The Plague Within, I’ll state that this album is good. Really f***ing good. In fact, it’s even better.
For some reason, Medusa is billed as the “heaviest full-length release of the past 15 years” on a Facebook ad that keeps popping up for me. And I must respectively disagree, as I think this might arguably be the heaviest release of the band’s career. The Plague Within can lay claim to that prior ‘heaviest album’ statement even if it doesn’t really make sense to me, but Medusa just ups the ‘heavy’ to another level.
30 seconds into the album opener “Fearless Sky” you get a clear idea of what lies ahead – doom. Taking its cue from “Beneath Broken Earth” from this album’s predecessor, it’s a slow, lumbering slab of doom, only briefly upping the tempo just after the 6-minute mark and then reverting to its original pace for the rest of this 8 minute 30 second behemoth. It’s the longest song of the band’s career, and is also the best opening track I think I’ve ever heard on a Paradise Lost album, knocking Draconian Times‘ “Enchantment” and Icon‘s “Embers Fire” down in the list.
So where from there? With such a strong opening, there may be a concern that the rest of the songs don’t reach those heights. Stuff that, because “Gods of Ancient” is just as flipping good, and “From the Gallows” too. On my first listen to the album, I went straight back and started the album over just to hear those three songs again as soon as possible. And what jumps out from those tracks is how much this album could stylistically slot right in between Gothic and Shades of God, the band’s second and third albums. That’s not to say that it is limited to that style – there are loads of other elements of Paradise Lost’s style over the years.
So where do we go after those first three songs? Well, there’s no drop in the quality at all with “The Longest Winter”, “Medusa” and “No Passage for the Dead” all delivering. What jumps out so much is Nick Holmes’ vocals and how comfortable it all sounds. It was a pleasant surprise to hear the return of the ‘death growl’ on The Plague Within but it’s so much better on Medusa. That’s not surprising at all as it has been two years between the albums and Nick has obviously grown back into the style. Understandable considering that it’s not just Paradise Lost that need that voice now but also Bloodbath, where that voice is a necessity.
To go back again (last time, I promise) to The Plague Within, there is one song on there that I love for its position on the album, and that’s “Cry Out”. It has such a different feel to the rest of the tracks, with a swagger to it, and it almost feels like a pit-stop to allow the listener some relief prior to the closing track. And they’ve done it again on Medusa with “Blood and Chaos”; and then some. This song rocks and brings a huge smile to my face as it trundles along – the vocal delivery is venomous, the drums batter away and the guitar work is quality. Love it.
And so on to that album closer, “Until the Grave”. Just sit back, let it play, and take it all in – “Fearless Sky” at the start of the album and this one at the end make the perfect book-ends to Medusa.
I’m often prone to hyperbole when I discuss the music I love but believe me, there is none here at all from my perspective. This album is an essential purchase for not only any Paradise Lost fan, be they old or new or lapsed or dedicated, but also for any self-respecting metal fan.
I’m just going to pop over and edit my profile on the site again, but expect this review to be updated once I’ve got my hands on the 3 bonus tracks…
And now for that update:
Just 2 bonus tracks instead of 3 – turns out that the new version of “Frozen Illusion”, originally on Paradise Lost’s almost eponymous debut album, is on the Japanese release of the album. Bah humbug!!
So we have “Shrines” and “Symbolic Virtue” – something I always like about Paradise Lost and their bonus tracks is that sometimes you end up scratching your head and wondering why they weren’t included on the album in general. And “Shrines” is one of those; this is an absolute stunner of a song and I got goosebumps hearing it the first time. Vocally it’s a mixture of clean and harsh, lyrically it drips with despair. Sonically, it opens up slowly with guitar and Holmes’ almost spoken vocal over the top. The bass joins the party (or maybe the wake?) and then in comes the drums for the chorus with Holmes launching in to that harsh vocal. At the end of 2015, I reviewed Symphony for the Lost and hoped that the band would do another concert with an orchestra backing – stick an orchestra on “Shrines” and I’d pay to watch it played as the only song of the set-list.
After that, “Symbolic Virtue” is on a hiding to nothing really. With mainly clean vocals, it’s a departure from the style of the rest of the album and as such ‘bonus track’ status suits it better as it would have felt out of place otherwise. However, don’t think that means it’s not a good song – it is. Reminds me a lot of the One Second-era, albeit without any synth involved.
Medusa is out on September 1st.