Paradise Lost - The Plague Within (Century Media)

A masterclass in misery...

Just seconds into The Plague Within, Bradford miserablists Paradise Lost’s fourteenthth studio full lengther, you know you’ve been given a very special record. The utterly timeless riff that opens the song is guaranteed to send chills down the spine of any longstanding PL fan, the dramatic drum stabs from Adrian Erlandsson heightening the tension before all endorphins are successfully released as the song heaves itself underway. This is prime Paradise Lost, and the quality just doesn’t dip for the rest of the album…

Terminal keeps momentum going via a fine double kick propulsion from that man Erlandsson again, Nick Holmes simultaneously spitting bile yet remaining ever doleful, but if those two tracks aren’t high quality enough, it’s third track An Eternity of Lies that really ups the ante.

A Paradise Lost song for the ages, up there with As I Die and Embers Fire, this is really the apotheosis of this band’s songwriting. Metal as Fuck no doubt, yet shot through with the sort of top-notch tunesome sensibilities only a truly great heavy metal band possesses. The song starts slow, never really kicks into gear tempo wise (though the double kick is there again, propping the song up come solo time), yet it doesn’t need to – PL are good enough to convey an entire palette of feelings without having to veer all over the shop during the course of a single song; and when they hit that nagging, aching chorus – the whole thing resolves itself, sense is made, and you’re insanely glad you love this band with all your heart and are being treated to another dose of the good stuff.

Punishment Through Time somehow sounds – at the start at least – like something Manowar might have flirted with in 1982 (and obviously I think that’s no bad thing) but then the tortured howl of Holmes manifests itself and you remember who you’re listening to. The absolutely crushing riffs dealt out by Gregor Mackintosh and Aaron Aedy throughout this album are an absolute joy to behold, but the adamantine chug employed throughout Punishment… is particularly gratifying. 

Longest song on the album Beneath Broken Earth starts tentatively, before Holmes establishes the song’s chosen field of battle with an immense old school death/doom vocal that will take you right back to the band’s early days; the mournful, elegiac guitars of Mackintosh and Aedy provide an exquisite accompaniment, the whole being a sublime transportation back to the early nineties when this sort of thing sounded so fresh and new. That it sounds as vital, as important today as it did then is full testament to Paradise Lost’s mastery of this stream of heavy metal belief. Many will try their hand at this form of metallic bombast – hundreds of bands this year, as it goes – but few will ever do it so well.

Muted strings usher in Sacrifice the Flame, accompanying a brief flit across the spotlight for bassist Steve Edmonson (who, though he won’t get many mentions in the reviews, plays his part to the full throughout TPW); However the song doesn’t really get going until it strikes across a truly memorable instrumental bridge about three minutes in which rescues the song from a possibly debilitating period of navel gazing. Intensity levels rise thereafter, though the song still doesn’t rise to the heights of those preceding it. This is but a short dip, however, as next track Victims of the Past ups the stakes again in the bleakest of fashions.

This is PL at their most grimly noire, Holmes'' misanthropic lamentations, both growled and sung, backed by a howling maelstrom of riffage, accented by spritely strings and yet more gargantuan percussive augmentation from Erlandsson. This chest-crushingly heavy theme is extended into following track Flesh From Bone before the band take an abrupt left turn with the bouncy, groove-laden fare of Cry Out.

Cry Out is a quite superb piece of late seventies trad hard rock, transformed for modern consumption into a gallumphingly heavy piece of modern groove that is much a shock to hear from this band as it is a delight. This clearly ain’t a direction they will pursue with much vigour, but as a one-off Cry Out works on every level. And the almost Judas Priest-like chorus? Perfect.

Closing track Return to the Sun is quintessential Paradise Lost, Holmes alternating between plaintive cry, tortured howl and stentorian bellow without missing a beat, the band hammering away in support alternating between all-guns-blazing metallic bombast and filigree, intertwining riffs with similar ease and verve, the whole again being a soul-cleansing, ear-gouging celebration of everything we love about this band. Which is a lot. And there is an incredible amount to love about The Plague Within. Monstrously good stuff. 

The Plague Within is out now.