Paradise Lost – The Plague Within (2015) – British legends Paradise Lost are back at it again with another outstanding album. But while that in itself would be enough to describe the record, I am instead going to offer up a simple track-by-track offering of the release which will also include the bonus cuts from the limited edition version. First of all and this is nothing against Century Media, but the mere fact that they offered the fifth track from the album “Beneath Broken Earth 6:08” as a single is very misleading in representation of the album.
In “Beneath Broken Earth” there are absolutely no clean vocal approaches and very little in the way of any real musical progression. In other words, it just sort of sounded like any old death/doom track and I felt that any band really could have written it. It just didn’t feel like Paradise Lost and it was a very bad note to introduce the album on, especially considering that The Plague Within truly offers a variety of different approaches. For instance, “No Hope In Sight 4:51” opens the album with a hell of a lot more melody then the aforementioned and even brings in some rather notable clean vocal sections from Nick Holmes.
I mean, this is what I know him from and I feel that these clean vocal sections are extremely essential here. They also go rather well with the familiar melody sections, which also meld properly with Holmes harsh vocal utterances. It feels like a mix of the old and the new and that’s why I feel it stands out. I’d hope they play this one live, because I definitely think it would work as a set opener. “Terminal 4:28” comes in with pounding death metal, but it also continues with the melodic approach to deadly doom-influenced death, which puts it very close to the immeasurable Gothic. There’s also a rather nice solo section at play, which only adds to my amazement. You’ll have to excuse me for a second, as I’ve been taken out of the review to raise my fist into the air. But that should further cement the awesomeness of this song.
“An Eternity Of Lies 5:58” brings in funerary melodies, a violin section, pounding metal, female vocals and a wonderfully catchy chorus. There’s also a masterpiece of a fucking solo to behold here, as Gregor Mackintosh has really been on his game. After this review, I feel that I’ll have to play this one another couple hundred times. “Punishment Through Time 5:13” comes in melodically with a harsher (but not death metal) vocal approach, which I certainly do not mind and feel that it is just as memorable as any old growl that Holmes musters. Towards the end it almost feels sludgy and even has a bit of a blues tone to it. I’ve never heard Paradise Lost sound like this before, but I certainly can’t say that it’s a bad thing. Keep in mind that this is only the beginning of their experimentations on this record.
Next we’ll get into the aforementioned “Beneath Broken Earth” and why I’ve such a distaste for it. It’s not a bad song, but it’s an approach that I’ve heard from doom/death acts several times before and I feel that the band offers more texture than this. Mackintosh delivers another brilliant solo moment, but it just doesn’t bring me back to the nineties in the way that I guess they had hoped it would. “Sacrifice The Flame 4:42” keeps the slow pace, but it switches to clean vocals with the occasional dose of death growls, offering up one of the record’s only other low points. It’s a decent enough song, but it doesn’t work as a whole for me. “Victim Of The Past 4:28” seems to offer a little bit of orchestral influence in addition to some rather potent melodies, which ultimately open up into thundering death metal as I’m thrown right back into Gothic territory.
The rest of the piece goes off without a hitch and feels very much like a modern approach to that classic album. “Flesh From Bone 4:18” sounds utterly horrific in the beginning as choirs fill sections of the background and what sounds very much like classic death metal soon takes hold. Adrian Erlandsson pummels the drums in a way that we haven’t heard in a very long time, even though the song has it’s dips into thick abyssal dredges which recall “Beneath Broken Earth” yet sound far better in my opinion. Mackintosh tops it with a slight solo as well, which certainly doesn’t hurt the piece. I’m sure that the fans are going to want to hear more material like this live and I’d feel that this one would also fit well in a set list.
“Cry Out 4:31” definitely surprised me, as I never expected these guys to take a death n’ roll approach in my entire life. But I’m not upset by this one as they showcase a new side of themselves that shines just as brightly as any other styles that they’ve segued into over the years. The track expands in several different variations from its death n’ roll beginnings, but it ultimately delivers in all of its unhinged experimentation.
The last track on the regular version of the album is called “Return To The Sun 5:43” which at first sounds like something out of a film. An Orchestra thunders to the heavens, as choirs chant and all manner of destruction seems to be afoot. When the band finally comes in, I’m definitely feeling the Gothic approach again, albeit with the addition of clean vocals as we’ve come to expect. The leads truly hold the power here as Holmes seems to know just what kind of vocal style he wants to use during each section. It takes a special kind of frontman to do that and Holmes is definitely that kind of frontman.
As a great roar is uttered and Mackintosh lights up the sky amidst the forlorn chants of the choir, the record finally comes to a close… and it definitely reaffirms the incredible prowess of such a longstanding and unbelievably stalwart act.
But if you happened to get your hands on the special edition of the record, you would be greeted with “Fear Of Silence 3:59” which is a very catchy number that definitely feels a little out of place on this much heavier offering. It feels like something from their self-titled album and jumps right to the chorus as if it was rearing for radio play. Next we have “Never Look Away 5:17” which from the very beginning (listen to those leads) feels like it should have been on the original recording. When the death metal section comes in, I feel like we might have gotten shorted a little. Though I can see why the track was left off now because the clean vocal section wasn’t quite up to speed.
Still, it should have been a bonus track for all copies of the record as I feel it fit and fans really shouldn’t have had to pay more for another dose of death metal. The final bonus track is an orchestral version of “Victim Of The Past 5:13” which I could have done without, but I guess it gives you a sampling of what to expect from the new songs in a live setting, even though it is admittedly muddy. Where exactly was this recorded? I’ve heard better bootleg concerts. It’s audible, but just feels a little more raw than I would expect for a live bonus track from a band like Paradise Lost. But honestly, it does me no good to bicker about a live bonus track. With all things considered, The Plague Within is definitely the heaviest that we’ve heard Paradise Lost since their early days in Gothic.
Though nothing will ever replace the awesomeness of that timeless classic for me, this record comes absurdly close while at the same time managing to experiment in new and unexpectedly different manners than we’ve ever heard from the band prior. This is coming from a man who has heard and experienced every single disc and numerous B-Sides from what he considers to be one of the greatest metal bands in the entire genre. You can feel rest assured that your hard-earned money will be spent on a record that is truly and utterly worth every penny.
Though there might be a few things that I felt weren’t spectacular, the gist of this record far overshadows those mere oversights and I think you’ll feel the same way. Scores for this album have been quite high all over the internet and there’s really no need for me to further promote its greatness. But I would feel terrible if I hadn’t gotten a word in about it myself. Once again, these legends have delivered and no one will be left unhappy.
(13 Tracks, 64:00)