After 14 albums, you might expect to know a band pretty intimately. You can expect to have a good idea of what they do well, what they don’t and, more importantly, you can expect them to have a good idea too. Other than the occasional accident, 14 albums is enough to know whether or not you’re the kind of band that sings solemn hymns about the destruction of hope or the kind that who punctuates their stage shows with gigantic hydraulic penises. It’s a fine line but the sooner a band realises which side they’re on the better and, after 14 albums, that decision should be long made. The downside to this, of course, is that they’ll very rarely surprise you and when they do it’s even rarer that this is for the better.
And then there’s Paradise Lost. They’ve gone 14 albums without settling on a sound and while I can definitely appreciate them keeping their fans on their toes, it’s starting to look something like a cry for help. I don’t know at what exact point reinvention crosses the line into self-abuse, but I’m willing to bet Paradise Lost have passed it.
This does prevent me from telling you I don’t like them. 2013’s compilation album “Tragic Illusion” contained a couple of memorable Orchestral re-mixes that improved on the original songs in new and interesting directions, and you could be forgiven for imagining “The Plague Within” would follow this trajectory. It’s a shame they didn’t.
Unfortunately, what they did is uninspired, boring and certainly nothing like their best, no matter which album‘s “they” you’re comparing it to. The compositions are pleasingly heavy, but that’s far from enough to make a good song, and everything else seems oddly lacking. It’s bizarre because these guys have a definite history of producing great, interestingly complex music, but they’ve apparently abandoned this approach in favour of overcharged distortion pedals and slow, predictable riffs. It’s still enjoyable in its way, but doesn’t exactly live up to the standard they’ve set themselves. Instead it feels like a B-side, a collection of unmemorable filler tracks that somehow achieved critical mass and got themselves released. Any one track on “Tragic Illusion” is more worth your time than this album, and while you might accuse me of unfairness by comparing this to a selection of career highlights, that’s the kind of thing that happens when the last thing you released was a selection of career highlights. Their fans bought it, and now they’re paying for it.
Unflattering comparisons aside, it’s not all bad news. There’s more than a little to recommend them musically, though perhaps that’s unavoidable with their level of experience.
Immediately upon starting the album you’re exposed to the kid of grand iron cliff face of metal riffery that Iron Maiden perfected, which isn’t a bad introduction to this album. It’s sheer, a solid distorted wall that beats its way into the consciousness by weight alone.
The mixing of vocals, clean and growled, is one of the most effective I’ve heard this year. Both wield their power and effect with confidence, and both would be weaker without the other to balance themselves. It’s powerful in a way that seems vaguely reminiscent of classic rock. Unfortunately, this does mean it begins to sound somewhat generic at times, as is always the danger when taking too heavy inspiration from such a well-known source.
Overall, it’s not a bad album. Were it a debut, I’d be marking it as one to watch. But, as the 14th album from a band who has proved their quality before now, it feels like a step backwards.
Album: The Plague Within
Released: June 1st 2015
Label: Century Media
Score: 4/9 Hammers