Paradise Lost – Obsidian (2020)

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We’ve got a great fish and chip shop around the corner. Often, we go there on Friday night. Why there? It’s accessible, you know what to expect, it’s efficient and is enjoyable. The works burger is all of those things – easy to order, you know what to expect, leaves you satisfied and is tasty. It’s enjoyable, but, is it memorable?

However, when we travel somewhere, I am keen to visit a boutique burger bar and order something more interesting: a different blend in ingredients; two patties AND a piece of fried chicken; corn fed Angus patties; triple cheese; maple bacon etc. It leaves me more satisfied – it’s tasty, interesting and  somewhat risky.

It’s memorable.

More on that later…

Hailing from Yorkshire, Paradise Lost have been together for 32 years, with “Obsidian” being their 16th album. It has 11 tracks and they weigh in at 56 minutes.

“Darker Thoughts” had a dreamy opening, appropriate to the title and the subject matter. This opening featured tinkling acoustic guitar, a hint of strings and calm vocals. Nick Holmes then showcased his vocal ability, morphing from a sweet and clear style to an intimidating gravelled growl. Gregor Mackintosh’s abundant guitar prowess was quickly on display, with driving riffs soon accompanied by masterful technical solos. The track set the precedent that this album followed – lots of layers, wth harder and closer listening reaping a rewarding experience as I accessed the surprising depth of this music. The bass line on this track was noticeable and an exquisite guitar solo featured.

“Fall from Grace” rose up with a series of guitar wails and a growl from the shadows. The epic slow riff gave the track bite and it followed a logical progression. It was unhurried and anthemic, with a tinge of sadness. The structure was repetitive, but this made it easy to bond with. Another amazing guitar solo appeared, leaving me somewhat awestruck.

“Ghosts” had a spirited bass line opening, with a tribal/ chanting theme used. It shifted gears effortlessly, as it made an oblique commentary about religion. An interesting guitar effect was used, akin to a pulsating machine. Holmes’s different levels of vocal intensity were again used to great effect.

“The Devil Embraced” wrapped me in a restrained opening, with simple guitar and keyboards following a metronome-like arrangement. The vocals started cleanly, before the gravel again rose to the surface. This track unfolded dynamically, with layers expertly added over time, sneaking up on me. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by a complex beast of sound. The track shifted in character a number of times, like it was possessed – it has a clever name.

“Forsaken” opened with some hope, with a choir used to provide atmosphere. It was a mid-paced anthem, with the vocals again shifting in intensity throughout. The guitars chugged along in the background, adding to the feeling of hopelessness of this track.

“Serenity” ironically opened with more noise and a faster pace, which was maintained throughout. It was strong on atmosphere, using wind-like sounds and the tinkling of instruments to augment the mood.

“Ending Days” started with a reverberating guitar and a fascinating bass line that added an air of slow reflection. This continued for a good while, before things ramped up, with held guitar notes adding to the wall of sound.

“Hope Dies Young” resurrected the wall of sound, then extended it, resulting in an auditory assault of ringing guitar. Tribal percussion added spice and restrained vocals were used as an effective counterpoint. This track had an air of hopelessness.

“Ravensghast” opened with keyboards, ghostly screams and moans. This track centred on the soldiers who have been killed in conflicts, when technically the battle was over. It was slow in tempo and the growling vocals gave it a sinister and ominous complexion. The many guitar layers were fascinating. At one point, there was an anchoring guitar riff, but different riffs were also played on the left and right sides, capering and jousting with each other. Madness simmered throughout and a sense of pessimism was obvious.

“Hear the Night” dawned with gravelled vocals and a complexly engineered suite of guitars. I was deeply impressed by the level of musicianship. The guitar and the bass line were woven well together, anchoring the track, before the guitar embellishments swooped and swerved.

“Defiler” opened with some tasty guitar licks, before settling into a syncopated pattern. This was accompanied by some somewhat unsettling character vocals. Layers of intricate guitar were again used, this time with ominous intent.

This album was often rough and reflective, but always wonderfully executed.

Nick Holme’s ability to convey threat, hopelessness, being miserable and being serene was surprising. The musicianship was sharp and polished and Gregor Mackintosh’s guitar work was immaculate.

As an album it served up a satisfying feast, with all of the elements there, delivering what I expected.

You probably know where I am going with this analogy.

This was the burger from the place around the corner. It was made to order, I knew what to expect, it left me satisfied and was tasty. It was enjoyable, but I wanted something more. A number of times I got a bit lost, not paying attention because, despite the musicianship, there was nothing risky, attention grabbing or memorable.

6/10

Greg Noble.

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