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Lost Paradise (1990)
 

Written and recorded at the very end of the 1980s, Lost Paradise was released on Peaceville Records in January 1990. As the debut full-length from Paradise Lost, this L.P. not only put them on the map, it also helped to establish the new sub-genre known as Death/Doom. Though many would argue that the following album is the pinnacle of the band's career, this one is far more powerful and consistent. This record takes the work that began on Black Sabbath to one of its logical conclusions, mixed with the raw feeling of Satanic Rites

The songwriting is very solid, with not a single filler track to be found on here. Unlike many of the band's later efforts, or even those that were influenced by this, there is nothing pretty about Lost Paradise. This is dark, filthy and, at times, barbaric. The latter certainly applies to the vocal performance of Nick Holmes, whose voice is deep and yet somewhat throaty as well. Occasionally, the music is reminiscent of Autopsy, yet the dreadful atmosphere is much darker, accentuated by the hellish lead work. Even from the earliest days, the guitar playing of Gregor Mackintosh was one of the most easily identifiable aspects of the band's music. His contributions at a lot of depth to the songs. There is an intensity here that is unrivaled by anything these guys ever did after this. This is not the sort of Death/Doom that consists of mostly pretty melodies and goth influences, balanced out with harsh vocals. Every bit of this is utterly bleak and deathlike. That is one thing that was soon lost by those that followed; there is plenty of Death Metal here, as well as bits of Thrash. Naturally, the songs are dominated by slow or mid-paced sections, but the faster parts are never too far behind. This isn't the kind of "woe is me" approach that My Dying Bride would go on to make. This is more about the doom and gloom of this hellish existence to which we are all damned to suffer and die without hope. There is also an anti-religious element present in the lyrics.

"Where is your god now, as you're dying alone"

This does well to capture the essence of this album. Songs like "Deadly Inner Sense" and "Rotting Misery" truly set the standard for this kind of music, possessed by monstrous riffs that drip with venomous doom and crush your very spirit. The subtle keys add a sense of horror to the music, done in a very tasteful manner. Again, the rough and savage vocals really add to the atmosphere, especially some of the raspier cries. Despite whatever they may say about this material now, there is a very genuine feeling present here. Things do get more gloomy as they progress, with a very desolate feeling prevailing by the time "Breeding Fear" comes along. There is a brief part that includes some female vocals. This, along with the more melancholic feeling of the title track, kind of foreshadows the path that they would follow with the next album.

The production is pretty raw, for what this is. It possesses a very rough sound, compared to a lot of the Death Metal that was released around the same time. The guitar tone is harsh and still very powerful. Thankfully, the lead guitar is not buried in the mix, as happens frequently with more underground releases. The bass is audible and adds to the murky feeling of the album. The drums are lead-heavy and really help to drive things forward. Of course, the vocals come across like some kind of inhuman roaring. Really, this record came out with the exact production job that was needed to best accentuate the material and the atmosphere that they were striving for. Anything overdone would have killed this, dead. By the same token, had everything not sounded so massive and strong, a lot would have been lost.

This is the definitive Paradise Lost album, never to be matched by anything else that they ever did. It is drenched in darkness and gloom, yet still possesses a brutal and aggressive side as well. Everything comes together, brilliantly, and this is the most solid display of songwriting that the band ever offered up. Lost Paradise is the epitome of Death/Doom and the best example of how this style should be played. If you have not picked this up and given it a thorough listen, do so as soon as possible.
 
(1 Sept. 2013)

 
 

Released in March 1991, Gothic is the second full-length album from Paradise Lost and is widely considered as their best and most influential work. While the latter may very well be true, unfortunately, the former would only be correct if not for the existence of Lost Paradise, which kills this in every possible way. Gothic is hardly worth listening to and possesses many shortcomings, compared to its predecessor.

First of all, the production is really horrible. The vocals are too high in the mix, by far. The drums are really inconsequential, similar to the previous album in presentation. However, the major problem with the sound is how weak and low the guitars are. They still sound somewhat rough and unpolished; however, they come across as very thin and quiet. The crushing force present on Lost Paradise is completely gone, even during parts that clearly need it. Of course, due to the shift in songwriting, one would expect some kind of changes to accentuate that, but to neuter the music seems like a poor choice.

Musically, Gothic is softer and more melodic than the debut. At times, one can hear traces of goth rock, especially on "Shattered". The Death Metal parts that made up a solid part of the previous album are almost completely absent. The fastest parts on here are more akin to something from an old Black Sabbath record, with bits of Celtic Frost thrown in. There is still some decent doom riffs, but many are spoiled by the weak production or the very irritating and much more prevalent use of female vocals and an orchestra, the title track being a notable example. The addition of these cheesy elements, along with the haphazard compositions, result in a total lack of the dark vibe that was present on Lost Paradise. There really is not much atmosphere to speak of, as most of this comes off as generic and pointless. The one song that best combats this is "Silent", which features some of the best moments of the whole record. This is the only one that sounds like a continuation of the last record, though it is not perfect either. The lead guitar work is more extensive on this album, and adds a lot to the music, but still fails to make up for the mediocre songwriting. The vocals are a little more varied, as Holmes begins to experiment with his clean voice, though he mostly sticks to his monstrous death growl. However, it feels a little out of place being paired up with such timid music.

Paradise Lost were onto something with their debut record. Unfortunately, they threw that away to experiment and ended up creating something much less impressive, even though it seems to have appealed to more people in the long run. The best thing about Gothic may be the albums that were inspired by it, such as Dance of December Souls, from Katatonia. At least they managed to utilize this approach a lot better and to create something gloomy and memorable. Despite the use of harsh vocals, it would not be correct to label this as Death/Doom. It is very soft and weak and includes too many goth rock influences. There is only one decent song on here, which is a travesty considering how good Lost Paradise was. At any rate, anyone familiar with this band knows just how inconsistent their albums were, before they completely sold out, so it should come as no surprise. If you want something dark and/or melancholic, avoid this.
 
(2 Sept. 2013)

 
 

Shades of God is the third L.P. from Paradise Lost. Released in July 1992, through Music For Nations, this is often considered to be a transition record. That may be true, in some regards, but the truth is that none of the band's earliest efforts were really the same. The band's style really was a work in progress, at that point, and each release showed yet another step in their evolution. This time around, the tracks are lengthier, on average. The songwriting is more solid than on Gothic, more fully embracing the Black Sabbath style of Doom. The vocals are not as harsh, either, further lightening the mood, so to speak. However, in the end, the material is more consistent than on the previous full-length.

Even though Shades of God represents yet another step away from the sound of Lost Paradise, it is an improvement over Gothic. While the latter was almost like the band's answer to Into the Pandemonium, being more about stylistic changes and experimentation, their third album possesses more substance. Almost none of the music seems pointless. At times filled with doom and at other times more aggressive, there is more actual feeling with less passive and useless riffs. The cheesy elements from the previous record have been removed, resulting in a more stripped-down and genuine sound. The music may not be perfect, but it is not soiled by an orchestra or annoying female wailing. One can clearly hear influences from Black Sabbath and Celtic Frost. Even some of the lead solos are reminiscent of something from Paranoid or Master of Reality, with somewhat of a bluesy vibe. This further kills any possibility for creating a truly dark atmosphere, but that was already laid to rest the previous year. As well, the vocals are less harsh, though not quite clean, for the most part. It actually suits the material better, except for the times when he tries to sing with this voice. There are brief parts with totally clean vocals, almost sounding like Peter Steele, which work rather well. The lyrics are a little misleading, as they often come across more bleak and depressing than the music itself. The songs are very dynamic, with a mixture of more aggressive sections with slower and more dismal passages and even occasional clean guitars. The most straightforward and catchy song on here is "As I Die", which seems more like an attempt to write a radio single.

The production is better than on the last album. The overall sound is still a little weak, compared to Lost Paradise, but it is more balanced than on Gothic. The vocals are not so high in the mix and the guitars sound a bit more full and are not so neutered as before. The bass is more audible as well, though it mostly serves to take away any rough edge that the music might have otherwise had, giving more of a soft and warm tone. This material really would have benefited from a heavier and thicker sound, similar to the first Candlemass record.

Shades of God is a really solid Doom Metal album. The somewhat rough vocal delivery hardly qualifies this as Death/Doom, and the Sabbath influences are too obvious to ignore. While Paradise Lost got even farther from the brilliance of their debut L.P. with this release, it features more consistent songwriting than on Gothic and actually succeeds in creating a gloomy feeling, at times. It is not without its weak spots, but it is still enjoyable for what it is. Highlights include "Mortals Watch the Day", "Daylight Torn" and "The Word Made Flesh".
 
(3 Sept. 2013)

 
 

Icon is an album that usually receives a lot of praise. The reason for this is difficult to understand, as it is very disappointing. Released in September 1993, the third full-length from Paradise Lost might as well have come from another band, as it is so far removed from Lost Paradise. In fact, despite the similarities in sound, it even lacks the positive qualities heard on Shades of God. This is incredibly generic, consisting of way too much Heavy Metal and not enough Doom.

Musically, this is a very dull record. It has its moments, but the majority of the songs are boring and not at all what one would expect from this band. "Embers Fire" starts things out decently, but it's all downhill after that. Much of the material is a little too fast to create any feeling of doom, yet still not enough to be considered aggressive. Rather than creating an atmosphere of darkness, there are actually up-tempo melodies all over the album. One of the most offensive tracks, in this regard, is "Remembrance".  It is almost as if the band was not self-aware in the slightest bit, having no idea that they were among those responsible for the birth of Death/Doom, and that people wanted to hear dark and gloomy music from them. This seems designed to be more easily digested, with short and bland compositions that really accomplish nothing and certainly never challenge the listener on any level (other than the challenge of remaining awake). There are some mildly interesting lead passages, but these are not enough to save these simplistic and mundane tracks. Oddly, though it has almost nothing in common with Gothic, Icon still comes across as very cheesy. A lot of this is due to the vocals, being even more clean and sounding similar to James Hetfield. The vocal patterns are just bad, often going for the most obvious and cliche melodies. This is not helped by the fact that the album contains so much filler. Had they dropped a lot of these more lackluster songs and worked to more fully develop those that had promise, such as "Joys of the Emptiness", this album could have been a lot better. As for the production, it is stronger than on Shades of God, though it is a matter of too little, too late. By the time the band managed to get a fuller sound again, the material was so weak that it didn't really deserve it.

In the end, Icon is hardly worth bothering with, even for loyal fans of Paradise Lost. The brief moments of doom are surrounded by so much mediocre and pointless riffs and awkward vocals that this is a somewhat painful listen. Even for those seeking something more goth-influenced, there is only really one song of interest. There are a handful of decent ideas that could have been turned into something, had the band slowed down and put forth more effort. The only depressing thing about this release is how utterly bad it is, compared to their previous efforts.
 
(4 Sept. 2013)

 
 

With their fifth full-length, Paradise Lost managed to find success in failure. Released in June 1995, Draconian Times continued the unfortunate progression of a band that had started out with such promise. This record was the point where the band really settled into their cleaner style, rather than sounding as awkward as they did on Icon. Yet this came at a price, for the music became even more watered-down to a point.

The songwriting is really troubling for those that appreciated the earlier works of Paradise Lost. There are a few traces of doom left, but it has mostly been replaced by goth rock that has a distinctively pop-oriented feeling during much of its forty-eight minute running time. With that said, the compositions are actually more solid than on the previous record, so it would seem that they really found their comfort zone with this (or that coming up with pop music was just easier for them). Many of the riffs are very predictable and cheesy in a way. Everything seems designed to be catchy, as is usually the case with bands trying to appeal to a wider audience. The percussion plays a strong role in making the music sound more light and weak, somehow. It is way too upbeat and kills several sombre melodies, such as on "Shades of God". The vocals are even softer and more melodic, for the most part, though it suits the music and it sounds like Holmes finally learned how to sing. The similarities to James Hetfield are still there, particularly when he tries to sound more forceful. Sorry to say since this is even less metallic at times, but Paradise Lost manages to create a more consistently gloomy atmosphere on this record, as opposed to the last one. Songs like "Enchantment", "Forever Failure" "Hands of Reason" and "Jaded" are among the more tolerable ones on here, for whatever it is worth.

The production is more powerful than on Icon, with a sharper sound and increased clarity in just about every possible way. In other words, this couldn't sound more plastic and modern if it tried. Their budget must have increased a lot in those two years, because this is almost bordering on Black Album levels. Whatever authentic feeling this could have possessed was completely lost due to this overdone production. However, it really is appropriate as the whole album really sounds like it was designed more as a commercial product than as an artistic statement or an attempt to really create a dark atmosphere.

Draconian Times is where all the pieces fell into place for Paradise Lost. Unfortunately, it meant that they finally found a way to mix modern Metallica with The Sisters of Mercy and to sound as plastic as possible. Many even consider this to be the band's last good album for a decade or so, though even they were never very consistent after their debut. They only eventually found a sense of consistency in their own mediocrity. While it is much heavier than what was to come, it is still a complete disgrace for a band that was responsible for the brilliant Lost Paradise. As for this cleaner style of theirs, they have actually done this a lot better on the more recent albums, so those are more worth your time if you are into this.
 
(22 Sept. 2013)
















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