Sound — 9
"The Plague Within" is the 14th studio album by veritable doom metal legends Paradise Lost. Their last album was "Tragic Idol" in 2012 and this most recent release continues in the same vein, with perhaps a few tweaks and twists here and there.
I must admit, the closest I get with doom metal these days is the occasional dive into 40 Watt Sun. I'd like to think its that its a mysterious genre that's supposedly deeper in meaning than it actually is, although the honest part of me says "it's just a little bit ponderous." I don't think Paradise Lost could ever sway me from that position, but that doesn't mean that "The Plague Within" is bad or anything.
On the contrary, the strongly minor key riffs and rhythms typical of the genre are some of the best you'll likely hear. Rich, harmonic guitar textures, the slowly moving atmosphere that subtly pervades the base concept and what is probably Nick Holmes' most diverse performance to date. In fact, these elements are so prevalent, they took over the album entirely.
This is not a bad thing, as it might seem. Instead, these stable and pleasing assets are often given a shakedown in some way or another, depending on the song. "Sacrifice the Flame," for instance, has a big, epic break that seamlessly shifts from riff to riff in a very interesting way, and in itself is a very chunky, memorable song. "Victims of the Past," which is probably my favourite song on the album, swaps between the gothic atmosphere of previous albums accentuated by a strings section, surprisingly fitting, black metal-esque riffs and this really good melodic death metal-ish chorus, and somehow these rather disparate parts work together really well. Hell, even "Flesh From Bone" has a frickin' Melechesh riff in it (not an actual riff, but the style is undeniably Melechesh).
The mix and production: Both fantastic, not a lot to say other than when there's a more uptempo song, the riffs aren't mired by an "atmospheric" guitar tone, and similarly, the heavy moods and textures are still wide, powerful and not at odds with the guitar tones.
I think maybe my only real criticism is that sometimes, there's something that seems almost too out of character for this band. I'm talking about the song "Cry Out." I get that Paradise Lost was rooted in traditional metal, and I think the main riff of this song was meant to reflect that, however, somehow it ends up being in between a decent (if rather standard) melodic metal song but with this one really cheesy DevilDriver-like riff (think "It's in the Cards") that doesn't quite fit in terms of style or with the rest of the song (which is in a stable 4/4). Not really a big criticism, but it's just something that's there.
Oh, also, lead guitarist bloke, please, please, please work on your vibrato.
Lyrics — 7
Nick Holmes is a very respected chap, and it's plain to hear why on this album. Not only is he very diverse in his techniques, but the way he writes melodies and rhythmic patterns for his harsh vocals (yeah, those are back) fit very comfortably with the instrumentals. However, I feel like, although his harsh vocals are incredibly distinctive and fit the overall sound, his clean performance is perhaps a little bit soft. Just a teensy bit. Or maybe it was pushed back into the mix a bit, not quite sure, but it feels he could've been just a little bit stronger in that regard.
That said, some moments like on "Fear of Silence" really require that sort of performance, and that's when Holmes really hits... home (holme?).
Lyrically, I guess you could say, they fit, and that's a bit of a basic statement but I struggled to think of anything else to say about them.
My main problem with the lyrical themes is that... they're just very vague in what they're describing. There's no formal concept or easily gathered narrative from what I can tell, but I get that they describe scenes and scenarios more than they do "people doing whatever" which is the epitome of tediousness when it comes to lyric writing, so thankfully, Paradise Lost doesn't do that.
I don't know if I can properly convey the feeling I have about the lyrical themes, but here's an excerpt from "Punishment Through Time":
"Unfold the righteous soon ordained
Inside a tomb of souls disgraced
The depths of solemn tears disdain
Returning death into the grey"
I'm just struggling to imagine what any of that is supposed to look like, but that's probably just me.
Overall Impression — 8
Yeah, I think its a decent album. If you really enjoy the older early '90s doom, this album is a solid chunk of that, there's a lot of interwoven "Gothic"-era niceness and generally it's Paradise Lost being themselves as well know them, and thankfully not the next Erasure. I'd also comment that the album is strongest in its later half, where the real variety and writing comes in.
Songs to look out for: "Victims of the Past," "Flesh From Bone," "Return to the Sun," "Fear of Silence."