Wherever you look, the dark has found its way in. In recent years, mainstream culture has wholly embraced its shadow side. From goth-aping pop stars to taboo-shattering television shows, wherever you look the gloomiest corners of human nature are being carved open and dissected.
Paradise Lost are no strangers to this weighty worldview, and on their latest full-length ‘Obsidian’, they pursue it with predictable gusto.
The band are something of a British musical institution, having released sixteen full-lengths and built a global following on their iconic goth-metal sound. Symphonic flourishes, stygian pacing, and miserable lyrics have all become synonymous with the Paradise Lost aesthetic, and ‘Obsidian’ sees them indulge these trademarks with a solid, though uninspired, approach to their well-honed craft.
The album works best when it aims for exhilaration. ‘Serenity’ is the most visceral cut, huge drums lead the twisting guitars, giving the track real energy and drive. ‘Forsaken’ ploughs a similar route, with chugging guitars and a killer solo that forge an impressive, savage momentum. These are the moments when the blackened light shines brightest from ‘Obsidian’‘s eyes.
In terms of production, the album sounds terrific, the drums in particular. The rolls that open ‘Ghosts’ and ‘Ending Days’ advance like an invasion, crystal clear yet mysterious. The guitars are always massive, the strings sharp and elegant. Everything about the production smacks of an experienced band knowing exactly what they want and how it fits into their particular vision.
The problem with ‘Obsidian’ is more a conceptual one. Paradise Lost are known for their doomy, bleak worldview, but in 2020 – a time of fear, paranoia and mass hopelessness – their well-worn sound doesn’t resonate anywhere near as profoundly as is needed. With bands like Daughters, 16, and The Body all exploring the limits of human misery and suffering, Paradise Lost‘s gothic, austere approach just doesn’t throb with the same weight and heft of these contemporary, more singular artists.
The band’s approach has always been about finding beauty and grandeur within the darkness, and there are fleeting moments of this in ‘Obsidian’. However, it contains surprisingly little textural nuance, the kind that, for example, post-metal acts have been incorporating for decades. Paradise Lost‘s sonic aesthetic is unfortunately just too one-note, and to a large extent, dated. The clean vocals in particular are very old-hat and fail to achieve the choral, almost religious effect that was once presumably desired.
There are legions of fans out there who will lap up ‘Obsidian’. Paradise Lost have stuck to what they know, and have, by their own standards, produced a work that holds its own within their extensive canon. However, in these days of darkness, so much more is needed for music to truly express a sense of profound misery.
‘Obsidian’ seems oddly quaint, a relic, perhaps, from a time when to be gloomy and pessimistic was the alternative rather than prevailing worldview.