The Plague Within (2015) signaled the beginning of a new era for Paradise Lost. Coming off a four-album streak that explored the more melodic side of their Gothic metal tapestry, and a four-album exploration of ’80s new wave before that, The Plague Within saw the Halifax pentaverate delving back into the rawer, doomier sounds of their pre-Draconian Times (1995) output. 2017’s Medusa followed suite, bringing the band the closest they’d been to their long-disowned debut, Lost Paradise (1990) and drawing some baffling album of the year nominations in the process. Obsidian—the band’s sixteenth album overall—continues the nostalgic trend. Yet, it also comes off as a more progressive, rather than regressive, entry in Paradise Lost’s catalogue than either of its immediate predecessors.
Although not at all out of step with the quintet’s history, Obsidian is closer to something you might expect from My Dying Bride at this point, than anything Paradise Lost have put out for almost two-and-a-half decades. Paradise Lost have always been the one of the more upbeat and uplifting of the Gothic doom pioneers. Obsidian, however, is steeped in depressive melodrama. The album begins with a symphonic dirge, in the tellingly-titled “Darker Thoughts”, and the bleakness—along with a slew of sacrificial and suicidal imagery—hardly let up from there, before closing out in similar fashion with the mournful “Ravenghast”. If The Plague Within was the modern equivalent of Gothic (1991) and Medusa was Shades of God (1992), then Obsidian is very much the reincarnation of Icon (1993).
There’s also an obvious engagement with the darker side of Christian iconography across the entire record, which, though effective, also seems pretty trite for a Goth/doom band at this point—especially one this deep into their career (but hey, I guess My Dying Bride are still at it as well, so I won’t hold it against them too much). Nick Holmes’s gruff delivery of the lyric “For Jesus Christ” is knowing enough to fall on the wholesome side of campy pastiche, rather than devolving into full-blown parody. Yet, whereas previous Paradise Lost record’s are often deceptively breezy, Obsidian’s overbearing penitence gets fairly tiring after a while—especially if you get the edition of the album with the two bonus tracks, which add a further eleven minutes of doom and gloom to the record, with nary a Bronski Beat cover in sight. Having said that, the first bonus track, “Hear the Night”would have made a welcome addition to the record proper—offering some brief, melodic respite from the surrounding, doom metal onslaught.
Despite all its regressivness, Obsidian is also, in some ways, the culmination of Paradise Lost’s exceptionally eclectic career. Along with the obvious evocations of the band’s early albums, the record also draws heavily upon aspects of their later career as well. There’s nothing as Depeche Mode-aping as 1999’s Host, nor, unfortunately, does any of the album’s material ever venture all that close to the stomping, Rammstein-esque bent of 2002’s Symbol of Life. “Forsaken”, however, comes pretty close, and a lot of the album’s mid section comes off like classic Paradise Lost run through a modern (i.e. 2005–2012/2015) filter. Lead single “Fall From Grace”, for example, sounds eerily similar to The Plague Within‘s front foot “No Hope In Sight”. Second single “Ghosts”, likewise, would fit in pretty snugly with the band’s later-mid-period output, as would the epic, hard(er)-hitting “Serenity”—the thick, rumbling bass of which, along with that of “Ending Days” constitutes a definite highlight. In fact, of all the previous Paradise Lost albums, Obsidian perhaps has the most in common with the eclecticism of Draconian Times, in terms of its approach, if not entirely sonically, or (quite) in terms of quality.
Yet, while Obsidian‘s more familiar material is perhaps also its strongest, the album is far more interesting when it deviates from the mould. It’s disappointing that the strings, introduced on “Darker Thoughts”, never show again, outside of some light smatterings of cello on “Ending Days”. Had Paradise Lost lent further into the symphonic approach they gesture toward during the album’s opening, they might have ended up with a far more distinct sounding record that what Obsidian ends up being; which is a solid and, consistently impressive record, but one which ultimately ends up being defined in terms of what came before, rather than where it’s headed.
Obsidian is out May 15 through Nuclear Blast.