When the first little dribbles emerged via the interweb that veteran Halifax misanthropes Paradise Lost were thinking about planning a return to the triumphant days of their, um, iconic brace of mid-nineties releases, viz Icon (1993) and 1995’s Draconian Times, I must admit to being just a little bit excited, as well as apprehensive. The band too k such a dramatic left turn into the world of dark synthetic materials starting with 1997’s continent-shaking One Second that, despite the indication of a return to matters heavier that last album Faith Divides Us – Death Unites Us pointed to, it was still almost too much to hope for that an album like Tragic Idol could be released by this band in 2012.
But it has, and by the maker we should all be giving thanks to whichever graven idol (though not necessarily a tragic one – this is thanks we’re giving here, remember) we bow down to in our domestic shrines each night that such a miracle has come to pass. Tragic Idol is the quintessential Paradise Lost album; not only choc full of the sort of metal that made this band real contenders at the end of the last century; it’s sheened, buffed and glossed by the songwriting smarts the band has accrued all the way through the ‘not metal!’ years, the lessons they’ve learned from ‘not metal!’ producers such as Steve Lyon, John Fryer et al, the result being not an album like Draconian Times that, for all its youthful bluster, pomp and circumstance was still written off in some quarters as ‘Metallica lite’, but something more, much more, and undoubtedly better.
So, there are no hit singles of the nature of Embers Fire, Hallowed Land or The Last Time, but from the moment the stentorian bellow of Solitary One hurtles out of the speakers you know you’re not going to need them. Fading out on a simple piano line that may have had its first studio outing during the One Second sessions but was put away for a rainy day, it’s the ideal synthesis of Shades of God era heaviness and electronic whistfulness, but that’s more or less it for this album as far as keyboards are concerned. Second track Crucify is pure, strident, aural battery, Adrian Erlandsson’s relentless drumming providing the perfect backdrop for some effortlessly gutsy riffage from Aaron Aedy and some nifty trademark hammering on and pulling off from Gregor Mackintosh’s wah-wah assisted lead guitar. It’s everything an old PL fan could want, and more.
Fear of Impending Hell takes the foot of the gas a little, allowing vocalist Nick Holmes a chance to take a breather, his voice receding to a fragile croon before a classic Paradise Lost chorus erupts. This is perhaps the first time you find yourself thinking that a song on the record sounds a little ‘written to order’, that maybe the song has been formed for a template, but, that said, the chorus is good enough to allow you to tuck such heretical thoughts away at the back of your mind; Mackintosh throws in another spectacular, spidery solo for good measure, and you find yourself being swept away by the tide of bombastic melancholia that’s engulfing your ears. You may not have been waiting, like some people, nearly twenty years for the ‘Lost to release a record like this, but by this point in the album’s progress you’ll have no qualms in declaring yourself utterly pleased that they have. Next up is Honesty in Death, another song hinting at pre-Icon despair in its lyrics and the structure of the Holmes’ vocal. However the brutal chug as Aedy, Mackintosh and bassist Steve Edmondson mesh together on the chorus is pure mid-period grandiosity, before Mackintosh (clearly invigorated by the guitar-heavy success of his Vallenfyre side project from last year) peels off some more impressive soloing as the song winds down to its conclusion. As if to underline this re-acquaintance with the heavy, Theories from Another World then crashes in on the heaviest rifferama this band has unleashed in two decades. It’s a triumphant piece of work, an utterly welcome return to a classic sound and a top notch track to boot.
In This We Dwell is perhaps a little too similar to Theories… so much so that if you weren’t concentrating you might think it was the second part of the same song; Of course the fact that it’s such a massively good track, whichever part you’re listening to, means that this is a minor quibble, and any irksome thoughts waddling into your head are quickly dispatched whence they came by the adamantine brilliance of To the Darkness. Starting off with the jaunty swagger of an Orange Goblin b-side, we soon get to the meat of the track and a marvellous vocal hook on which Holmes hangs his trilby with alacrity. I said earlier that there are no hit singles on …Idol – and there aren’t – but if the earworm on the chorus of this song was any bigger you’d need your ears syringed by specialists after every hearing to get your right hearing back. It’s Momentous stuff.
And then there’s the title track. Pure bliss. At times bringing to mind the Eldritch-inspired croon of the One Second era, Holmes puts in his best performance of the album on this track. Impassioned, commanding, soulful – the man is all these things here, and once again he’s complemented by another marvellous solo from his old sparring partner Mackintosh, the whole being maybe the standout track of an album composed almost entirely of standout material. It’s followed by the drama of Worth Fighting For, a stunning all-action bout of theatre that carries all before it in a dazzling display of dynamically dangerous destruction as it smashes its way into your conciousness with another stunning chorus that’s yours to keep for eternity.
And then comes The Glorious End, which is just that. A glorious end to an utterly convincing album, an album in which a legend is remade with such unexpected style and panache as to almost improve on the original blueprint on which it is based. Tragic Idol could have been a terrible flop; Instead it’s an unmitigated success.