The Plague Within
Century Media Records/EMI Music Australia
Reviewed By Michael O'Brien
Paying lip service to the past
As much as I’ve always wanted to be into everything that long-running doomsters, Paradise Lost, do, the truth is that my enjoyment of their albums is more an exception to rather than representation of the rule. I like 1991’s Gothic, absolutely adore 1995’s Draconian Times, and also rather enjoyed 2009’s Faith Divides Us - Death Unites Us (though, to be fair, I’ve hardly gone back to it since reviewing it at the time). Just about everything else that I’ve heard from the band’s pretty extensive catalogue I’m largely indifferent to (which also includes fan favourites Shades of God and Icon from 1992 and 1993, respectively).
While it’s obvious from the above that I’m more of a casual fan of Paradise Lost than a diehard one, I’m always interested to hear their new albums just to see if they can recapture the magic I felt in Draconian Times, even if the compositional path they take to get there isn’t exactly the same.
So here we are with album 14, The Plague Within, which once again sees Paradise Lost drawing their inspiration from the entirety of their recorded output (or at least from the band’s distinct eras). It's perhaps a safe approach to song craft but also isn’t a particularly surprising one and, really, at least they haven’t fallen into the trap of living in a complete compositional bubble during their many years together and have at least tried to keep things fresh.
One very valid way of looking at the band taking this particular route is that there’s pretty much something for every fan of every incarnation of Paradise Lost to be found within the album’s 10 tracks. The other way to view this approach is that the sheer variety of ingredients that went into the mix can make the album feel like a bit of a hodgepodge, which is a large contributing factor in how I relate to it.
The Plague Within features a decent swath of material with a groovy and upbeat disposition that brings to mind a bridging of the band’s really old sound with their mid-period sound, and it’s within these tracks that I find my attention wandering. There’s just something that strikes me as being a little disingenuous about much of what Paradise Lost has written here; it’s as though they’ve been able to ably capture the sound but not the actual spirit of what it is that has made them great in the past. Sure, there’s definitely a heaviness to the material and the riffs and melodies bear the mark of classic Paradise Lost, but there’s a distinct lack of spark in the song-writing which makes it seem as though the band are simply going through the motions. None of it is terrible, but little of it is particularly inspired, either.
Where things do become more interesting is within the two slower doom-oriented tracks, “An Eternity of Lies” and “Beneath Broken Earth”. The former stands out for Holmes’ excellent clean vocal lines and the sparing but effective use of orchestration while the latter is easily one of the best old school doom songs Paradise Lost has penned from the song-writing through to the overall vibe. It’s truly excellent.
Ultimately, when weighed against eight largely ordinary songs, two really great ones does not a strong album make, and this is my central complaint with The Plague Within. It’s cool and all that Paradise Lost are trying to connect with their heavier roots, but connecting with them is a very different thing to making good use of them, which seems to be the mountain they need to climb in order to move forward and release the kind of excellent album that we not only expect from the veteran band, but that we also know they are capable of penning.