Guest interviewer, Antoine Richard (operator of Metantoine’s Magickal Realm), sits down with Jean-Pierre Abboud, an American musician known for his involvement with the excellent heavy metallers Borrowed Time and, more recently, the Canadian epic doomsters of Funeral Circle. I’m glad he took the time to answer these questions.
Paradise Lost have had a quite adventurous career throughout the last 25 years, starting out as seminal doom/death metal, then pioneering the gothic influence into the same genre before veering off into more electronically tinged waters and ultimately their return to a more modern version of their formerly groundbreaking style. Albums such as Gothic, Icon or Draconian Times are still considered genre classics, while Host, Believe in Nothing and Symbol of Life marked the Brits’ quite dramatic departure before coming back into more familiar terrain with the self-titled Paradise Lost album, to much fan acclaim. The Plague Within is the band’s fourteenth full length album and where the quintet had been sitting pretty comfortably with their last two albums, avoiding any marked style changes or amendments, some fans had been hoping for some stronger evolution with their newest epos.
In the months leading up to its release, the band had issued statements that the new album would be very dark yet melodic and many songs would have a definitive death metal edge, spurning plenty of online discussions and raising the expectations for the new effort. Combine that with Nick Holmes’ joining of Bloodbath and the musical direction of Gregor Mackintosh’s other band Vallenfyre, everything hinted at one of the Brits’ heavier efforts in the making.
“No Hope in Sight” sets out with a monumental riff straight from the Mackintosh/Aedy library of doom, and Holmes’ semi-growl follows suite, while his clear vocals complement the heavy guitars of the verse perfectly. The growls and the newly recovered edge in the guitar work show that it was not just empty words thrown out to reel in the old fans, but that Paradise Lost indeed have all the right intentions to follow through. And fans that had lost faith in the band during the albums following Draconian Times should flock back to the band in droves, especially since “Terminal” right after surprises with double bass drums and far more aggressive guitars than the band has produced in a good while and a certain kinship to a darker version of Amon Amarth flares up at times. Now obviously Faith Divides Us – Death Unites Us had already seen the heaviness level increase, so The Plague Within is not the sudden and surprising return to heaviness, but it is just as obvious that the band is taking this a step further with the new album (just listen to parts of “Flesh from Bone” and the death metal abrasive that could strip said flesh from any bones)..
And even a more melodic track, such as “An Eternity of Lies”, holds heavier guitars and some well placed growls to keep the song firmly rooted in Paradise Lost’s foundation instead of going off gallivanting through the lighter underbrush of the metallic forest. But who is looking for the elegiac minor harmonies and riffs that would grind your spirit to dust, may have hoped for more than that, but come “Beneath Broken Earth” that is a non issue, because here the band fully embrace their past, with a monolithic riff over a lava-like rhythm that then is crowned by Holmes’ growls, drawing from the band’s early doom/death metal times, something that continues right into following “Sacrifice the Flame”. And closing “Return to the Sun” sets a doomy, heavy and classy final note for the album and could have easily stood on any of their break out albums.
Now Paradise Lost have never been gone and ever since they got their act together they had been releasing high quality material as a hybrid of the old and the new, but The Plague Within is the probably most versatile of their third era, since it does not only combine elements from the past and present, but does so with an amazing cohesiveness, showing that this group of veterans still manages to move forward while embracing their past more than ever. Instead of becoming an anachronism by merely copying themselves, they create a clever weave and never seem to be a band desperately trying to clutch at elements from their past that fans had been clamoring for, but continuing their evolution they had been following over the last few albums, which is something that not many bands of their history can rightfully claim.
What may seem a little disjointed at first listen will with repeated listens make more and more sense and show a band that has no qualms about taking a step back in time in order to be able to move forward. Paradise Lost both evolve and reinvent themselves on The Plague Within and breathe some fresh air into their romp through their own history. They haven’t sounded as heavy and as intense in a long time and show that there is still a lot of life in this paradise, as lost as it may be!
When did Gorgoroth begin to lose their way for you? I’m curious—was it when they started dabbling with industrial on Destroyer? How about when Gaahl started regaling us about love “raging wildly” in his heart on Incipit Satan? Perhaps the legal drama between Gaahl/King and Infernus over the rights to the band name was the jumping off point? It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when or where Gorgoroth started losing the plot because even in the midst of their numerous run-ins with the law, continual line-up shuffles and legal kerfluffles, the music always retained a degree of integrity. Still, I’m willing to wager that, barring the most diehard of fans, these guys haven’t exactly been a mainstay in fans’ good graces for quite some time now. Contrast this with the Gorgoroth of 2006 that–in the wake of massive critical acclaim heaped on the Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam release, and with what was arguably the strongest nucleus of song-writers they ever had—seemed poised on the cusp of something really great.
Those days are long gone, of course, and one only needs to reflect on the timid output and plain silly business decisions this band had made over the last few years (six year gaps between albums, releasing a fake ‘live’ album, the completely unnecessary release of the re-recorded Under the Sign of Hell) to realize that Gorgoroth 2K15 stands on much more precarious ground and we the listeners are all the worse for it. So here we are with Bestialis Instinctus, the second post-Gaahl/King Gorgoroth album and first with new vocalist Atterigner (ex-Triumfall), and even though the logo still spells Gorgoroth and the music on here can’t be mistaken for anything other than black metal, the sound blaring from the speakers is that of a band playing without fire in their bellies. Possessing the same mid-paced gait, bottom-heavy production and pensive melodies as its predecessor, it’s hard to shake off the feeling that one is essentially listening to Quantos Possunt ad Satanitatem Trahunt Part II here. As a big fan of the intensity of Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam I was more than a little disappointed by the more pensive direction taken on Quantos Possunt ad Satanitatem Trahunt, but I gave the band the benefit of the doubt at the time and chalked the more languid inflection down to all the legal wranglings that preceded said album’s release. However, to hear the band going down the exact same sonic route on Bestialis Instinctus is not what I wanted to hear.
Much like Iced Earth’s Jon Schaffer, Infernus has always struck me as a great riff-writer but not necessarily a great song-writer. Sure, the man’s creative fingerprints were all over those early classics, and I doubt that Pentagram would’ve had the same feral intensity if he hadn’t been part of the equation, but the man’s powers have been on a steady downward trajectory for a good many years now—whether it was his decision to allow multiple cooks into the (musical) kitchen on albums like Destroyer and Incipit Satan, or seemingly sitting out the creative process completely on Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam, all signs point to Infernus’ well of riffs and ideas being as bone dry as a slice of bread left out in the scorching sun. Nothing else would explain the downright lazy song-writing on display here. Even more telling is the fact that these songs possess absolutely no sense of danger or adventure. These issues aren’t immediately discernible, however, as the album’s opening three songs are actually quite good. It really would’ve benefited from a biting opening riff in the vein of “Revelation of Doom” or “Wound Upon Wound,” but its sense of urgency and choppy riff work ultimately see “Radix Malorum” through, while “Ad Omnipotens Aeterne Diabolus” instantly comes off as the album’s highlight – mostly slow yet very melodic, with a distinctive Reinkaos-like melodic black/death first half giving way to an intense blast-filled ending. If you liked songs like Prayer and Rebirth on the previous album then you’ll love a track like this.
It’s at this point—a mere three songs in—that Bestialis Instinctus starts faltering, with the remainder of the songs amounting to nothing but an arbitrary hodgepodge of tired riffs and off-cut melodies as disappointing as they are insulting. Atterigner acquits himself well but his hoarse delivery pales in comparison to those of his predecessors, Bøddel (aka Frank Watkins of Obituary fame) provides nothing but the most arbitrary of low-end backbones to Tomas Asklund, whose mechanistic beats keep time but nothing else. If there is a drummer with a less soulless delivery I would love to hear him. As already pointed out earlier, our man Infernus doesn’t seem at all inclined to do anything other than engage in rote riff rotation. “Dionysian Rite” rips off “God Seed” (the track), “Come Night” is perhaps the most nondescript piece of shit I’ve heard all year, and on tracks like “Burn in His Light” and “Rage” his song-writing is downright comical (clearly able to tie things up tidily and logically, he just ends the former in the most awkward and abrupt of ways, and his inability to build and sustain a level of tension before unleashing the melodic break halfway through the latter is just sad). Seriously, listen to the way a track like Ad Majorem’s “Prosperity and Beauty” built up tension before letting loose with cascading melodies as cathartic as they were powerful, and then listen to “Rage.” These dalliances with awkward and/or plain clumsy song-writing are prevalent throughout most of the tracks on here and it ultimately (and unfortunately) makes for what is undeniably a phoned-in pooch of an album.
Only few bands can claim that they’ve been around for 32 years (or 37, if prior names are included), without taking a few decades off, even less that they have released 14 albums during that span and hardly anyone can really lay claim to having thoroughly influenced a whole sub-genre and role-modeled for literally hundreds, if not thousands of bands of that style. Hamburg’s Helloween fall into each of these categories and are back with their 15th studio effort My God-Given Right (also marking the 10th with former Pink Cream 69 singer Andi Deris on the mic) and over the past few albums the Germans had been kind of able to hold their ground, but saw a sizeable number of younger bands pass them in the process.
The pumpkin heads are kind of stuck between trying to cling to their past groundbreaking endeavours while embracing the more mature sound of their more recent efforts, and with “Heroes” kick things off in style, with a relatively light verse giving way to a powerful and catchy chorus. “Stay Crazy” convinces with its energy (even if it is nothing big in itself), while “The Swing of a Fallen World” has this darker atmosphere and contrasting speedy solo that makes it one of the album’s best songs. “Creatures in Heaven” also can be put in the win column with its memorable riff, but once one goes into the math of the album, things don’t look as sunny anymore.
With 13 songs total and 61 minutes of playing time, four songs that will stand the test are not a very promising ratio and most of the album seems to be somewhat going through the motions and up to a point a veteran band has maybe a little more leeway than one that is just starting out, yet there is playing safe and playing safe. The sticky chorus of “Battle’s Won” goes into an oddly down-sung that just doesn’t make sense, but other than that most of the rest is Helloween, yes, but nothing more, lacking the spirit and fire to kick the songs onto the next level, instead mildly entertaining the listener while they play, but after that disappearing from the memory just as fast as they came in.
While not inherently bad, My God-Given Right shows some glimpses of what had made Helloween such an outstanding band in the past, but around these glimpses one can see the cracks in the facade and when even long term fans agree that this would have made an absolute killer EP, it shows that things aren’t looking as good anymore as they used to.
Obviously it is both hard and kind of unfair trying to compare a band to groundbreaking genre highlights from more than 25 years ago, and most fans will be understanding enough, yet the question arises, if the band should continue to tarnish their armour or just draw a line and end it for good? As mentioned above, if My God-Given Right had been released by a young band as debut or second album, chances are that the review would be a whole lot more positive, talking about potential and experience, but some needed work. After 32 years, though, this is not an option anymore…
Selections from all over the metal map make up this month’s best offerings.
Yob conquers Tucson. Neill has the lowdown on a night of heavy hitters.
Inferno Festival Day 4, April 4th 2015
Inferno Festival Day 3, April 3rd 2015
Inferno Festival Day 2, April 2nd 2015
Inferno Festival Day 1, April 1st 2015
The Carcass axeman gets stuck in to At The Gates, Avenged Sevenfold and people who don’t like Swansong.
Bigger names and a few hidden gems dominate this month’s best offerings
And Shawn goes rogue. Again.