Meet the progenitors of gothic metal. One of the so-called Peaceville Three to emerge from Britain and shape the murky, depressing aura of doom death alongside Anathema and My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost shaped a genre of obsessive misery and bass-powered sludge, so much so that they dedicated a song to it, “Gothic”. Yet their status is constantly overlooked, both in their homeland and the US, possibly because of their determination to never make the same record twice. In their time, they’ve shifted from angry beginnings to a British Metallica with an orchestral underpin, to smooth synth-rock recalling vintage Cure -– which goes to show; the general masses have never been able to easily swallow artists that just can’t be pinned down to one style. But in the case of these veterans, it’s their loss: In Requiem is a monumentally impressive eleventh studio effort and, thanks to the creativity of all involved, sounding as fresh as Paradise Lost did when they were half their current age.
They never lost their depressive edge, though, and if nothing else, this disc will make you feel their pain. “Tears won’t wash away the rage” Nick Holmes anguishes, sounding more bitter and hopeless than he’s done in ages, “Can’t you see you’re my worst enemy?” In Requiem is a set of quintessential anthems of gloom. Who are they even directing such vitriol at, one wonders? The music’s scape is, appropriately, backbreakingly heavy, sounding as if it was written entirely in the Dorian mode, mixing gurgling riffs with bleak piano keys, or choirs, or strings, that swing the deathly mood in a completely different direction mid-song and come out of nowhere. The band’s technique and influences on the record are not neoclassical so much as dirge-like -– bearing a similar aesthetic to Cradle of Filth’s latest disc –- bent, doubled over one rumbling chord until the next cracks the bottom out of it.
No doubt about it, there is a lot of misery to be heard here, but it never makes the fatal mistake of getting drowned with it. Atonal and pummeling though it is, enticing melodies are quite definitely aplenty; all you have to do is stick with it long enough for them to come through. Misleading title aside, “Prelude to Descent”, which is actually a full-length song, and sets this year’s benchmark for gother-than-thou excellence no less, makes its stately entrance halfway through with grandiose chugging and foreboding harmonies slowed to a lumbering crawl, until the 2:50 mark, when Paradise Lost unexpectedly combust into a menacing thrash band! The agitated “Beneath Black Skies” pits the band’s two guitarists against each other: one screams down the fretboard, the other thunders determinedly away with the bassline and percussion. Single, “The Enemy”, is where everything comes together into one compact, crescendoing drive, adding discordance per choirs and an actual hook.
Despite Nick Holmes’ assorted bile towards ‘the damned’, ‘the enemy’ and a ‘sedative god’, he is admirably adept to carry a tune, and has developed his own unique, harsh vocal style over the years that does as much for In Requiem’s darkness as the low-pitched guitars and nihilist concept (note the blood-stained fallen angel on the cover art). Don’t believe it? Check out Goth lullaby “Your Own Reality”, which closes the album neatly with a romantic call-and-response line harking back to their mid-’90s output, “It’s in your heart / It’s in your soul / Never disguise / All the tears I’ve cried”, and a symphonic foundation, giving rise to some emotive soloing by lead six-stringer Greg Mackintosh. The disc’s impassioned sense of melody makes it a contender poised to pick up audiences looking for something a little more intelligent and creative than rote heavy metal… Even if it is hard to take a cut called “Fallen Children” very seriously.
It’s as if the age-old nature of dark and light is being married and contrasted on In Requiem, and that’s what has always made these elusive musicians so special. Far from being just a bunch of rock songs about the anxieties of modern living, it plays host to a shocking range of instrumental palettes and emotions. A touching piano refrain comes out of left field in “Ash & Debris” and sticks with it for the rest of the piece. The album is a gold mine of such examples. It’s so huge –- and did I mention heavy? –- it needs time to sink its despondency in. Paradise Lost has trudged back to their heavier roots with this, and the result is their best since 1995’s classic Draconian Times. Lead on.