Review Summary: Paradise Lost have finally completed their transition away from the electro-rock influences and have also embraced a bit of their past -- but at what cost.
Ever since Paradise Lost started to move away from their electro-rock experiments, each album has been met with a 'return to roots' prediction that has never turned out to be accurate. Based on that, it should come as no surprise that the band's thirteenth album, Tragic Idol
, is being met with the same hopeful prediction, but, for the first time, it's not too far off base. At its foundation, Tragic Idol
continues down the same evolutionary path as every post-Believe in Nothing
release, but it has also gone a step further by including an obvious nod towards the band's early material. For those that haven't been following each release since Symbol of Life
, Paradise Lost have slowly been phasing out the electro-rock influences in favor of gritty riffs and grittier vocals, and Tragic Idol
is the culmination of that effort. The electronics, clean singing and most other elements first introduced on One Second
have been removed, and in their place is a collection of songs that rely almost entirely on dirty metal riffs and morose leads.
The album's opening song, 'Solitary One', almost seems to serve as a transitional piece between the band's immediate past and the rest of Tragic Idol
. It is the only song to make prominent use of keyboards, and it is also one of the few to feature a cleanly sung chorus. Due to these additional features, 'Solitary One' is one of the more instantly memorable tracks and a great way to ease into the album. After that initial track, the band are fully committed to delivering a powerful assortment of songs based on doom-oriented riffs, wailing leads and a traditional metal edge. This has allowed Tragic Idol
the distinction of containing some of the band's heaviest material, and definitely some of its most visceral (relatively speaking, of course). In addition, the moments where a certain riff-style might remind of Draconian Times
or a particularly miserable lead might immediately recall the best moments of Icon
are just icing on the cake, and a welcome addition to the overall direction of Tragic Idol
. The problem is that they might have taken their current evolution a little too far.
Don't take that last statement the wrong way, though – the prominent reintroduction of early nineties influences is most certainly welcome, but it didn't have to come at the expense of the remaining electro elements. The most noticeable problem created by the lack of electronic elements is that a whole undercurrent of melody is missing, and nothing is present to make up for it. This has the immediate effect of making each track much less instant and, overall, requires quite a few listens before the album will fully click. This issue is intensified by Nick Holmes' decision to sing almost entirely in the gritty style that he has slowly been phasing in since Symbol of Life
. The relegation of these two elements has left a gaping hole in each track that the older influences just can't fill. Overall, the lack of song-defining elements combined with the use of similar sounds and tempos has lead to an album with a very homogenous feel that easily allows individual songs to blend together. Thankfully, despite these shortcomings, Tragic Idol
is still a solid album, it's just not as exciting or diverse as its last few predecessors.
It almost seems natural that the final step away from all the electro-elements would involve bringing back a more prominent early-nineties influence, and that is what the band have done. There are definitely hints of Shades of God
in the band's renewed energy and use of grimy riffs, and there's no denying that Icon
is an obvious influence when it came to creating the morose leads, but those influences don't ever make Tragic Idol
sound like a band paying homage to themselves. No, the foundation of the entire album is still the same catchy, well-crafted style of the previous few releases; just with less electronics. The choruses are still fairly memorable and the songs are still built on the same quality songwriting first perfected while dabbling with electro-pop on Host
– which is also this album's main issue. Listening to the previous few releases, it's obvious that the band had began to rely on a lot of the more 'instant' moments coming from the electronics and keyboards, and with their exclusion, the songs definitely take a handful of listens to truly click and never fully retain their own individuality. The extra effort that Tragic Idol
requires is definitely worth the time, though, because at this stage in the game Paradise Lost are incapable of making anything mediocre or even average even if they did finally lose a step.