The four albums that followed “Draconian Times” constitute a very distinct period in Paradise Lost’s career. During this four-album streak the band progressively abandoned the Celtic Frost influenced/doom metal style (with Metallica being a guilty pleasure) in favor of a Depeche Mode friendly sound. Inevitably, the band moved further and further away from metal, especially with albums like One Second and Host. Believe in Nothing marked the return of guitars and it is an exceptional record, but its diversity and the fact that it sounded too close to alternative/gothic rock wasn’t well taken.
Symbol of Life, marked the return of metal for Paradise Lost. Significantly heavier than their previous efforts, it demonstrates successfully where Paradise Lost wanted to go and as a result this record is much more focused than any of the previous ones. Its spine is now metallic, but the excessive use of synthesizers proves that Paradise Lost are not over Depeche Mode yet. Oddly enough, proof for that provides one of the bonus tracks; Bronski Beat’s Small Town Boy, which is covered here, sounds strangely at home with Paradise Lost’ s dark aesthetics and heavily distorted guitar combined with the original’s trademark dance beat. This is however the most fun this record gets because Symbol of Life retains the one and only element present in every Lost album; the crushing darkness.
With all that in mind standout tracks are easy to spot; Isolate has a very tight groove, it is a song to bang your head to. Erased could be seen as the band’s effort to claim their own piece of the “female fronted metal” cake, if we didn’t know that they almost invented it- a very good, catchy single. Mystify carries the trademark Mackintosh melody and Channel for the Pain is the most tastefully aggressive Lost have been in years. Keyboard driven tracks like No Celebration, Pray Nightfall are enchantingly melancholic, while the title track is fantastic. A few mishaps could not be avoided; Self Obsessed is pointless; Primal has memorable riffs and an excitingly dark atmosphere but lacks a good vocal melody. Which is a rare occasion in this record, as Nick Holmes is once again amazing.
This album was not a big hit with the fans, who only saw it as a step in the right direction (which includes metal). For a hardcore fan, there are indeed things to adore and things to despise in here; it is hard to appreciate the classic Paradise Lost recipe, consisting of incredible guitar melodies, depressive atmosphere, heaviness and vocal lines that go beyond the memorable, when a scent of selling out is still in the air. Be that as it may, Symbol of Life is a successful experiment and a very nice collection of songs, from a band, whose never ending tendency to evolve remains its most interesting aspect.