Paradise Lost: The Plague Within (Century Media)
If you’d asked Paradise Lost in 1988 whether they’d still be pursuing the path of darkness a quarter of a century later I think the answer would probably have been towards the negative. To have just delivered without doubt the best album of their twenty five year career is absolutely mind blowing. Having produced many very solid albums, most latterly the very decent Tragic Idol, I'm not sure if there was huge pressure on Paradise Lost when producing what is album no. 14. Whatever the pressure, The Plague Within is an absolute monster. Opener No Hope In Sight lays the cards clearly on the table. A massive statement of intent, it opens with a malevolent riff and the demonic snarl of Nick Holmes. A melancholic chug of doom soon kicks in and one of metal’s best vocalists easily alternates from dark to light, mixing the snarls with his more recognisable clean vocals. However, this is no dark march, with the combined lead work of Greg Mackintosh seguing with the reliable and powerful rhythm work of Aaron Aedy and the engine room of bassist Steve Edmondson and drummer Adrian Erlandsson. Terminal comes next, a driving, blistering face melter, probably as close to thrash as Paradise Lost get. There is no doubting that the morbid, atmospheric foreboding that drives Paradise Lost’s lyrical content is as organically active as ever, with Holmes delivery dovetailing effortlessly with the crushing power of metal’s Gothic forefathers.
Gothic put them on the map in 1992; a blueprint of well, Gothic tinged metal that has remained the hallmark of their sound and direction for much of their career. Draconian Times pushed Paradise Lost into a league of their own in 1995, and The Plague Within, 20 years later combines both of those classics with elements of other albums, most notably Shades Of God. The Plague Within is crushingly heavy at times, whilst retaining the despair and angst, for example during An Eternity Of Lies, which mixes Holmes styles magnificently. The riffs are huge, powerful and destructive. However, the songs are beautifully crafted and capture the misery and desperation of life perfectly. The doom laden death march of Beneath Broken Earth changes the pace still further; slow without becoming ponderous, Holmes delivering a quite astonishing death laden performance; “Hail to godliness, you wish to die” couldn't be scarier. The return to their past has provided the band with much enthusiasm and the musicianship is first class. As the album progresses, you wait for the filler … and it never arrives. There is not a weak track on the album. The deathly feel of Sacrifice The Flame, complete with some evil string work which moves on to Flesh From Bone (possibly the most disturbing track on the album), complete with sinister build up before an absolute death metal attack delivery which makes the earlier reference in Terminal obsolete (before I've even finished the review!). Mackintosh’s guitar work is blistering as the track lurches from doom to death without drawing breath. What remains is the atmosphere of decay and death that has become the trademark of Halifax’s finest sons. Album closer Return To The Sun builds with choral and classic elements which allow the listener to return to the satanic film scores of yesteryear. A fiery conclusion to one of the best albums of the year. No-one who reads this blog should get to the end of 2015 without spending a couple of hours immersing themselves in an absolute classic. 10/10
Tremonti: Cauterise (FRET 12)
Opening at 100mph with the blistering Radical Change, the second solo album from the ex- Creed and vital Alter Bridge cog Mark Tremonti promises great things. And it maintains it pace throughout. Tremonti’s guitar work is terrific, as he demonstrates time and again why he is so highly thought of in the world of rock, shredding for fun with some powerhouse riffs and hooks so deep that you can’t get them out of your head for hours. This is a man demonstrating his metal heart on his sleeve. Title track Cauterise has a massive groove, driving rhythm provided by Eddie Van Halen’s son Wolfgang and drummer Garrett Whitlock, whose double bass pile driving kicks the shit out of you. However, Tremonti’s superb voice, which is always going to draw comparisons with AB frontman and bandmate Myles Kennedy, eases and caresses the listener despite the carnage taking place all around.
Cauterise builds impressively on the underrated All I Was, Tremonti’s 2012 release. Heavier throughout, it retains the arena rock sound that Alter Bridge, Shinedown et al have driven into the 21st century. Arm Yourself will incite pits and yet also encourage the sing-a-longs, such is the variation in compositions. It’s not all heads down charging though, with the obligatory slower numbers [Dark Trip, Fall Again] interspersing the heavier assaults. An excellent production promotes a huge sound throughout the album, with the intricate guitar of Tremoni ably supported by rhythm guitarist Eric Friedman as well as Van Halen and Whitlock. Listen to Tie The Noose with your headphones on; it’s a throwaway rock track but the sound destroys. Providence, the album’s final track is probably closet to an Alter Bridge track and if it had turned up on Fortress it would have nestled in nicely. Cauterise is one step removed from the Kennedy/Tremonti writing style and whilst there are massive similarities which are surely completely unsurprising, there is also a freshness about it which is perhaps unexpected. A very pleasing release, and one that demonstrates that Mark Tremonti can deliver quite comfortably on his own. 8/10