The upward momentum that Paradise Lost was experiencing for a decade only accelerated when The Plague Within was released in 2015. The band’s surprise return to death/doom made a slew of listeners take notice, and the quality material kept it from merely pandering to old school extreme metal fans. Less than two years later, Paradise Lost is back with an album that’s been hyped as diving even deeper into the realms of extreme doom.
It felt like hyperbole when guitarist Gregor Mackintosh described Medusa as an album full of “Beneath Broken Earth” variants, but the description actually isn’t too far off. With the exception of the upbeat “Blood and Chaos,” just about every song thrives on drawn out riffs, slow tempos, and raspy growls courtesy of Nick Holmes. But while this results in much of the album being comparable to Forest of Equilibrium-era Cathedral, there are still enough clean vocal spots and symphonic flourishes to warrant the band’s goth metal tag.
But what really made The Plague Within work so well was the sheer variety of song styles on it, which Medusa lacks in comparison. Paradise Lost has never been the most riff-oriented band, and having the same tempo run through most of the album results in the songs running too similarly to one another. The emphasis on growled vocals is also a double edged sword; the approach was especially refreshing on The Plague Within and even early efforts like Gothic or Shades of God due to the melodic contrasts, but it makes the songs sound flat when there’s nothing to counter them. It’s especially concerning on “Blood and Chaos,” where an otherwise catchy chorus ends up sounding monotonous.
Fortunately, the musicianship is still up to the band’s competent standards, and there are still good songs on here. “The Longest Winter” and the title track are the most memorable songs thanks to the predominately clean vocal performance and purposefully gloomy guitar work successfully conjuring what worked so well on the previous album. “Until the Grave” also stands out for its more direct riff set, and as much as I gripe about the vocals on “Blood and Chaos,” the change of pace it brings is certainly welcome.
Medusa may continue the talking points that got the most attention on The Plague Within but it’s definitely not a “play it safe” album. It is easily one of Paradise Lost’s most inaccessible albums to date and will require more listens than usual to really get a feel for it. It’s an enjoyable album and definitely relevant to those who enjoy Paradise Lost’s harsher side. But as someone who loves Paradise Lost the most when they get catchy, this may be the least essential album of their comeback era.
“The Longest Winter”
“Blood and Chaos”
“Until the Grave”
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