Paradise Lost – At The Mill
Release Date: 16/07/2021
Review by Simon Black
One thing about a new record from Paradise Lost, is that you are never quite sure what you are going to get, especially live. Let’s face it, these dour chaps from darkest Yorkshire have certainly run the gamut of styles since “Lost Paradise” first appeared on the erstwhile Peaceville label so many moons ago. That record marked the true birth of Gothic Metal, from the deeply heavy down-tuned melodies, Greg Macintosh’s blisteringly moody and flowing solos and Nick Holmes’ distinctive Death Metal style vocals. By the time I had got into them properly when “Icon” was released in 1993, they had moved up to the much larger reach of Music For Nations and Holmes vocal style had shifted to a more mainstream Metal grunt – part Hetfield, part leonine roar. This style was cemented on their magnum opus “Draconian Times”, which is still one of my top ten all-time favourite records. Then they surprised everyone by revealing that Depeche Mode was also as big an influence as Black Sabbath and as the labels got upgraded to even more commercial ones, so too did their sound – to the point where they could barely be considered Rock, let alone Metal, by some fans. By the time we got to the 21st Century, the major labels and their overt commercial influence had long gone and the band started to bring back the Metal to the point where vocals have come, full circle, to a full Death grunt.
With that honest return to their roots has come success that they haven’t seen since the 90’s, with last year’s “Obsidian” seeing them return to the top forty for the first time in a long while – and rightly so – it’s a superb record (as indeed was its predecessor “Medusa”), so I was very keen to hear live renditions of material from this latest album. I would argue that, apart from the brief Synthwave glitch in the middle of Paradise Lost’s career, their musical style has actually remained pretty consistent – it’s the stylistic approach to vocals that varies the most. With that breadth of mode available in the recorded catalogue comes an unknown quantity whenever these chaps’ step onto a stage – what style is Holmes going to give us today? The answer is nearly all of the above for this recording (with the exception of the 90’s roar) and neither does he stick to using a tone consistent with what was originally recorded on the studio version. I personally don’t mind, as such is his command of technique – whatever he chooses invariably works. That flexibility and variety is a life saver here…
This release was recorded ‘live’ from their rehearsal space in Bradford at the tail end of 2020 as a livestream, which I missed at the time. Whether you like the format or not, they have kept many bands alive and quite frankly if it’s a choice between a webcast or not, then something is eminently preferable to nothing. Their most recent release “Obsidian” donates three tracks to the set list with ‘Fall From Grace’, ‘Ghosts’ and ‘Darker Thoughts’, but I was quite surprised that only ‘Blood And Chaos’ made it from “Medusa”. In addition, for those that watched the original set, there are also three tracks that were only available previously if you purchased the VIP package included here. The vast majority of the set is 90’s favourites that have been a staple of their lives shows for a while, although despite 2020 being the 25th Anniversary of “Draconian Times”, only ‘Shadowkings’ makes it into the set.
It’s a set list that I cannot fault, but what does disappoint is the flat recording mix. Holmes and Macintosh are clear and well-presented, but the drums suffer from an excessively trebly cymbal crash and that deeply heavy, emotively visceral, Melodic Gothic rumble from Stephen Edmondson’s Bass and Aaron Aedy’s mood-manipulating Rhythm Guitar are barely audible at all. It’s like my days in a house share in the 90’s where, after a particularly lively party, our stereo was reduced to one speaker and no bass after a guest fell asleep on it and forgot to put their pint down safely first. Given that this was a controlled semi-live recording in an empty venue, more effort should have been given to this, as normally these chaps have a rich and meaty live sound to be feared and respected. Definitely a case of trouble at’ Mill…
What makes this work despite the sound challenges (which bizarrely work in the favour of the less overtly Metal tracks), is the fact that Holmes’ is absolutely on blisteringly tight form. From the brutal rendition of ‘Widow’ that opens the set, to the incredibly haunting delivery of ‘Faith Divides Us, ‘Death Unites Us’ he completely and utterly commands the listener’s attention. Even the Synthwave infused ‘So Much Is Lost’ works, due to the heart and soul he pours into it. None more so that the hauntingly beautiful closer ‘Darker Thoughts’, where his delivery echoes fatigue, raw emotion and haunted lack of hope from its acoustic and emotive intro to its booming close.
I remain slightly divided on this release even after three or four listens, as despite the teeth-grindingly frustrating mix, this also has some of the tightest musical performances I have heard from these chaps live, combined with an outstanding vocal performance from Holmes. The mix is annoying, but if you are a deep and devoted fan of this band, that’s unlikely to impede your enjoyment too much because this so far is the only chance we have had to hear live renditions from “Obsidian”, which more than makes up for engineering frustrations.
‘Darker Thoughts’ – Live At The Mill (Official Video)
02. Fall From Grace
03. Blood And Chaos
04. Faith Divides Us – Death Unites Us
07. One Second
09. The Enemy
10. As I Die
12. No Hope In Sight
13. Embers Fire
14. Beneath Broken Earth
15. So Much Is Lost
16. Darker Thoughts
Nick Holmes – Vocals
Gregor Mackintosh – Lead Guitar
Aaron Aedy – Rhythm Guitar
Stephen Edmondson – Bass
Waltteri Väyrynen – Drums
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