Paradise Lost, Medusa: Deathly Passages

paradise lost medusa

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It’s been a decade-long process, with 2007’s In Requiem, 2009’s Faith Divides Us – Death Unites Us (review here), 2012’s Tragic Idol and 2015’s The Plague Within (review here), and with 2017’s Medusa — also their first offering through Nuclear Blast after releasing the prior four LPs and other numerous collections through Century Media — that progression toward darkened heft would seem to have hit a new zenith. From the Branca Studio artwork through the ultra-thick chug from Mackintosh and rhythm guitarist Aaron Aedy, the thudding drums of newcomer Waltteri Väyrynen (ex-Moonsorrow, among others), the heft of Stephen Edmonson‘s bass and the shifts between cleaner singing and harsh growls from vocalist Nick Holmes, Medusa is Paradise Lost unabashed in their approach to doom — a sound they’ve made their own over time and one that tracks like the deeply metallic “From the Gallows” and the slogging “No Passage for the Dead” show they’re willing to reshape to their purposes on any given track.

Vital in their delivery and given added impact through the biting production of Jaime GĂłmez Arellano at Orgone Studios in London (see also: Cathedral, With the Dead, SĂłlstafir and many others), Paradise Lost can come across as absolutely vicious throughout Medusa‘s eight tracks and 42 minutes, so that by the time they get around to the last push and rasps of closer “Until the Grave,” the organ introduction of 8:31 opener and longest inclusion (immediate points) “Fearless Sky” is a distant, mournful memory. Yet their work here is informed by an accessibility of structure as well. “Fearless Sky” is clearly intended to send a message to their audience with its overbearing crash, grueling tempo, drawn-out leads and Holmes‘ initial growls, but it also shifts into a melodic hook in its midsection — the crafters of Gothic playing very much to the gothic metal they helped craft — and once established, that dynamic becomes essential to the atmosphere and, in the end, the success of Medusa.

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With Paradise Lost circa 2017, it’s not just about drawing solely on their early albums, or their middle period, or even the last decade’s clear-headed pummel — it’s about taking all of that and creating something with it that continues to move their progression forward. Second track “Gods of Ancient” follows the willful body-drag of “Fearless Sky” with an extremity of darkness worth of the band’s legacy that picks up its pace in the second half around a particularly punishing riff, setting up a thrust further into darkness on the shorter “From the Gallows,” which offsets a chugging verse with transitional lead lines and a more open-feeling chorus. This opening salvo consumes most of side A along with whatever else happens to step in front of it, and as “The Longest Winter” offers a breather in its atmospheric, birdsong-laden introduction, it also marks a turn toward cleaner-singing from Holmes that was foreshadowed in “Fearless Sky” but that, brought more forward and only offset by a couple guttural complementary lines, emphasize just how deeply bleak Paradise Lost get over the first three tracks. I’m not sure I’d call it a moment of hope in terms of ambience — it’s still plenty dark, plenty gray — but it’s nonetheless a departure from the rest of side A before it.

So does that mean the final four cuts on Medusa find Paradise Lost further expanding the context of the album overall? Somewhat, but they also reaffirm the emotional and tonal mire of the first half. The title-track, at 6:20, mirrors “Fearless Sky” in being the longest piece on its side (secondary points), and it begins with a quiet piano line that will reemerge throughout the entirety of the song as a focal point, a theme around which the weighted guitars and bass churn, vocals going from clean to rough in a flipped-script manner that was initiated by “The Longest Winter” before reverting to the deathly on the very-much-guitar-led “No Passage for the Dead” and “Blood and Chaos” — the latter arguably the most metallic of Medusa‘s tracks in quickness of pace and the straightforward swapping of growled verses and a harmonized chorus, Mackintosh‘s leads still a hallmark of Paradise Lost‘s sound as ever in the efficient, tightly-executed 3:51 that seems to answer “From the Gallows” in ferocity of purpose while surpassing it in catchiness level.

One might expect, given the traditional shape of the tracklist and the way Medusa unfolds across its span, that “Until the Grave” would task itself with summarizing the entirety of what comes before it, but it instead draws on the bitter mournfulness of “No Passage for the Dead” and “Blood and Chaos” and pushes them outward with keyboard flourish and steady rhythmic roll. It is a grim and thoroughly doomed finale, but I suppose in that it does actually do a fair bit of summary for what Medusa has on offer — a lack of pretense in its intention and a sharp-edged lucidity underlying the murk created throughout. A mission statement unto itself, “Until the Grave” ends simply, perhaps even in understated fashion, and leaves the listener wanting more, which for a band about to hit their 30th year and releasing their 15th full-length is no minor accomplishment in itself. Nonetheless, that Paradise Lost have never settled in terms of aesthetic, songwriting or performance has become a key facet of their longevity, and monstrous as it is, it’s only right that Medusa should stand as another richly satisfying next-step in their seemingly perpetual growth.

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