After the absolute treasure that was Faith Divides Us – Death Unites us, my spirit was soaring (or is that decaying) in anticipation of this next release from British doom metal originators Paradise Lost. I never really abandoned the band through their experimental electronic phase, but neither did this period resonate with me as much as their metallic offerings, so this unfettered return to pure heaviness and the darkness of real, fantastically heavy doom was a surprise and a treat. In fact, Faith/Death was one of my favorites of 2009, so it’s safe to say my expectations for Tragic Idol were perhaps a bit too high.
This is not to imply, however, that Tragic Idol in any way falters. Indeed, it takes the reaffirmation of strength and spirit that was mustered on Faith/Death and continues to chisel the face of doom onto the dark mountain that is their career. If anything, they follow this now established formula a bit too closely here, and any condemnation I initially offered was based almost solely on an overwhelming sense of familiarity. Tragic Idol is a dense, crushing, bittersweet album that only slightly disappoints in the fact that it is forced to follow its defining and memorable older brother, an album I find just a hair more memorable, when all is said and done.
A mark in its favor, there is not a single track I would trim from Tragic Idol. The opener, Solitary One, is unusually dark and hostile, more so than anything on Faith, crawling through depths of pure anger, the natural melancholy offset by minimal twinkling of starry keyboards, a very pretty juxtaposition that outlines the contrasting emotions that make Paradise Lose what they are, sadness and beauty swirling together like an effigy of life itself. Crucify begins with resonant thrashing, but soon crawls back into the filthy depths of the opening track, dark and sluggishly majestic. A hallmark of legitimately sweet doom is its ability to be heavy as fuck without requiring speed, a trait that Tragic Idol so far exhibits seemingly without effort.
Fear of Impending Hell continues the lumbering, sluggishly angry tendencies of the first few, trading off the distinct, kingly yells of Nick Holmes with a softer, more somber vocal pitch, a trait they’ve been carrying for some time. Honesty in Death has one of the more infectious leads and choruses within the album, but does little to change pace or tone, feeding the imagery of the band standing tall, like ancient beings of stone, brooding in palatial mountain fortresses, screaming out to the skies. Theories From Another World finally picks things up, a blackened, swirling storm of venom with typically towering vocals, continuing the onslaught of darkness, but adding some welcome variety to the album’s pacing. In This We Dwell is another mid-paced banger, with haunting leads overlaying a measured storm of riffing, climaxing with effortless grace into a heroic solo. The rest of the album follows suit, sometimes lumbering, sometimes galloping along with a spirit etched indelibly with tangible darkness. If you can, pick up the extended version, which includes two fantastic extra tracks and some live cuts for just that much extra value. Overall, even though it sticks quite closely to the formula molded by Faith/Death, this is certainly the heavier album of the two, and one of their darkest to date.
The riff construction is unceasingly sweet throughout, as Gregor Mackintosh has only gained in resonant feeling throughout the years, every lead an extension of true passion. Drummer Adrian Erlandsson has settled right into the band at this point, a much more relaxed role than his previous output with At the Gates and Cradle of Filth, but nonetheless displaying a practiced finesse that serves the composition without being either too showy or dramatic. The bass is so low and full it creates veritable musical valleys, which the riffs cut through with depth, precision and feeling, led by glorious avian leads that without exception soar high above this dense, apocalyptic composition, while the ceaselessly strong, majestic cries of Holmes echo across this fiery, deserted, frighteningly beautiful landscape.
It may seem odd to say, after so much ringing enthusiasm, that I was subtly disappointed by Tragic Idol. Indeed, it is a towering, megalithic work, and the close adherence to established songwriting archetypes largely removes any element of surprise, but that is not so much an issue when the songs are amazing (EG the new Kreator). Much more importantly, I feel it’s just a tad less memorable when stacked against its immediate predecessor, which still gets substantial playtime from yours truly. For all its admitted power and quality, I don’t find myself humming or craving these tunes like I still do with songs like I Remain and Frailty. To be fair, though, the album grows stronger with repeated listens, and I’d still rate this as essential. So, let my meager complaints by no means dissuade you from cracking open this tomb and letting the sweet, pale essence of doom flood over you. Next to the new release from Candlemass, this is one of the most essential releases in the subgenre this year.