Century Media Records
And behold, from the mountain, there was a demon who held sway with the underworld. This demon did send forth chaos and when his hand fell upon earth there was darkness, and to the darkness there seemed no end. Castles shook, shadows fell and the land knew sadness!
That’s kind of what the new Paradise Lost album Tragic Hero is like. Lots of ominous darkness, gothic metal choruses and guitar leads from the weeping instrument of ultimate sadness. If music is theater, then Paradise Lost is a trip to the circle to watch the performer’s play.
Tragic idol kicks off, not surprisingly, with a slow guitar line over one of the few keyboard lines on the record. That’s surprising to me because Paradise Lost usually love them some keyboards. The opening jam, “Solitary One”, sounds like a mix between the band’s slow gothic metal and the soundtrack to John Carpenter’s Halloween. Vocalist and mastermind Nick Holmes belts out his quasi-growl, following it up with some light backing vocals. The next song, “Crucify”, again starts out slow but ramps it all the way up to mid-tempo while guitarist Greg Mackintosh struts his solo ability.
“Fear Of Impending Hell” is a mix of Paradise Lost style doom and gothic metal. By that I mean the tune is heavy like doom but not dirty and fuzzed out. That would sound weird against the Highlander end-credits style guitar work. Pretty much all the songs make you want to have a sword fight or rescue a maiden from the hands of a demon. There is not one song on Tragic Hero where you would be mocked if you stood singing along with one raised and open hand, lifted towards the heavens. It would help if you were on a British Moore during a rainstorm, but your living room should suffice.
My biggest problem with this music is that I can’t relate to it. As a critic I see the value, but only in the most mathematical sense. These guys can play, no argument there. They are talented songwriters, no question about it. In the cerebral sense, Tragic Hero is a great record. For the soul though, I just don’t see the point. Nick Holmes belts out many glorious lines about loneliness, sadness, darkness, and all kinds of dramatic topics, but I see no humanity in it. It’s the difference between a horror movie like Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Kill and Dracula. Are there really sad metal kids or do guys just pretend to like Paradise Lost so they can date girls who wear capes?
Perhaps this music is just for chicks and music heads. Girls can listen to it and wait for their muscular, long haired, super hot metal guy to rescue them from a life of boredom and repetition while guys who want to be virtuosos at guitar can sit wide eyed at the amazing quality of the music.
Take the title track “Tragic Kingdom”. Musically it’s really cool. The riff is chugging, the leads sweep up the frenzy and naturally drummer Adrian Erlandsson brings it with a tasty style. My brain understands this is good music but I can’t muster one iota of interest for any of this. From the standpoint of pure musicianship, Tragic Kingdom is a 9, from the standpoint of creating something that rises above the mechanics of a genre, Tragic Hero lands at a 4. I guess I’ll combine and round up.
Southern Lord Records
Then there is Pelican.
Are these guys metal? No. Are they part of the extreme music scene? Well, Kind of. Pelican are more of an experimental art band that know when to thrust the heavy metal dagger deep into the jugular. Fans have waited three years for the Pelican lads to thrust any new music into their waiting ears. This year Pelican return with Ataraxia/Taraxis, a trim 18 minute EP that comes just as the Isis withdrawals were getting hard to deal with. Is it enough to satiate the entire post-metal appetite? No, but it’s a goddamn good appetizer.
“Ataraxia”, which means peace of mind, is the first batter up. It’s a beautiful collection of acoustic guitars and keyboard sounds. Desolate and isolated, “Ataraxia” still manages to be soothing, even comfortable. Imagine driving late at night down a pitch-black road with nothing but the sound of tires over ground. That ease you feel? That’s the feeling of “Ataraxia”.
“Lathe Biosas” is the feeling you get when the deer runs out into that dark road and the crash is unavoidable. Pelican are masters of combining the technical with the emotional. “Lathe Biosas” is a heavy, driving song that uses mechanical textures to weave ideas together. Sure the song is chaotic, but always a controlled chaos. Instrumental music lives or dies by how the band attacks the song. You can’t use the instruments like instruments; you have to reimagine them as storytelling tools. To quote Yoda, “You must unlearn what you have learned.”
Pelican have a natural ability to rethink instrumentation. “Lathe Biosas” combines their talent at pure rock fury, with knowledge that everything here has a balance. When there’s too much uniformity, instruments become singled out. When the technical aspect starts to dominate, the rock fury returns to take us to a baser level. “Parasite Colony” is a much more focused tune. I don’t mean to infer that it’s boring, just structured differently.
The core tempo of “Parasite Colony” stays fairly consistent so the instruments move in and out with their own pieces of the greater story. Keeping a song steady but interesting is a hard hustle. It’s a bigger bitch when no vocalist stands ready to give the song a center. “Parasite Colony” uses the slow and steady rhythm to hold the song in place, allowing for maximum creativity when the parts come in. Guitars trade off, the bass loops and dances, the whole song is quite emotional without pushing technical ability to the background. Pelican wants you to know they can play, but they also want you to know they were raised on punk rock so fuck you.
Bringing the EP to its conclusion is “Taraxis”. The song fools you into thinking its a simple acoustic number then lays this lead on you that warbles and cries like a broken droid sold to Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. I like the eclectic percussion hiding just beneath the guitars; it allows the song to be just slightly off. Somewhere in the middle “Taraxis” stops and becomes darker. The structure changes, devolving the song into a feedback frenzy that steals the show. Knowing Pelican we might not see a full length for a few more years. So do as I have done and savor Ataraxia/Taraxis