For many vocalists who start their careers growling in extreme metal bands, there grows an urge to develop and diversify their voice, to be recognised as a proper singer of melodies, rather than the guy who got handed the mic because he looked good and couldn’t play an instrument. Often this urge coincides with the rest of the band expanding their musical horizons, with the result that after a few years their music bears no trace of the sound that first got them noticed.
In the 1990s, the best example of this phenomenon was Paradise Lost. Just seven years separate the dank, dismal doom-death of their debut from the keyboard-led electro-goth-pop of One Second, a pivotal release that saw them shake off much of their early underground following while winning over a larger, loyal and passionate worldwide fanbase. The gloom was still there – if not the doom – but even when PL rediscovered their distortion pedals, the guttural roar of the pre-bearded Nick Holmes remained a distant memory./o:p
With the announcement of Nick as new vocalist with old-school death metal supergroup Bloodbath, fans of PL’s early work couldn’t help hoping that this loveable curmudgeon would unleash his distinctive smoky growls over Gregor Mackintosh’s plaintive guitar once more. And sure enough, 35 seconds into cheerily titled opener No Hope In Sight, Gruff Nick is back!
But it’s not about retrogression for its own sake; this material demands and rewards the more cryptic, aggressive vocal approach. Besides, Nick always had one of the strongest grunts in the business: commanding, expansive and chilling, with perfect diction and resounding individuality in a world of 10-a-penny Cookie Monster garblers.
That said, with its over-familiar structure and rudimentary chugging, No Hope In Sight isn’t quite the opening salvo that we’re used to. However, hope is in sight with the infectious dynamic surge of Terminal, a classic meaty headbanger driven along by seasoned heavy hitter Adrian Erlandsson’s propulsive percussion.
On the orchestrally augmented tearjerker An Eternity Of Lies, when Nick juxtaposes his darkest growl against the elegiac grace of his clean high notes, it becomes apparent that The Plague Within is the most triumphant showcase yet for this frontman’s versatile vocal skills, although with Greg’s compelling solo and the crackling rhythmic interplay, the rest of the band have also upped their game accordingly.
With the same studio production credits as Cathedral on their valedictory The Last Spire, The Plague Within has some of the feel of that album: deadly solemn, mature crystalline elegance counterposed against a celebratory modernisation of atavistic extreme impulses. Beneath Broken Earth is PL’s most severe slab of doom since Rotting Misery, while Flesh From Bone lurches between ceremonial gothic atmospheres and flailing death metal, like a lost demo tune only better written.
A few amiable fillers notwithstanding, it’s an emotional experience for any who ever loved this eminently loveable, if frequently stubborn and frustrating band.
FINAL VERDICT: 9⁄10/o:p
WHAT WAS THE BRIEF FOR THAT SPECTACULAR SLEEVE ART?
“We explained the concept of the album was about an inner mental torment and struggle; the ‘plague’ of the mind if you like. This cover is Zbigniew’s Bielak’s representation of that idea, depicting the tormented Sisyphus – a Greek King who was made to roll a boulder up a hill forever. The skull represents a dead, lifeless shell…”
HOW MUCH DID BLOODBATH INFLUENCE YOUR VOCALS ON THIS ALBUM?
“Most of our album was written before I recorded the Bloodbath album. The vocal style was already decided after we messed around and re-recorded two old PL tracks in 2013, which we all enjoyed doing a lot more than originally expected!/o:p