Paradise Lost

Symbol of Life

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Though the relative merits of Paradise Lost's bizarre transformation from heavier-than-God doom/death metal originators to an alternative rock act delving into gothic electronica remain locked in a fierce debate, there's no sense ignoring two unmistakable facts. First, the band had clearly reached the end of its original direction's tether with 1995's Draconian Times, which, despite its success with fans and solid songs, was little more than a retread of the band's previous album, and arguably career-apex, Icon. Second, while their subsequent sonic experiments have often resembled nothing more than a slightly heavier version of Depeche Mode (complete with singer Nick Holmes adopting a very David Gahan-esque, deadened baritone), the band has proved remarkably resilient in pursuing and defending their chosen career course, of which 2002's Symbol of Life is amazingly the fourth installment. And like the first, 1997's transitional One Second, Symbol of Life may prove the most palatable to the band's disapproving hardcore metal fan contingent. Album highlights such as "Erased," "Perfect Mask," and first single "Mistify" present very adventurous and mostly satisfying contrasts between the very heavy, minor-chord guitar riffs of old and the newfangled electronic elements of recent years. Conversely, songs treading the dreaded middle ground ("Pray Nightfall," "Self-Obsessed") are as irritatingly average and revealing of the group's pop limitations as ever, the tribal drumming heard on the title track proving especially painful. Yet, for the aforementioned metal fan base, the final insult is saved for last, by way of a tepid cover of Bronski Beat's "Small Town Boy." Though the premise is far more offensive than the actual results, the truth is Paradise Lost's wholly unsurprising arrangement for the song (contrived along similar lines of commercial desperation as that of hundreds of other metal bands who have covered new wave hits in recent years), as well their drab execution of it, just don't sound convincing. And sadly, forgiveness for any sort of commercialization is hard to come by within the metal world, so for those of you who feel that way about the modern Paradise Lost, Symbol of Life will not change your minds.

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