Paradise Lost’s album Icon is one of the reasons you could say that 1993 is the year that doom metal became a genre of its own.
Well, aside from Icon, we saw Cathedral release the Ethereal Mirror, diSEMBOWELMENT release Transcendence into the Peripheral and Type O Negative release Bloody Kisses. While doom metal was already established with the likes of St. Vitus and Sleep, these four bands took it in directions we have today. Cathedral would pave the way for what we think of as stoner doom, diSEMBOWELMENT would set the standard for death-doom and Type O Negative would establish that near commercial strain of gothic metal. Technically, many people consider Paradise Lost gothic metal, but, they are quite a bit different from Type O Negative who released their landmark album around the same time.
Whereas Type O Negative wrote catchy songs centered around Peter Steele’s smooth voice and memorable rhythms, Paradise Lost took a more epic-sounding approach. Icon contains elements that you can hear in the other three albums mentioned and combines them with symphonic sounds, creating a sound that would be picked up by many other bands afterward. You hear some sounds reminiscent of other doom bands that came before, such as St. Vitus, Witchfinder General and, of course, Black Sabbath.
Paradise Lost kind of distills all of these elements, then remixes them and creates their own sound on Icon. This sound worked. From there, the album’s influence can be heard on many, many other bands afterward, directly or indirectly. You can hear elements of Icon on albums by Moonspell and Lacuna Coil, two bands that had their own great successes.
Vocalist Nick Holmes’ style is not unlike Lee Dorrian’s. Now, I’m not saying that because they sound alike, they don’t, but because they choose and approach that’s somewhere between a growl and a yell. It’s not everyone’s taste, but for me, it works. I guess you could call it a “yelp,” but that just doesn’t sound right to me. He also does some deep and clear vocals in parts throughout the album, with “True Belief” being a good example.
The rest of Paradise Lost on Icon is drummer Matthew Archer, bassist Stephen Edmondson and guitarists Aaron Aedy and Gregor Mackintosh. Archer would leave the band in 1994, but the other members from this album remain.
Guest musicians are vocalist Denise Bernard, whose only other credit I could find was a gospel album called Kenneth Mitchell and the Voices of Praise, and keyboardist Andrew Holdsworth, who would work with the band on other albums.
I think the one thing about Icon is that it doesn’t really grab you on the first listen. Now, I’m just speaking for myself, but it took repeated listens for this thing to grow on me. I missed a lot of the smaller nuances on the first few listens that just creep in and grow on you. The first time I heard this I was like “eh, what’s so special about this.” Upon further listens, I begin thinking “wow, that’s really good.”
When I call Paradise Lost’s sound on this album as “epic doom,” you’ll hear what I mean with the first track “Embers Fire.” It’s not fast, but its deep bass and slow moving melody gives it a heavy weight that sinks the listener into the album, kind of like being thrown an anchor instead of a rope when they’re trying to survive falling overboard in the ocean.
This “epic doom” sound is the prevalent throughout the album.
“Joys of Emptiness” matches songs by fellow Brit doomsters Cathedral with its pace and rather lonely and cavernous sound. Things get even doomier and slower with “Colossal Rains,” a song whose music matches its name, with a few industrial twists.
It’s not all slow moving, there are some good rockers here, “Forging Sympathy” being a good example. It strays away from the doom sound, relying on a steady and driving rhythm to move the song forward. “Dying Freedom” and “Poison” are good rockers as well and you’ll hear the sound that would influence many more bands to come.
“Widow,” one of the three songs that a video was made for off this album, sees the band merge their rock and epic doom sound into one of the standout tracks on the album. Like “Forging Sympathy,” the drums really drive this song. Like “Joys of Emptiness,” it has a hollow-sounding guitar melody that pervades throughout the whole song. Definitely one to listen to, especially with its Sabbathy-vibe.
Another standout is “Weeping Words.” Like “Widow,” it combines the doom and the rock, but this time with a chorus that’s catchy. It’s one of the songs that grabs you on the first listen and at least a little of it sticks with you awhile after hearing the album.
“Shallow Seasons” is one I would say is out and out goth metal. Yeah, I could say that it sounds a little like something that Type O Negative was doing at the time, but remember, it’s not a rip off. How could it be? Bloody Kisses didn’t come out but a few weeks before Icon. Anyway, it’s another good one to listen to, if not for the roots of many songs by other bands you’ll hear afterward.
The final song “Christendom” is another song that combines rock and doom. Bernard’s vocals during the verses and the almost-gang shot chorus make this one to remember and wraps up things pretty well. The short outro “Deus Misereatur” is a nice, if unnecessary bonus.
If I had one complaint about this album it’s that much of the time, the keyboards just sound too, well, keyboardy. I’m not sure if it was the limits of the technology at the time or if bands were still feeling them out, but man, they just sound so synthetic instead of organic. It was a problem that seemed to plague many bands that year, it doesn’t bring down Icon like it did many other albums, but there’s still enough to bother me.
But aside from that, there’s a lot of good stuff here, particularly the performances by Archer, Mackintosh and Aedy. The entire band meshes well to deliver a pretty strong whole, without any of the pieces overwhelming the other.
While I wouldn’t call Icon an essential piece of anyone’s album collection, it is an essential release in metal history. If you’re like me and enjoy hearing what could be defined as pivotal moments in genre, I’d say Icon is definitely one of them.