Paradise Lost – ‘Tragic Illusion 25 (The Rarities)’ Album Review

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Released as part of the twenty-fifth anniversary celebrations for Paradise Lost, one of the UK’s most revered metal bands, ‘Tragic Illusion’ gathers together a selection of bonus tracks from the recent releases (‘In requiem’ on), a couple of oddities, a new track and it even adds two faithful re-recordings of classic tracks ‘our saviour’ and ‘gothic’, making this the perfect collection for those fans who missed out on some of the band’s recent special editions. The new recordings make it likely to appeal to fans, but where this ends up feeling like a missed opportunity is that the average fan, to whom the product is most obviously designed to appeal, is likely to have the majority of the tracks here, given that they’re not only taken from recent releases but from ones which are still readily available. Released as a largely redundant CD edition, a special (and rather beautiful) package (complete with 10” vinyl containing the three new tracks) and as a digital download, ‘Tragic illusion’ utilises similar artwork to the stunning ‘Tragic idol’ album and is best appreciated on the larger canvas of the special edition.

Musically, the album is somewhat scattershot in its approach. Opening with the brutal, icy doom of ‘loneliness remains’, a new track for this collection and one which spectacularly captures the harrowing feel of the band’s early output, the album gets off to a strong start with a track that neatly sums up Paradise Lost’s strengths in one doom laden, stately funeral march. The album’s mood, however, abruptly changes with the heavy, melodic cover of ‘Never take me alive’ (originally by Spear of Destiny), one of two tracks which only recently appeared on the special edition of ‘tragic idol’. A fine version it certainly is, but the lighter feel of the track jars against the morose opening gambit. Next up is the darker ‘Ending through changes’, an awesome track that should, in truth, have been included in the main track list of ‘Tragic idol’ rather than relegated to the realm of the bonus track, although some question remains about the inclusion of tracks from a record released a mere year ago as ‘rarities’. Much harder to find, however, and a far more worthy inclusion, is ‘the last fallen saviour’, originally released as a flexi disc single with the US magazine Decibel. A heavy, rampant blast of frenetic metal, it showcases Paradise Lost indulging in their more brutal, deathly side with great effect. This is certainly a song that fans will want to get hold of and it is a highlight of the disc.

Next up, and again changing the pace somewhat,  are two orchestral tracks from the excellent album ‘faith divides us – death unites us’ (both recorded with the Prague orchestra). ‘Last regret’ and the title track both benefit from the grand orchestral makeover, and it is interesting to hear Paradise Lost working against a backdrop that perfectly captures the atmosphere their music has so successfully conveyed over the years, with the only regret being that they didn’t take the opportunity to record more songs in this vein. It’s a particularly brave move to work solely with an orchestra, with only Nick standing front and centre, delivering his pained soliloquy against the sombre, Wagnerian backdrop that the Prague orchestra so ably provide and it highlights, once again, that Paradise Lost have never been a band afraid to stand apart from their peers. ‘Faith divides us…’ weighs heavy on this release, with two further bonus tracks from that album (‘cardinal zero’ and ‘back on disaster’) appearing here, both of which are fine tracks and excellent additions to the collection of anyone who bought the standard edition of that record.

The four bonus tracks from 2007’s ‘In requiem’ follow, one of which is a cover of ‘missing’ (Everything but the girl’), which gives the band the chance to place their own inimitable stamp upon a track which, at first glance, does not appear to be particularly suitable for a heavy metal interpretation. First, however, is the oppressive ‘sons of perdition’, a track which only appeared on the Japanese version of the album, and which offers up an icy blast of old school doom. ‘Godless’, with its electronic beat and taut, industrial riffing is another highlight of this disc which, if you missed it the first time round, definitely demands to be added to your collection whilst the aforementioned ‘missing’ sounds like it belongs on the much maligned ‘Host’ with its jittering electronic backdrop and subtle, atmospheric guitar work. After the more experimental work of ‘missing’, ‘silent heart’ is possibly the weakest track here, and it would have benefitted from not having been placed at the tail end of two particularly excellent tracks.

The body of the album, then, offers up a number of fine tracks, although these may be a little too familiar for some, but the final two tracks offer up the most discussed elements of the album in the studio re-workings of fan favourite ‘gothic’ (from the album of the same name) and, astonishingly, ‘our saviour’, a long-abandoned track from the band’s debut record. As ‘gothic’ kicks off its notable that the band have done much to retain the sound of the original, rather than beefing up the guitars with a significantly more modern production sound. The vocals, meanwhile, are delivered with a deathly fervour that comes as something as a shock, Nick delivering a performance that sends shivers down the spine. The track feels significantly faster than the funereal original, but overall the band have done full justice to a song that, for many, forms one of their earliest memories of a band who have continued to inspire, to challenge and to exceed expectations throughout their lengthy career. ‘Our saviour’, from the band’s evil, atmospheric debut album, is similarly impressive in execution, the band obviously relishing the chance to indulge in a brutally nihilistic strain of blackened death metal that hasn’t been seen in Paradise Lost’s output since ‘gothic’, and while there is no question that Paradise Lost’s continuous evolution has been a joy to behold, it is good to hear them letting loose with such fiery fervour.

‘Tragic Illusion’, overall, is something of a quandary. The music is undeniably fine throughout, with several tracks standing out as being particularly worthy (‘missing’, ‘godless’, the three new recordings), but given that all of the previously released tracks are drawn from recent albums you can’t help but wonder how many of the fans already have these songs. Moreover, even with previous collections taken into account, there are a number of b sides (from ‘Host’ onwards) which are far harder to find and which would have been justified in their inclusion here. A beautifully presented package, fans will be keen to have the limited vinyl edition, but it would have been nice to have seen an extended track list covering a far greater portion of the band’s illustrious career.

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